Pipe Major Alex Howie April 17 2013, 3 Comments

Contributed By: Sandra Angus (daughter of Pipe Major Alex Howie)

Altissimo! and World Military Bands would like to recognize former Piper with the Royal Canadian Air Force Band, Pipe Major Alex Howie, with this article submitted by Sandra Angus, daughter of Howie. “Dad did much to promote piping in the armed forces.  I have boxes of photos  but unfortunately,  he did not promote himself,  especially after retirement.  Some of the medals he won over the years in Scotland, the USA, and Canada have disappeared as he gave away much of his piping paraphernalia as he got older.  He did have two authors ask to write his story when he was in his 80's, but he refused to talk to them, even at our insistence. It has always been told in our family that in 1943 he won a medal in Edinburgh, playing with Shotts and Dykehead, the first Canadian to win a medal in Scotland, and apparently, it caused quite a stir. They did not know he was a Canadian when he won it.  I have sent a letter off to see if they have any record of this, but haven't heard back yet.  I believe this was where he trained for Pipe Major. Dad trained in Edinburgh and with the 48th Highlanders in Toronto and went to war with the Toronto Scottish. He was Pipe Major of the Canadian Forces Base Rockliffe Band, then Luffenham, England and then we went to 1(F) Wing Marville, and was Pipe Major of that band, which he started. 

Many of his band members he taught,  and they traveled all over Europe in the 50's and were quite a sensation, representing RCAF in many countries in Europe.  He piped for Princess Elizabeth and for the Queen Mother.  They were regularly on Radio Luxembourg. He came back to Rockliffe, when he was asked to start the base band in Trenton, Ontario where he retired.  He started the kids legion band in Brighton, Ontario with good friend Larry Francis, then went to Port Hope, Ontario to be Pipe Major there. He co-ordinated the first Scottish World Festival in Toronto at the CNE, with bands coming in from all over the world.  It was a great success and went for 3 years.

I remember going to Maxville after he retired for many summers where he judged individual and band piping. The original score of the "RAF March Past" was the work of Sir Walford Davies, and combined the rhythm of the RFC bugle call with the call of the RNAS. The second part of the March Past was composed by Sir George Dyson. In February 1943, authority was granted by HM Stationery Office to publish the music in Canada under the title "RCAF March Past." In the early 1950's Pipe Major Alex Howie composed a unique version for the bagpipe, and in 1970 Pipe Major Archie Cairns composed a Trio for bagpipe. In 1974, the RCAF Association received permission to title the music in Canada simply as the "Air Force March Past," and that same year successfully lobbied the Minister of National Defense to reverse a decision by DND's Department of Ceremonial to abandon the March Past, and replace it with different music to identify the CF's "Air Element." Today, the "Air Force March Past" remains as the signature music for airmen and airwomen, past and present, the Royal Canadian Air Cadets, and proudly, the official march of the Air Force Association of Canada.”

Our thanks go out to Sandra Angus for directing our attention to this omission and for her help in providing the information on her well-known and respected father.