Mary never wanted anything else than to play the pipes as well as any man
Pipe band brought music and boosted moral during the war
As World War II raged, the women of the Auxiliary Territorial Service Pipe Band brought music and a morale boost to the home front.
For Rutherglen’s Mary Munro, this was a period to treasure, one of the most exhilarating and happiest times of her 93 years.
She said: “Friendships were made which greatly enriched our lives and we saw places we would otherwise not have seen.
“We had a great deal of happy times together as we travelled to many different places, raising the spirits of many different people.”
Now Mary’s story is being told as part of a VE Day exhibition, founded on a small book she has written, titled They Shall Have Music Wherever They Go.
By the time war started in 1939, Mary was already an accomplished piper.
Born in 1922 into a working class family to a mother who had always wanted to be a concert pianist, she was raised in Motherwell and Larkhall.
Her uncle was a pipe major in the Seaforth Highlanders and from the age of 11, Mary dedicated herself to the pipes.
She said: “I wanted to play as good as any man. It was my chief interest. I had no interest in anything else. I needed all my spare time. I practised and practised.”
When war broke out, Mary joined the Auxiliary Territorial Services and left Scotland for the first time to head for London, becoming a founder member of the services’ all-female pipe band.
A call was put out to army women across the country to find enough pipers.
It took some time to get the band up to scratch and Mary coached the less talented.
Three times a week, following a bugle call at 7.30am, the women faced gruelling physical training, followed by six hours of music practice.
Then it was laundry, the pressing of uniforms and shining of shoes and buttons before some free time.
Looking smart was top priority and the women were given three uniforms and a dozen collars which they had to have regularly starched and laundered at their own expense.
Two afternoons a week they took drill sessions with the Coldstream Guards at London’s Wellington Barracks and Mary went on to win a medal for her admirable marching skills. The pay for a female private was £1.05 a week, with free food and lodgings, and there was little money left over for fun.
For some of the women, the practice schedule and strict regime were too much and they returned to their original units. But Mary embraced the life and never resented what she saw as the key to musical success. On the downside, Mary recalls the tension of living in London in May 1943 and the fear of constant bombing raids on the city.
She said: “Air raids happened frequently, day and night, and personally the wailing alert always gave me a deep chilled feeling in my spine.”
In June 1943, the band of 11 women were at last ready to go on parade, with 24 members of the service’s drum and bugle band marching behind them. In their early days, the band followed army exhibitions around the country, where women were shown driving jeeps and troop carriers, and servicing field kitchens.
Mary said: “It was important to show just how hard-working the girls were in the service.”
While Mary insists she had “no time for boyfriends”, many of the girls were caught
Piping up Rutherglen’s Mary Munro, who was a member of the Auxiliary Territorial Service Pipe Band
Performance Mary Munro brought music and a morale boost to the home front during World War II