The Royal Air Force has had pipers playing, at least unofficially, since its inception. On the left is the earliest known RAF piper's uniform. The uniform is preserved by the Scottish United Services Museum in Edinburgh Castle. King George V granted permission for the RAF to wear Grey Douglas in 1937. Although never adopted by pipers in the RAF this tartan is still worn by 2622 Sqn Band today.
Voluntary Bands have a firm tradition in the RAF going back virtually to the formation of the Service and provided the basis upon which such prestigious bands as the RAF Central Band were formed. RAF music, now internationally famous, developed from a wide range of semi-official corps of drums, brass bands, military bands and pipe bands. Photographs of pipers from as early as 1922 can be seen in the book Customs and Traditions of the Royal Air Force by Squadron Leader P G Herring.
Ever since the days when Halton was No.1 School of Technical Training in the RAF, each of the three wings of aircraft apprentices had their own Pipe Band to march them to and from the workshops each day - from this tradition, the current Halton Pipes and Drums continues to the present day. Obviously our archive has a RAF Halton Pipes and Drums bias, but if anyone out there has other pictures of Halton, the other RAF Pipe Bands, or Pipers and Drummers past and present we would be delighted to show them here. If you have anything to add to the archive please email it to us. There are other excellent archives of band pictures too, on 53rd Entry, 63rd Entry, 103rd Entry and 208th Entry sites.
RAF Halton was first used as a military base before the First World War when the Army set up a large tented camp and used the surrounding land (which was given by the Rothschild family) to train soldiers in the art of trench warfare. In July 1919 the RAF obtained Halton Camp and formed RAF Area Command and No1 School of Technical Training (Boys) on 23 December 1919. This was Lord Trenchard's far sighted vision of training technicians in-house to work on the new aircraft of the Royal Air Force.
The School lasted until 1993 when it was moved to RAF Cosford. RAF Halton took over the Basic Airmen Recruit Training and established Administrative, RAF Police and Supply trade training schools in the Old Workshops. With the Airman's Command School and various lodger units RAF Halton remains a very busy station within Personnel and Training Command.
To the best of our knowledge, there have been pipers and bands at Halton since servicemen were first based here.
Thankyou to everyone who has sent pictures and information so far. All is being collated and most is now on show. Highland dress was not worn at Halton until right into the late 1960s!
To enlarge any picture for a clearer view simply click on the picture and a larger image will appear in a new window.
44 KBS (Kite Balloon Section), of the RFC (Royal Flying Corps) posed
outside a barrack hut in the snow at Halton in 1917. In the front row
on the far right you can see my great grandfather, George Douglas McFee.
He was a 1st AC (1st Class Aircraftsman), No.54595. He joined the RFC and left the RAF.
Alastair Pether, Drum Major RAF Halton Pipes and Drums.
The massed bands of No1 School of Technical Training (Apprentices) at RAF Halton,1930.
C Squadron, S Wing (34th) en route to schools, Halton, 1937.
No.3 Wing 'Drums', Halton 1938. Led by Drum Major- Sgt/App Gibbons (34th) Rhodesian. Note the lack of kilts or any highland dress.
45 Entry, 1944, RAF Halton.
45 and 46 Entries, marching through Aylesbury in 1944.
"I was a side-drummer in the 49th Entry Drums. This is an official photograph,
the copyright of which I presume is held by the M.O.D. I have a good many
pics of various entry's bands, also of individuals - too many to send
by email. The entrys concerned being 46th up to and including my own (49th)."
Eric Roberts (first on left, third row back!).
Possibly RAF Halton (goat at front) date and place unidentified probably 50s. Brass band at rear. Copyright Air Ministry
RAF Halton Apprentices Pipe Band leading the "athletes" on a march past at a Sports Meet at Halton. The photo was taken either in 1953, '54 or '55.
Sent by M Moriarty (ex 73rd entry).
