Pipe Major, Staff Sergeant John Bruce, | H. Carter


Before retiring and settling down in Mallorca, Pipe Major, Staff Sergeant John Bruce, circumnavigated and toured the world in the Navy with 42 Commando Royal Marines and then in the Army with The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards. He ended his military career in Oman - he initially went for two years and stayed for 26.

John was born in Peebles, Scotland, and at the age of 15 decided that he wanted to join the armed forces.

“I was accepted into the Royal Navy to start with, but I didn’t like it very much, so I transferred to the Royal Marines, did my Commando course, got my Green Beret and was sent to Singapore. I spent three years out there before a couple of tours of Northern Ireland in the early to mid seventies.

It was a bit scary at times, and during one of the tours The Pipe and Drums of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards came and played for us in Armagh. I got speaking to the Pipe Major, told him I played the bagpipes. I had started playing when I was 12 although I played the drums first, and he asked where I was from. It transpired that he was also from Peebles along with a number of other pipers in the band so he asked me what I was doing with ‘this lot’. I said I was with the Marines, who used to have a pipe band in Singapore but that it had been disbanded and I was the only one left. So he asked me to join them.

“Trouble is you can’t really transfer from the Royal Marines to the Army, but he said if I wanted to, he would make it happen and sure enough he did. And at the time, their recording of Amazing Grace rose up to number one in the charts a few months later, and I transferred over in August, 1972.

“From there I went to Germany where the regiment was stationed. Obviously with Amazing Grace being number one we were very popular all over the world and we just revelled all over on the name of Amazing Grace. We did a couple of trips to Australia, New Zealand, North America and Canada.

“Basically, when I was in the Army, although I was a piper, we had to train as tank crewmen, so initially I trained as a gunner and then as a driver and eventually crew commander.

“I spent the rest of my time with The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, mostly in Germany. I did my Senior Piper’s course and my Pipe Major’s course, which was nine months’ long, at Edinburgh Castle in 1979. I learnt about the history of piping, famous piping families and various pieces of classical Highland music for the pipes called piobaireachds.

“The history is very important. The pipes were introduced in the Army to put fear in to the enemy basically, and it worked quite well. Imagine sitting in a trench in the middle of the night and you hear the bagpipes coming towards you and you don’t know what they are. Hence why we got the nickname ‘The Ladies from Hell’ by the Germans I think it was.

“Then I took over as Pipe Major of the regiment in 1983 and remained there until I finished my time in September, 1991. That’s when I retired from the Army. I had just returned from the first Gulf War and was offered a job in Oman which, after one thing and another, I eventually accepted and stayed there for 26 years teaching the Royal Army of Oman how to play the bagpipes,” John said.

But apart from travelling the world as a piper and Pipe Major, John has played as the lone piper on the ramparts of Edinburgh Castle during the famous Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, although the first time it was so foggy no one, including his parents, could see him.

“I also played for the Queen many times in Scotland and at Ascot, for example. I played for Pope John Paul at the Vatican and he gifted us with a set of Rosary Beads which had been blessed by him. I played for President Reagan at The White House while we were on a tour of America and we got invited to play on the lawn before drinks during which I had to translate a Gaelic label on a bottle of whisky for the president and explain its history,” John recalled. “He was very satisfied with that, and the whisky.”

The pipes are still very much part of his life, although John describes it as a hobby. “Living in an apartment makes playing somewhat complicated,” he joked.

But since moving to Mallorca he has been hired for a host of events from marriages to weddings and birthdays. Last month it was his task to ‘Address to the Haggis’ at the first Bulletin Burns Day event at the Mallorca Country Club and he has already been booked for a Burns Supper in Ibiza next year. So he’s not hanging up his pipes just yet.