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Memories of a Boy Piper The Wartime Story of MacAllister Ellis [In 1990, Rev MacAllister Ellis sat down with a high school history student from the Yarmouth Consolidated Memorial High School. What follows is a transcript of what Rev Ellis shared of his wartime experience] I was first stationed in Westmount after which we marched to Farnham, sixty miles away. It was rout march so we didn't do it in a day or anything like that. Anyway, one of the things about Farnham was, it was all sand. In those days it was called, 'Little Libya'. There was a prisoner of war camp there and it was a great place to establish the military particularly under canvas. We were in tents and there were several other Battalions there as well as ours. I got up in the night, sleep walking and I was wandering around and I guess somewhere I tripped over a guy-rope on a tent and I woke up with the feeling, 'where on earth am I' and one tent looks like another. Talk about boxes in the suburbs. You get lines and lines of tents going for miles, you know. Where was mine with my straw mattress that we were sleeping on And I tripped around that night. God knows how I ever got back. But in many ways, I figure that was sort of a 'dream paradise' of things that went on in my youth. It had its high points. There are other things that I … I've just chosen to blot out. I don't want to talk about or think about again, you know … but there are other things that I remember. Now, how I won the Victoria Cross (laughs). Well, they never really gave it to me; they never realized what a splendid soldier I was. It was 1942 and that's when the Japanese conquered Hong Kong. In Hong Kong, there were two Canadian Battalions, the Winnipeg Rifles, and the Royal Rifles of Quebec. They along with other British troops were taken to prisoner of war camps and terribly used and all that but, as soon as that happened the word went out that Canada was going to replace those two battalions that were lost. Right away, the Black Watch you see in those days we did things by regiments and the Black Watch said, 'we will replace one' and I think Winnipeg replaced the other. Now, at the time, I had been a piper in the Black Watch 73rd Battalion reserve. I was a boy. I started when I was twelve years old. In 1942 I was fourteen or fifteen. Anyway, they were mustering from the reserve battalions. We had two reserve battalions. We had one battalion on active service, the 13th, and the 73rd were on reserve. Lots of guys were going. I wanted to go. In our regiment we had a tremendous sort of 'family feeling' sort of like a good parish in a way. It was very friendly. It still is. I still feel that the Black Watch was family to me in a strange way. I went before our Major. Every one of us was called before him. I was a company piper 'A' Company. He knew about me, my age and all that stuff. He said, 'Well, MacAllister, this really is not terribly important to you is it?' I said, 'Well, I'd like to enlist and I'd like to go on active service.' He hummed and hawed and finally he said, 'Well, if you can get your father's consent I'll cover for you.' So, I went home and I whined and I think at that age, a fifteen year old boy, my family, mostly my father, was glad to say, 'go on, let someone else look after you [laughs] had enough of you around here.' So, he gave me the letter and I went and I enlisted at the Montreal amateur athletic grounds and they shipped me to St. John and also to Farnham for basic training. I was in the Second Battalion then and everyone was aware that I was a child. There was enough, sort of, 'ordinary' people around us that they saw to it that I never got into bad stuff. I never drank. I never touched a drop while I was in the army. If I cursed or blasphemed I would have got a fist across the face because I was a youngster and that wasn't right. At the same time we had other kids in the Regiment, maybe some younger, maybe some older; but, mostly the same age who came from an outfit in Montreal called the Highland Cadets. The Highland Cadets could strike fear into the hearts of soldiers. They were tough and they were mean. They came out of a definite Celtic tradition. They were fighters. Hobnail boots to be issued for sure for pleasure, but, did you really need a bit of razor blade in your balmoral? These sorts of guys I never got involved with them, except in a friendly way. No contempt or anything like that. My training continued as a piper, and also in Frist Aid. I was too young to drive. You see, pipers are supposed to do something useful besides look beautiful and be glorious. So, I learned First Aid, painted a lot of rocks and did things with the regular infantry. I became a fair dab with a light machine gun. I think I can still strip and put it together in the dark and probably shoot as well with it in the dark as I could in the light. Then, it was overseas and I was beginning to become a bit frightened. I think it appropriate to my age. I didn't want to die. Some of the other guys, they seemed to be so damned blood thirsty. After five months training in England, I was delighted to be seconded up to Perth, the home of homes of the Black Watch, where the Imperial Black Watch, that's the 51st Highland Division Black Watch [were located], in order to do a piping course up there. This was not the category of what was going on in Edinburgh Castle with Pipe Major Ross. This was more military piping, but it was good and I enjoyed it. Then I was seconded from that to combined operations at Loch Linnhe in the Highlands and the Great Glen. Largely under the instruction of Lord Simon Fraiser, we were being prepared for commando operations. He was strange man. He was a Lord. His castle was in Beauly above Inverness. He was a strikingly handsome young looking man, probably 45 at the time. He had six children. He always walked with a stick. When he enlisted, he brought with him his company, men he paid himself. He was in charge of this combined operations thing, training us for all sorts of 'irregular' military actions. This eventually became the Commando groups of the British army. Lord Simon Fraiser, known in Gaelic as 'MacShimidh' was [called Shimi by his friends]. I think it would be a beautiful thing if in everyone's life they could come across such a gallant and 'strange' man as was he. He was very exciting. Any man, when he goes into action he takes his piper in highland dress, both he