"Halton Pipe Band at the Lord Mayors Parade London in I believe 1961. I am somewhere
in the back row of Pipers. I was in the 96th Entry and in 1963 was Pipe
Major of No 1 Wing. The really interesting chap is Warrant Officer "Bill"
Bailey seen striding out at the side of the Band towards the front. He
was Band Master for the 3 years I was at Halton and I do not know for
how long before or after. I would dearly like to know of what happened
to him after 1963. He was a great guy and would talk to us all as his
equals. I can see him now sitting at a table in the Band Hut his cheeks
puffing out as he took us through a tune on his practice chanter. I did
manage to get him worried once when, as Pipe Major, I took rather a long
time in tuning in all the other Pipers minutes before we were due to go
on at the Royal Tournament Earls Court. As far as I am concerned "Uncle
Bill" was the Pipe Band."
Stan John, 96th Entry.
"I was in the Pipe Band from 1963 to 1966 and we always wore standard Royal
Air Force uniform. An important element of the training was to instill
a sense of comradeship and unity amongst the apprentices and Training
Command HQ felt that it was not appropriate for any part of the apprentice
community to wear different uniform from the rest, particularly on parade.
Therefore, despite many representations from the apprentices themselves,
highland dress was never permitted. The photo is of the Pipes and Drums
of No.1 School of Technical Training, RAF Halton at the Royal Tournament
in 1966. Drum Major was Vic Denwood of the 105th and Pipe Major was myself,
also of the 105th. As you can see, we wore RAF T63 "Best Blues" and although
very smart, we definitely weren't highlanders!"
Sent by Frank R Bowron (Pipe Major, 105th entry)
Pipe Majors and Drum Majors of the British Army. Pipe Major David
Caird (RAF Halton), centre row, fourth from left. "Back
row standing from the left: 3rd D/M Grenville Hall, Gordon Highlanders
5th Pipe Major R Anderson, Black Watch (later RAF Leuchars).
Middle standing: 1st P/M Angus MacDonald, Scots Guards. 4th P/M Robson, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. 7th P/M Joe Kerr, Gordon Highlanders.
Seated: 3rd. WO1 John MacLellan, The Army School of Piping. 6th D/M Grant, Queens Own Highlanders. 8th P/M John Allan, Queens Own Highlanders. 9th. can't remember his name but he was the P/M of the Royal Scots.
The photo was most probably taken at Chelsea Barracks and I'm sure the time was July 1967."
Sent by Pat Larkin, Pipe Major Notts. Police. Copyright Ministry of Defence
A massed band (at least two visible), possibly late 50s-early 60s. Gloucester Meteors in the background (I think).
"No1 Group Pipe Band on their first major engagement after we formed up from
the Waddington and Scampton bands. The occasion was the 1967 Lincolnshire
Show on 21 June 1967 and, if you look closely, you will see that we fielded
16 pipers - not a bad turnout! Ray Merton was drum major. Front rank (left to right as you look at the
picture) was Jock Murray (with the pipe banner), Vic Humphries (who later
became PM), Bob Thompson (ex-Pipe Sergeant of the FEAF band, who later
became our PS), me, in PS position, having relinquished my PM job to Jock
Murray. Behind Jock is Brian Houston, who was also RAF Equestrian Champion
(also had his day job(!)) and, behind me, Lachlan (Lackie) McCallum who,
when addressed during a band inspection on a subsequent parade at RAF
Scampton by the Rt Hon Denis Healy (Secretary of Defence) with the greeting
"You're a fine figure of a man - you must come from a long line of
pipers" replied "No, not pipers, sir, drunkards, sir" in
his broad Scottish accent! It was also Lackey and Brian who, when I arranged
for them to pipe at the inauguration of the RAF Waddington swimming pool,
marched smartly around the pool and, as a finale, made a sharp right turn
at the diving board and marched equally smartly out along the board and
into the pool, leaving only a trail of musical bubbles to disturb the
water's surface!. As a footnote, at least half of the No1 Gp bandsmen were ex-Halton. (Oh,
I nearly forgot, the officer i/c No 1 Group Pipe Band established the
first World's Bagpipe Altitude record of 43,000 feet in a Vulcan bomber)."
