Mark Knopfler : Piper To The End



A kindling of the imagination.

I am scrolling down the myriad programme options on my TV menu when I see a documentary called, ‘Pipers of The Trenches’ and immediately press the record button as it unites my interests in History and Music.

Resolving to watch the programme later I punch the play button on the CD in the car (selected by my son) and at once emerges Mark Knopfler’s wonderful family tribute and lament, ‘Piper To The End’.

What else could I write about this week!

A heartfelt tribute to Mark Knopfler’s uncle Freddie, a Piper for the 1st Battalion Tyneside Scottish who died at the age of just 20 in May 1940.

A song and a performance imbued with deep affection and love.

The musical arrangement has a powerful and tender sway suggesting fathomless depths of feeling at such tragic loss.

The interplay between Mark Knopfler’s Guitar and John McCusker’s Violin has a Band of Brothers closeness that sets salt tears swelling.

Knopfler’s characteristically laconic delivery lets the music and the traditional and mythic tone of the lyric express the universal pathos of the story.

… if there are no pipes in heaven
I’ll be going down below
If friends in time be severed
Someday we will meet again
I’ll return to leave you never
Be a piper to the end

Pipers feature prominently in the lore and legend of the British Army – most especially the Scottish Regiments.

Tales of the electric effect of the Pipes on troops about to go into battle abound.

On the heights of Dargai in India and on the dusty plains of the Peninsular War wounded Pipers played until their breath fell silent.

In the slaughter house fields of the First World War imagine the raw courage of an unarmed Piper marching towards the enemy trenches amid withering machine gun fire and the relentless barrage of artillery shells.

In  virtually every major battle Pipers played and Pipers were slain.

We watched the fires together
Shared our quarters for a while

Walked the dusty roads together
Came so many miles
This has been a day to die on
Now the day is almost done
Here the pipes will lay beside me
Silent with the battle drum.
The bravery and sacrifice of Pipers was then reflected in the Piping tradition through compositions such as ‘Battle of the Somme’ by Willie Lawrie.

The British Army lost a scarcely credible 20,000 men on the first day of The Battle of The Somme.

The Pipers who played that day need no one to tell them about Hell.

Still I am convinced that there will be company upon company of Pipers in Heaven.

As long as there are storytellers and songwriters like Mark Knopfler their heroism and sacrifice will never be forgotten and the skirl of The Pipes will always echo on.

Echo on.

Some things can never be severed.

If friends in time be severed
Someday here we will meet again
I’ll return to leave you never
Be a piper to the end

A Piper to the end.