and his piper naturally, and his stick ….pointing with his stick at enemy soldiers and telling his men 'someone to be shot over there' then just smiles and quietly walks along into God knows what sort of idiotic things …mostly in Northern France, in German submarine depots, nicknamed 'pig pens' where the Germans repaired and re-outfitted their subs. From there I went back to the mother battalion and for a while I was shipped down to Italy as far as Naples. It was under Allied control the most god awful poverty and wreckage of war I've ever seen in my life. I'm sure it was just as bad in many other places, but Naples for me was the [worst] of what can happen to people in war. I was around there for a while. I was still piping. I got some work with Provost guarding prisoners not Germans, not Italians, but Canadians who were bolting. Then I moved off to follow along on the tag end of what was going on in France and Holland. I never was in Germany. I saw it, waved to it, but I never went there. I was in Holland when the war ended. Before that, when I went to France, the Government in its wisdom, they realized my age and they said, 'This isn't a man, this is a boy'. There is still, in the British Army a category of 'boy'. At that time, I was 'Piper Private'. Then I was switched to 'Piper Boy' which meant that my pay was reduced to 65 cents a day which was not a lot when compared to $1.30. At one time I was up to $1.70 doing special duties, piping and that. When the war ended, I was finally old enough to enlist. I was glad it was all over. I came back and I had to go to school then. At 15, I was perfectly happy, at the time, to be out of school. I found it a crushing bore when I enlisted. When I came back I, at best, had to have high school, you know. So, I went back to school and sat amongst children. There were courses set up for guys that wanted to do it on the 'quick, you know. I did my high school in one year. Then, I went out to work. As the time passed I became not a pacifist but I sure as hell would not make a good soldier anymore except I have a tremendous affection for the Regiment and the people I knew and I can only say that I was used most gently well, not all the time of course, but most of the time. They were great guys. But, if I had my life to live over, I`d rather be a regular teenager and go to the malt shop or whatever teenagers do drive around in convertibles and have fun not paint rocks, not strip machine guns in the dark and not be involved in killings and carnage, not getting scared ... Maybe it`s good … I don`t know. But now, you see, I`m at an age that I couldn`t do any of that stuff if I wanted. I`m too old which makes me feel bad to. I`d like to have the option to say, 'aye' or 'no'. Lots of idiocy when it comes to military action ... God knows what's going on. One can read a book about it and they say, 'well, now look, here's this battalion lined up this battalion here and this is the object, the artillery is going to shell for so many hours soften it up and then we're going to advance in this manner and so on. But, when you are just a line soldier, you don't know anything. I'm not altogether sure our Lieutenants and Captains knew a hell of a lot. You'd stand around waiting, getting wet and getting cold. Then, all of a sudden, you'd make a great move and you didn't know why. Then you stood around and got cold some more have rotten food. Then a little burst of sporadic action over there or over here, some other place. Then you'd move and there'd be action in your place. One of the things that is engraved in my mind now is that the whole thing was very dream like because you just didn't know what was going down … you know. You weren't told, 'this is your objective, this is what we're going to do we're going to capture the castle no way. You're just standing around, moving here, moving there, pointed in that direction, shoot, advance into this village and so on. Then, back and paint rocks. So, that is essentially it what I remember. There are a lot of other things but the memory just sort of erases, you know. That is what it was for me. [R ev. MacAllister Scott Ellis aged 79, of Yarmouth Nova Scotia, passed away on May 5, 2007, in the Yarmouth Regional Hospital. He was born in Ottawa, the son of J.H.Scott Ellis and Jean (McAllister) Ellis. His education in Montreal was interrupted in 1943 when, already a boy piper in the 3rd Battalion Black Watch, he enlisted for active service, his military career as a private was brief, however, as he was discovered to be only 15 years old. Nonetheless his interest in piping and Scottish traditions was to remain with him throughout his life. He taught piping for many years and in many places. In the late 1960s he led the formation of the Gathering of the Clans Pipe Band in Pugwash. He also served as a Chairman of the Pugwash Gathering of the Clans. He was a member and President of the Atlantic Canada Pipe Band Association. He also belonged to the St. Andrews Societies in Baltimore, Amherst and Yarmouth. Other enthusiasms and interests led him to become a Canadian Legion chaplain, to join the Order of St. Lazarus, the NAACP, the Lions Club and the Associates of Holy Cross Monastery. Before finishing his education he worked variously on the lumber drive, in a mine laboratory, in advertising, and in Montreal as a reporter and editor. He then began his studies at McGill University and the Montreal Diocesan Theological College intending to become a priest in the Anglican Church. He was ordained a priest in 1953, working his first two years in the parish of St. Columba, Montreal. In 1954, he brought his growing family to Baltimore, Md., where he was a curate and eventually rector of Mount Calvary Episcopal Church. In 1966, he came to Nova Scotia to serve the Parish of Pugwash and River John, spending 10 happy years with parishioners, pipers, colleagues and friends. Then Father Ellis moved to Yarmouth to the historic parishes of Holy Trinity and St. Stephen's. He maintained a strong vocation and was active as a priest well past his retirement. Father Ellis conducted many retreats and quiet days throughout the province. He was a fine and poetic writer and extemporary preacher. His weekly reflections in the church bulletin were treasured by many, as were his letters.] (Obituary from The Halifax Herald, May 8, 2007)
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Memories of a Boy Piper The Wartime Story of MacAllister Ellis