Keith Knight, Pipe Major of the 93rd Entry, RAF Halton, retired from the RAF in 1987, member of the Golden Oldies.
Pipe Band Championships, 1968, RAF Waddington. A total of five or six
bands? The senior Drum Major is just catching his mace!
"I started the RAF Waddington Pipe Band in 1965 / 1966 when I arrived there to join No 101 Sqn and, a year or so later, the late Ray Merton, (Drum Major of the RAF Scampton Pipe Band), and I decided to join our bands up to form the No 1 Group Pipe Band. In 1968 I embarked on the then rather daunting idea of starting the RAF Pipe Band Championships, and ran the first two events before departing on posting to what was then Coastal Command.
To make sure we were starting off in a professional way, I managed to entice PM Willie Sloan, who was the head of the Scotish Pipe Band Association, and two of his colleagues down from Glasgow to judge the event by providing copious amounts of liquid refreshment. (I remember Gp Capt Arthur Griffiths, the Station Commander of the day, describing them as "three Harry Lauders with bottomless pits")! As the archive photo shows, the massed bands finale took part in the hangar as, although it was dry outside, the met forecast was for rain and, once planned for the hangar, in the hangar it had to be. The volume of sound in the hangar, from what I remember to be over a hundred musicians, was overwhelming. The "Senior Drum Major", depicted in the photograph indulging in one of his more daring mace levitation routines, was Ray Merton, who had put in a lot of the work necessary to prepare for the event. I seem to recall that the RAF Kinloss band (who at the time held an SPBA grade 2) were the victors."
Keith Knight, Pipe Major of the 93rd Entry, RAF Halton, retired from the RAF in 1987, member of the Golden Oldies.
RAF Pipe Band Championships, 1968, RAF Waddington. The senior Drum Major has
just thrown his mace!
I would like to draw your attention to the photo directly above the one I sent, it is of the frontal view of the massed pipe bands at RAF Waddington in 1968, well, the young looking chap on the far left in kilt is ME!!! It was taken not long after I had passed out from RAF Halton. Next to me is Technician Apprentice 'Tuck' Palmer of the 107th Entry, who was the Senior Drum Major at Halton when I left. The other Drum Major to the left of the Senior one is a Craft Apprentice from the 208th Entry at Halton, but I can't remember his name! Thanks again and best wishes to you and the band, Pete Vallance (Ex 207th Entry Craft Apprentice).
The "senior drum major" you mention in reference to the picture of the massed bands in the hangar, with the Lancaster in the background was, of course, the late Ray Merton (sixty-something entry), the No 1 Gp DM who, at this event (the first RAF PB championship at Waddington), had just won the individual DM competition.
Cheers, Keith Knight.
"Many moons ago I sent you the attached photograph of myself as the Drum Major
of RAF Halton Apprentice Pipe Band. It was taken in the Market Square
at Aylesbury in 1968."
Pete Vallance (Ex 207th Entry Craft Apprentice)
In 1970 a LP record was released by the pipes, drums and band!
"2 photos taken AOC's parade 17 May 1977 - the first ever appearance
of RAF Halton Pipes & Drums in highland dress - note the green football
socks as the hose tops hadn't arrived!
Front row right to left; John Allan 126 Entry - Still serving RAF Kinloss, Charlie Kirkbride 124 Entry - ??, Liam Hughes 126 Entry - ??, Brian Scambler 124 Entry - Still serving RAF Kinloss (doesn't play anymore), C/T Davey MacLeod - Ex Scots guards - the only full time piper ever in the RAF - retired mid 1978"
"RAF Massed bands Royal review July 1977 - Rehearsals
at RAF Newton, Review 29 July 1977 at RAF Finningley.
From left to right; RAF Halton, RAF St Athan, RAF Waddington, RAF Leuchars, RAF Honnington, RAF Germany, RAF Kinloss (the senior Drum Major was Royal Navy! serving at Leuchars)"
The Twickenham Rugby 7's photo was taken 29 April 1978 - the hose tops had
arrived by then!! The rehearsals went fine, the actual job was a mess.
The entrance was too narrow so the band split in half whilst playing.
