On August 12, 1914 at the Prince of Wales Armouries in Edmonton, twelve men of the Edmonton Caledonian Pipe Band, some of whom may have been police officers with the Edmonton Police Service, joined the fledgling Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI).
Their intention was to pipe the regiment over to the battlefields and, like so many of their compatriots, be home in time for Christmas.
In the four long years in which they would serve their King and country, the bandsmen acted with honour and distinction, earning numerous awards and honours. Pipe Major John Colville and Pipe Sergeant Henry Laing were mentioned in dispatches. Piper/Sergeant John MacDonald, Piper Jock Robertson and Bass Drummer (Tambour) William Miller were awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal. Sergeant John Ritchie was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal.
In addition to providing support on the battlefield through their music, the bandsmen acted as stretcher-bearers on the battlefields of France and Belgium. Both these duties were treacherous; unarmed pipers playing the original regimental march “All Blue Bonnets Are Over the Border” were the first over the top and later, at the conclusion of the battle, the men were sent, again unarmed, into no-man’s land to retrieve the dead and wounded. While these duties were of immediate benefit to the ordinary soldier, the originals had a third duty. They were, to a man, immigrants to Canada, from towns and villages in Scotland and fluent in Gaelic. At some point during the war, it was discovered that the enemy was intercepting communications between PPCLI Headquarters and the front lines. It was decided that the linguistic talents of the men should be taken advantage of and orders were given that any further communications would be conducted in Gaelic. With bandsmen at Headquarters and on the front lines, the order was easily followed.
Prior to demobilization in the spring of 1919, the men played at the wedding of the regiment’s Colonel-in-Chief, Princess Patricia. It was to be one of the final performances. At demobilization, the men returned to their civilian lives and the band ceased to exist.