The Tune Story
Rated among the finest marches ever written for the pipes, ’The 79th’s Farewell to
Gibraltar’ was one of the early quicksteps written for troops on the march.
It was composed by Pipe Major John Macdonald of the 79th Cameron Highlanders in June of 1848
when his regiment left Gibraltar for Canada. The 79th was originally supposed to have gone
to the West Indies, a post notorious for its unhealthy climate and the inordinate amount
of casualties due to fever, but at the last minute the regiment was posted to Canada due
to the fortuitous intervention of the Secretary of State (who happened to be the commanding
For three years, that regiment had been part of the garrison stationed on the
strategic (but small) Rock of Gibraltar, located at the far southern part of Spain.
The regiment was delighted to get off "the Rock," to go somewhere else.
This is the reason
the Pipe Major composed “The 79th Farewell to Gibraltar” and decided to teach it to the pipers
on the crossing. But the tune’s title may have been somewhat tongue-in-cheek, as the transport
lay off Gibraltar for some days, delayed by contrary winds.
Having crossed the Atlantic Ocean without incident, the fog on the St. Lawrence seaway
presented a serious hazard. The captain was greatly concerned about a possible collision
and asked the Pipe Major to take the pipe band up on deck to play as a warning to other ships
of their presence. MacDonald decided to have them play their new tune. So, it was by
The 79th’s Farewell to Gibraltar’s first public airing that the ship avoided collision.
Notably, the bass drone pipes’ were in tune with the maritime foghorn!
Pipe Major John MacDonald
John MacDonald, from Tiree, heard Allan MacLean from Mull piping for MacLean of Hynish
when he was eleven years old. He heard tunes named ’The Blue
Ribbon’ and ’The Bratach Bhàn’ played and when he returned home
he took out a chanter and played the tunes from memory, having only heard them once.
He was Pipe Major of the 1st Battalion 79th Cameron Highlanders from 1840 until 1849.
He’s the composer of ‘The 79th’s Farewell to Gibraltar’ and ‘The Dornoch Links’.
He lived to 1893, aged 72, having fought in the Crimean War.
His son Peter, who was also a prize-winning piper, left for Australia.
He took his father’s collection of piping manuscripts with him.
The 79TH - History of the Regiment (1793 - 1918)
The regiment was raised as the 79th Regiment of Foot (Cameronian Volunteers) on
August 17, 1793 at Fort William from among the members of the Clan Cameron by Sir Allan
Cameron of Erracht (1753–1828). In 1806, the official name of record was changed and
the regiment became the 79th Cameron Highlanders. The 79th Regiment was known as
the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders until 1961, when it was merged with
the Seaforth Highlanders to form the Queen’s Own Highlanders.
The regiment was formed at the height of the French Revolutionary Wars, and was deployed
in the Netherlands in 1794 where it took part in an unsuccessful campaign,
before evacuating to Great Britain. On its return the 79th Foot was listed for disbandment
and 210 of the men joined the Black Watch.
A year later Colonel Cameron was asked to raise his battalion again and did so with 780 men.
In March 1801 the 79th Foot landed at Aboukir Bay, Egypt as part of an expeditionary force
to prevent French control of the land route to India. After victories at Mandora and Alexandria,
the British forces forced the surrender of the French forces at Cairo.
Along with other regiments that took part in the Egyptian campaign the 79th Foot
were henceforth permitted to bear a sphinx superscribed EGYPT on its colours and badges.
The regiment won 15 battle honours and earned special renown in the Napoleonic Wars,
especially during the Penisular Campaign and the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.
On 16th of June, 1815 The 79th Cameron Highlanders was at Quatre Bras,
where the French infantry and cavalry kept them under constant attack.
The Cameron lost half their fighting strength, dead and wounded, in this battle.
Wellington’s forces left Quatre Bras on the 17th after a miserable night
in the fields and proceeded to the area known as Waterloo. They arrived wet, hungry and
tired after their long march in time to face the French again.
At a very critical moment during this battle when the regiment formed a square
to repel the French cavalry an astonishing event took place.
Piper Kenneth MacKay stepped outside the square and played the ancient pibroch
rallying tune "Cogadh no Sith" (War or Peace). By nightfall the Great Army of Napoleon had been destroyed.
The next forty years (1815 – 1854) were quiet for the regiment.
The 79th Foot remained in France as part of the army of occupation until 1818
and then provided garrisons in the UK, Canada and Gibraltar.
Then in 1854, the regiment was sent to The Crimea where it won two more battle
honours at Alma and Sevastopol. Barely a year (1856) at home after the Crimean War,
the regiment was given orders to sail to India to help quell the famous Indian Mutiny.
It took part in the recapture of Lucknow in 1858. The 79th Highlanders stayed in India
for the next 12 years before returning to Scotland.
For the next two years the regiment was station on the Isle of Wight,
where they performed the ceremonial duties for Her Majesty Queen Victoria.
Her affection for this famous regiment led to their new title
of "The 79th Queen’s Own Cameron Higlanders" bestowed on them on April 17th 1873.
The regiment’s dark green facings, worn since 1793, were replaced with royal blue.
