Pass­ing of last Black Watch piper to play John F Kennedy’s funeral

HIS­TORY: Proud piper was part of band that cap­tured the Amer­i­can pres­i­dent’s heart

The Courier & Advertiser (Dundee Edition) - - NEWS - GRA­HAM BROWN gbrown@the­courier.co.uk

A re­mark­able tie between the Black Watch and the White House has come to end with the pass­ing of the last sur­viv­ing reg­i­men­tal piper to have played in the 1963 funeral pro­ces­sion of for­mer pres­i­dent John F Kennedy.

Bruce Cowie from Kir­riemuir was one of nine mem­bers of the Black Watch pipes and drums in­vited to play in the cortege at the 1963 funeral of JFK, at the spe­cial re­quest of the pres­i­dent’s wife, Jackie.

The proud grand­fa­ther and great grand­fa­ther, who con­tin­ued to play the pipes un­til re­cent years, died just hours short of his 78th birth­day and al­most four years on from tak­ing to the stage with in­ter­na­tion­ally-renowned tenor Al­fie Boe in a 50th an­niver­sary com­mem­o­ra­tion of the poignant day which claimed the pop­u­lar pres­i­dent.

Born in Dundee, where he met his wife, Anne, while they were both work­ing in the city’s Dura Street mill, Mr Cowie served nine years with the Black Watch, learn­ing to play the bag­pipes af­ter join­ing the reg­i­ment.

Just days be­fore the as­sas­si­na­tion of JFK on Novem­ber 22 1963, Mr Cowie and his band­mates had played at a White House char­ity event, and in the mo­men­tous events to fol­low they learned they had cap­tured the heart of the pres­i­dent when the First Lady made the spe­cial re­quest for them to play at his funeral.

Mr Cowie later re­called the “sur­real” sit­u­a­tion he found him­self in as a 24-year-old piper proud to wear the Red Hackle and rep­re­sent the reg­i­ment and its re­cruit­ing heart­land in Dundee and An­gus.

Ahead of the Novem­ber 2013 an­niver­sary event in London, he said: “When we were leav­ing the White House on the bus, JFK came on with his Sec­re­tary of State Dean Rusk to thank us per­son­ally. It was a real per­sonal touch.”

Days later, as the world was left reel­ing by the killing of the pres­i­dent, the let­ter came through from Jackie Kennedy re­quest­ing that the band and their pipe ma­jor play at the funeral.

The 51st High­land Di­vi­sion and the Old Rus­tic Bridge were among the tunes they per­formed, and as the pres­i­dent’s coffin was taken up the steps of the White House the bag­pipers peeled off from the pro­ces­sion, play­ing the Green Hills of Ty­rol and Af­ter Bat­tle.

“It was a hard thing to ex­plain how I felt at the time, and it was only af­ter­wards that there was a re­al­i­sa­tion that you were part of his­tory,” Mr Cowie said in 2013.

He is sur­vived by his daugh­ters Mar­garet and San­dra, and son, Bruce. Another daugh­ter, Heather, died six years ago.

Pic­tures: Gareth Jen­nings/Ge­orge McLuskie.

The pipes and drums of the Black Watch at JFK’s funeral in 1963.

Bruce Cowie with his pipes at his home in Kir­riemuir.

Pic­ture: Getty.

John F Kennedy per­son­ally thanked the pipers af­ter they played at a White House char­ity event.

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