When was the association created and what are its main activities?
I created the Samarobriva Pipes and Drums Association in 2007 with the aim of meeting and uniting other people who were passionate about Scottish music. I also wanted to help others learn about this style of music and share my passion for the Celtic culture. The band now counts 32 members and we take part in a number of events throughout Picardy as well as in other regions.
How are you involved in the commemorations of the centenary of the Great War? Why is it particularly important to you?
We all agree that the centenary of the Great War is an extremely important event. Although it was not the founding event of our association, our members felt that we had to be a part of this special moment; we wanted to highlight the history of the bagpipe and pipers during the First World War. Our ideas and projects have gradually matured and they have even been included in the official programme of commemorations thanks to support from both the Conseil General de la Somme and the government.
What part did music play during the First World War?
The pipers of the First World War were amongst the first to leave the trenches, leading their comrades into battle; not surprisingly, their numbers were decimated during the fighting. Cinema paid tribute to this in the famous film The Longest Day, which was set during the Second World War. I remember that famous scene where Piper Bill Millin crossed Pegasus Bridge. In reality, after the First World War pipers were banned from conflict zones, but Millin’s commanding officer, the Scottish Lord Lovat, requested him to play to rally his comrades. Pipers were an important part of nearly every Scottish regiment during the First World War and historically the bagpipes have always been a military instrument. Musicians paid a very heavy price during the Great War and we feel it is important to pay tribute to them. On a larger scale, we play in remembrance of all the soldiers, whatever their nationality. Every two years, we also organise our own remembrance trail where we play at German, French and Commonwealth sites of remembrance.
Could you tell us about your involvement with the 100th anniversary of the offensive at Ovillers-La-Boisselle, on the 13th December last year?
Regiments from Landerneau and Vannes, in Britanny, fought in Ovillers-La-Boisselle on the 17th December 1914. The village of Ovillers is now twinned with Landerneau as during this battle the 19th Infantry Regiment of Landerneau lost 1138 men and officers. The regiment was then relieved by Scottish regiments. On the 13th July 2014, the town of Landerneau held a ceremony (which received the special Centenary Label by the Mission du Centenaire) in commemoration of this event. We were invited to the ceremony and met the Bagad Bro Landerne there. We then decided to hold another ceremony at Ovillers-La-Boisselle on the 13 December 2014, just a few days short of the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Ovillers. In partnership with the village, the municipality of Landerneau was invited, as were the Bagad Bro Landerne and a group of musicians from the town of Hünfeld in Germany, which is twinned with Landerneau. Music from both Scotland and Brittany was played at these commemorations.
What did this event mean to you?
We felt it was important to pay tribute to all the soldiers who had fought here at that time: those from Brittany, Scotland and Germany. A particularly poignant moment was when two families met at the ceremony: Lieutenant Augustin de Boisanger was killed during the Battle of Ovillers; a German officer found some letters on his body and sent them on to Augustin’s family. Descendants of both of these men had come to the commemorations; it was a very special moment - music, this common language that we share - had brought us all together.
And, you also played at the InterCeltic Festival at Lorient…
Yes, we were so lucky! We were in the 5th position of the parade of Celtic nations. This immense parade took place on the 3rd August, on the 100th anniversary of the call for general mobilisation in France. We were the only pipe band from Picardy at the festival! It was an extraordinary moment for all of us - our association is only eight years old! It was awe-inspiring: the organisation, the crowds, the atmosphere, the other 75 bands present… It was a moment that we will never forget!
What are your next projects?
We have a great project underway! We hope that we will be able to bring pipers from all over the world together for the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme in 2016. The project is slowly polishing up: our objective is to unite the symbolic number of 2016 musicians, who will march through the streets of Amiens. Our ultimate dream would be to include musicians from all of the countries that were involved in the war. That would be a wonderful achievement!