In 1882 the Cameron’s sailed for Egypt from their post at Gibraltar,
to take part in the succesful campaign at Tel-el-Kebir under General Wolsely’s command.
They remained in Egypt until 1884, when it took part in an expedition to Sudan.
The Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders were still station in Cairo in 1899,
when the South African Boer War commenced in 1900, and due to the fact that reinforcements
were desperately needed in South Africa, that 79th were given orders to sail from the Suez
to South Africa, where they proceeded to march from Bloemfontein to Johannesburg and to Pretoria.
With the fall of Pretoria, the Cameron joined in pursuing the Boers forces,
which had escaped from Pretoria, and on the June 11th and 12th, 1900 the 1st Cameron’s were
engaged in a victorious attack on the Boer’s position at the Battle of Diamond Hill.
Then in July of 1900, the regiment took part in the operations within the Orange River Colony.
The 79th’s engaged in an arduous pursuit which led them to surround and capture
General Prinsloo’s army at Brandwater. This was the second major surrender
of the Boer forces during the conflict.
The Battalion returned to Fort George, Inverness, after their two year tour of duty in South Africa.
Then in 1904 the 1st Battalion provided the Royal Guard at Balmoral Castle.
The Camerons left for Ireland in 1904. In 1907 the Camerons were sent to Belfast
to help reinforce the garrison during a serious rioting in Ulster.
The 1st Battalion was stationed in 1913 at Edinburgh Castle until 1914
when war broke out in Europe. The 1st Battalion Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders
marched out of Edinburgh Castle headed for France.
Sir Alan Cameron of Erracht
Ewen Cameron of Lochiel took as his second wife Marjory MacKintosh.
Their son Ewen was the first of what would become the Camerons of Erracht.
This was in the early 16th century and by 1745, Donald Cameron, 7th of Erracht, was
second in command of the Camerons at Glenfinnan when Prince Charles raised his standard.
After the disastrous Culloden, Donald spent the following three years as a fugitive,
wandering among the mountains, homeless. He died in 1780.
The relationship of the Erracht family and their relatives from Lochiel swung regularly
between marriages and murders.
Sir Alan Cameron of Erracht (1753 – 9 March 1828) is
Donald’s eldest son. British soldier, he joined the army as a volunteer and served
in North America. At the beginning of the American War of Independence Cameron was captured
by American colonists in 1775 and imprisoned for two years in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
He returned to Scotland in 1784. After war was declared with revolutionary France in 1793,
he raised, at his own expense, the 79th Cameron Highlanders regiment. He was accepted as
its Colonel (although his army rank still appears to be no more than Major).
He commanded the regiment when it joined the forces of the Duke of York in the Flanders
Campaign 1794, and during the retreat through Holland 1795. From 1795-1797 the regiment
was in the West Indies and served at Martinique. Cameron was promoted Lieutenant-Colonel
in 1796. Devastated by fever the 79th was eventually withdrawn from the West Indies and
rebuilt in Guernsey 1798. Cameron again served under York in the Helder Campaign in 1799.
The 79th was in garrison in Houat in 1800, then joined Abercromby’s expedition to Egypt 1801.
Cameron was confirmed as Colonel 79th Foot on 1 January 1805. In 1807 he led his regiment
in the expedition against Copenhagen under Cathcart. Cameron joined the army in the Peninsular
in late 1808, as a Brigadier-General commanding the 2nd Brigade of Rowland Hill’s 3rd
Division in Portugal. Under Wellesley from 1809, his brigade saw action at Oporto 12th May,
then fighting at Talavera 28th July, and at Busaco 27th September 1810. He was promoted
Major-General on 25th July 1810 and invalided home.
Cameron was noted for his outspoken eccentricity.
When asked his opinion on the idea of replacing kilts with ’trews’ in the Highland
regiments he responded famously and at length against it. When the 95th Rifles were
added to make up his brigade in late 1808, this gallant but eccentric old chieftain
declared: ’I did not want a parcel of riflemen, as I already had a thousand Highlanders,
who would face the devil.’
Cameron became a Knight of the Bath in 1815 and lieutenant-general in 1819.
The 79th (or Cameron of Erracht) TARTAN
The Cameron Highlanders are the only clan-raised unit with their own tartan, which is not based
on the goverment tartan. The tartan worn by the regiment is the Cameron of Erracht.
On raising, it was decided that the red-based Cameron tartan would not be used, and
instead a new design was devised. It was designed by Marsali MacLean, Sir Allan’s mother,
upon his request. She was the daughter of Ranald McDonnell of Keppoch. She based the design
on a mixing of the McDonnell of Keppoch sett with the addition of a yellow line from the
Cameron tartan, and the omission of three red lines found in that of Macdonell.
The 79th tartan was a source of jealously guarded pride to the Cameron Highlanders.
In 1881, when the linking of battalions was taking place, the War Office considered
linking the 42nd Royal Highlanders with the 79th Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders.
The problem was that both regiments would have to wear the same tartan and obviously
the 42nd had precedence. The Camerons were asked by telegram, ’Will your regiment adopt
tartan of the 42nd Regiment?’ Risking disbandment or amalgamation, the curt reply in the
negative left the War Office in no doubt that no one interferes with the 79th tartan.