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

Rutherglen Reformer - - News - An­nie Brown

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

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