Pipe Major Alexander (Sandy) Grieve D.C.M and the Lament of Deville Wood

Alexander “Sandy” Grieve was a South African soldier of the great war.
He was born in Scotland at Largo in Fife, in 1869.
As a young man he joined the British army as a professional soldier and served in the Royal Highlanders, the Scottish Regiment, better know as the Black Watch.

It was as a British soldier that Grieve first went to South Africa.
In 1900 he was present with the Black Watch at the battle of Magersfontein, where the Highland Brigade was defeated with heavy losses by the forces of the boer republics.

“The Black Watch Highland Brigade pipers were in fact led by Piper Sandy Grieve, and he had first met South Africans in completely different circumstances when he took part in the 2nd Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902) and had fought against the Boers as part of the Highland Brigade. During the Battle of Magersfontein on the 11th December 1899, he would not forget the Boers in a hurry, as he was wounded through both his cheeks. Imagine going back to playing the bagpipes after that injury.” ~ Peter Dickens

Grieve emigrated to South Africa in 1907 with his wife and son.

In 1915 he signed up for war service once more, joining the emigrant Scots of the 4th South African infantry as the battalions Pipe-Major.

In July 1916, on the Somme, Grieve was present when the battalion clung onto it’s position at Delville wood against relentless German attacks and bombardments.
When relief finally came, Pipe-Major Grieve and his pipe band led the shattered remnants of the battalion out of the wood.

Contemporary World War One illustration of Scottish soldiers playing the bagpipes under enemy fire during the Battle of the Somme in July 1916. The sketch features pipers of The Royal Highland Regiment (The Black Watch) leading the men towards German lines at Longueval in France. Entitled “The Campbells Are Coming”, after the tune being played as they marched into action, it appeared in The War Illustrated periodical in September 1916. Artist Richard Caton Woodville Jr (1856 – 1927)

“121 officers and 3 032 men of the South African Infantry Brigade had gone into the wood to hold it and a smattering of this force was left after they were subjected to volley after volley of enemy artillery attacks (400 shells per minute), and wave after wave of German attacks, the fighting so desperate that some resorted to hand to hand combat. The tiny group of South Africa survivors were now led out of Delville Wood in honour to the shrill of the Black Watch’s bagpipes, the two wounded officers in front of the 140 remaining members of the Brigade. When General Lukin took the salute as the men filed past, he didn’t only return the salute; he removed his cap and wept.” ~ Peter Dickens

Here are the men who piped the South Africans out of Delville Wood. 8th Battalion, Black Watch being issued a rum ration, 20 July 1916, Delville Wood France.

“South African Scottish – Pipe Major Alexander Grieve, Piper J. Waterhouse, Piper A. Gray
When the Germans advanced on the Cambrai front in March, 1918, the pipers were frequently called upon to serve in the ranks in various capacities. At Houdincourt they were suddenly required to reinforce a position and piled their pipes on the ground. A shell burst destroyed the whole of the pipes. For gallantry when acting as despatch runners Pipe Major Grieve got the D.C.M. and Pipers Waterhouse and Gray the Military Medal.”

The Pipes of War ~ by Sir Bruce Seton and John Grant
The Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM)

Two years later, when the South Africans returned to the scene of the battle for a memorial service, Grieve played a pipers lament of his own composition, titled Delville Wood.

Still captured from film, courtesy of the Trustees of the Imperial War Museum

After the war, Grieve and his family moved to Cape Town where he joined the Cape Town Highlanders as Pipe Major leading the Regiment’s Pipes and Drums to success in national competitions.

Remarkably, when the Cape Town Highlanders mobilised for war once more in 1940, Grieve accompanied them on active service in the North African desert in 1941, until accepting in May 1942, at the age of 70, it was time for retirement.

Unless otherwise quoted, the content of this article has been transcribed and screen captured from the film mentioned below. ~ Jock Blogger
Film: First World War Stories: Pipe-Major Alexander ‘Sandy’ Grieve
“Our Common Cause exhibition explored the war experiences of soldiers of Scottish descent from the nations of the Commonwealth during the First World War. This film, featured in the exhibition, tells the story of Pipe-Major Alexander ‘Sandy’ Grieve of the 4th South African Infantry.” National Museum Scotland
Link to the film: Pipe-Major Alexander ‘Sandy’ Grieve of the 4th South African Infantry
Quotes from: The Black Watch and the Delville Wood Lament ~ Written and Researched by Peter Dickens – Posted in Western Front – WW1
Quote from: The Pipes of War – by Sir Bruce Seton and John Grant

4 Responses

  1. Can you give more accurate information regarding SA Scottish the 4th South African Infantyr Regiment (also known as the south African Scottish

    According to Wikipedia the Regimenys Companies were made up of :- A Co Cape town Highlanders : B Co 1st Batt Transvaal Scottish ; C Co 2nd Batt TransvaalS Scottish ; D co from Caledonian Societies of the Free state & Natal

    Were all Co’s involved at Delville wood The information is not clear regarding casualties
    I had an Uncle who was in the SA Scottish probably C co for 2 and half years before joinin g the RFC in 1917 in egypt & was kille on the 20 th Dec 1918 in an air accident.

    1. Good day Mr Beaton, Thank your for your comments. Your queries have been passed on to the TSRA Committee. An office bearer will reply to you privately, should they be able to assist you. Kind regards, Web Admin

  2. Good day. I am looking for the date of birthand passing of Piper Sandy Grieve. He was born in Fife Scotland. I am his great grand daughter. Thank you for your cooperation.

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