When the two halves met again inside the ground they were a full beat
out from each other - and so it stayed - all the way round the park!!!
- Ouch, one of those jobs you'd rather forget. Massed RAF Pipes and Drums
at RAF Halton, rehearsal for Rugby Sevens finals at Twickenham. Thanks
to MEng John Allan of RAF Kinloss for this information. Also present;
Martin Clarke of RAF Halton, Keith Arnott of RAF Waddington, Sgt Paul
Wilson of RAF Leuchars, and Sgt Pete Roberts. Alan G Chisholm tells me
that the Senior Drum Major is Brian Calder and that the left flank is
Kinloss with Eric Smith the PM. Alan is somewhere further back.
"My name is Ken Burns and I was drum major for the Halton Band while at Halton 76-79. I think the Drum Major on the right of the picture was me. I won the RAF championship at St Athan 78/79 (not sure which year), I also did the Lord Mayor's parade and was at the Rugby 7's for the massed band."
Photo dated 25 August 1978. RAF Halton march past. Pipe Major Martin Clarke on left of band. Next to him is Paul, later Pipe Sergeant at RAF Leuchars.
RAF Pipe Band Championships(?), certainly a massed RAF Pipes and Drums. Photo dated 14th June 1980.
RAF Pipe Band Champions 1979-80, RAF Halton. Pipe Major Martin Clarke on far left. Ken Burns is the Drum Major on the right.
The 1986 Royal Tournament contingent. Includes Willie Taite, Iain Johnstone, John Allan, Wullie Robertson as Lead Tip and Paddy Lester from Lossiemouth, Andy (Donkey) Devit on Bass and Colin Frier from Kinloss on side, who's now a piper up there. Wullie Robertson.
At the RAF Pipe Band Championships, 1987. Alec from Waddington and Paul from Leuchars are there, but which band is it?
RAF Halton at the RAF Pipe Band Championships, 1987. The Drum Corps seems to be the old Pride of Murray's. Alan Newbold (Pride and RAF), Alan Mayell, Frank and Richard Trimbee, and Alan Ried are all visible.
RAF Halton at the RAF Pipe Band Championships, 1987. The Massed Bands at the prizegiving.
RAF Halton Pipes and Drums after the first season competing in Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association contests, 1997. The band is in front of Halton House Officers Mess with all the trophies from the 1997 competition season.
RAF Halton at the RAF Pipe Band Championships, RAF Kinloss, 1999.
RAF Halton at the RAF Pipe Band Championships, RAF Kinloss, 1999, after the prizegiving.
The band playing along side the Royal Marines, 2000.
For many years the band did the Remembrance Sunday Parade at Princes Risboro. This Photo is from 2000, when we still had black day jackets and Douglas tartan in Day Dress.
RAF Halton at the RAF Pipe Band Championships, 2000 at RAF Leuchars.
RAF Halton Pipes and Drums posed at the French air base the other side of the fence from Bordeaux Mérignac airport. In 2003 we played a concert in Bordeaux along with a Breton pipe band. Notice the move to blue day jackets.
RAF Pipe Band Champions, 2003. This was actually at Halton and the sound was deafening inside one of the hangars...
Our second trip to Bordeaux was also for some RAF Jaguar maintenance staff, but this time for their cricket demonstration match in the English gardens next to the Mairie. Bordeaux, 2004.
The RAF Pipes and Drums were kitted out for the first time with the Royal Air Force Tartan in time for the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo in 2004. Instead of pipers and drummers turning up in different tunics and various 'Station tartans' all were issued with the same. This included feather bonnets with blue and white bands, pipe ribbons and bag covers. The band played as two files in the Massed Pipes and Drums and featured alongside the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards in the Finale. In addition we played with the RAF Regiment Band for the Queen's Colour Squadron drill display.
Police Passing Out Parade, Hendon, 2004. The band playing with the Central Band of the Royal Air Force on a very cold and wet December day!
RAF Pipes and Drums at the Isle of Mann Tattoo, 2005. The RAF Pipes and Drums is selected from members of all five bands to produce a suitable size band for each event.
Competitions played quite a part in the band's role in recent years - this is RAF Halton having got in the top six in our grade in 2005. A real achievement with all our other playing commitments!
The Jools Holland Hootenanny for the BBC, 2005. A lot of stars playing live for the well known New Year's Eve Show which included RAF Halton Pipes and Drums. Everything is done in one take!
The combined RAF Halton and Waddington competition band play at Chatsworth House and Country Fair in 2006.
Police Passing Out Parade, Hendon, 2006. The band playing on its own on a cold and wet November day!
First British Military Band to march down the Champs Elysées in 50 years! In 2007 RAF Halton were invited to take part in a parade celebrating Breton culture in the middle of Paris. In front of a crowd of between 300 and 400,000 people the band marched proudly down the centre of the Champs Elysées in Paris. The televised event opened with a Breton piper playing Amazing Grace followed by RAF Halton and a Welsh male voice choir. Groups representing all parts of Celtic music and culture came from Asturia, Brittany, Canada, Eire, Galicia, Scotland and Wales.
The winning team (RAF Halton) at the RAF Pipe Band Championships, 2007.
The World Pipe Band Championships, 2008.
Prior to the RAF Pipes and Drums performance in the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, 2009 there was the usual Edinburgh Cavalcade to open the Festival - our contingent was so large we marched separately from the Army Pipe Bands. There was proper representation from all five RAF bands including Halton.
One of the strangest things the band has ever been asked to do: playing on top of an open double decker bus for some belly dancers.The band played at the Chilterns Show several years in a row...
Leading the way for the RAFA at the National War Memorial and Arboretum in 2011.
National Memorial Arboretum, 2012. RAF Halton Pipes and Drums played at the Memorial for various parts of RAFA. We did this on three occasions and played at different memorials each time.
RAF Leuchars Air Show, 2013. The bands played as a massed band for the first time with Air Cadets. Each band did a spot in various arenas, and we all played as a massed band at various time throughout the show, including the finale.
The Basel Tattoo is something that RAF Pipes and Drums have featured in since 2007. In 2014 the band was double size forming two files in the massed pipes and drums. The band was on with the Central Band of the RAF to play for the Queen's Colour Squadron Drill Display as well which made for a busy show. We were also on for the finale, and the show was on twice a day for two weeks. Halton's Drum Major was also the Senior Drum Major for the massed Pipes and Drums. This was the case for the Christmas Tattoo, the Berlin Tattoo and Basel for a second year.
This is the competing band which at the time was a combined band from RAF Halton and Waddington. Both bands practised separately and combined at RAF Whitton to practise together. An entire season's trophies on display outside Halton House Officers Mess, 2016.
RAF Founders Day celebrates the founding of the Royal Air Force on the 1st April 1918 from the merger of the Royal Naval Air Service and the Royal Flying Corps. Every year RAF Halton Pipes and Drums march the Standards form Lincolns Inn Fields to St Clement Dane's which is the RAF Chapel in central London. We march the RAFA to the church service, and then play outside the Law Courts for everyone to process out when the service is over.
RAF Halton was used for the RAF 100 parade rehearsals (left). RAF Pipes and Drums had a band of 45, including members of RAF Halton. Rehearsals were done in RAF No.2 Dress uniform (shirt sleeve order), but with Glengarys as head dress. A night time rehearsal was done along the Mall (right) and at Buckingham Palace, but in silence at 04:00! 2018 was a very busy year for all of the RAF bands. Playing on the forecourt of Buckingham Palace is an experience that none will ever forget, not to mention marching back into Wellington Barracks with a pipe band that size and our heads held high.
In the RAF 100 year the band took part in a Beating Retreat at Balmoral for Her Majesty the Queen. The RAF Massed Pipes and Drums pictured has Central Scotland (left two files), Halton, 2622 (Hlnd.) Sqn. (central three files in Grey Douglas), Lossiemouth (two files) and Waddington on the right two files. In total 123 RAF Pipers, Drummers and Drum Majors took part in what was a very special performance.