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The Green Hills of Tyrol is one of the best known, and oldest, tunes played by pipe bands today. It was originally from the opera "William Tell" by Rossini, but was transcribed to the pipes in 1854 by Pipe Major John MacLeod after he heard it played by a Sardinian military band when serving in the Crimean War with his Regiment, the 93rd Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. Pipe Major MacLeod himself was well liked in his Regiment, and had a reputation for selflessness and amiability.

In October of that year MacLeod and five other pipers participated in the event that made the Regiment’s reputation. The Russian heavy cavalry had taken the Causeway Heights, and its gun emplacements, above the supply port of Balaclava. Only the Sutherland Highlanders under Sir Colin Campbell stood between them and the port – the capture of which would have ended the campaign there and then.

The heavy cavalry rolled down the hill onto the 93rd. Ordered to die where they stood if need be, the 93rd was formed into an extended line two ranks deep rather than in the defensive square formation more usually adopted by infantry facing a cavalry attack. The 93rd stood its ground, firing controlled volleys into the attacking cavalry. The cavalry faltered and veered to the left of the 93rd exposing their flank to more fire.   

The Russians were then beaten off by an audacious uphill charge. The repelling of a heavy cavalry charge by grossly outnumbered infantry was an unprecedented achievement. The feat was witnessed by The Times’ war correspondent who immortalized the 93rd as "the thin red streak tipped with a line of steel".
Unfortunately the debacle of the charge of the Light Brigade later that same day led to a stalemate at Balaclava and the war dragged on throughout the winter.

When the Crimean campaign finally ended the 93rd were immediately dispatched to fight in the Indian Mutiny. In this campaign Pipe Major MacLeod distinguished himself at the siege of Lucknow when he was first through the breach and almost immediately began playing the pipes.


This tune, which refers to a corner of Austria, strangely entered Scottish ballad repertoire. But Scots have resolved the tension by creating a song known as “A Scottish Soldier” dedicated to the Scots who have been fighting in wars all over the world and sometimes did not return to their native land.


The version below is from Andy Stewart.

There was a soldier, a Scottish soldier,
Who wandered far away and soldiered far away,
There was none bolder, with good broad shoulders,
He fought in many a fray and fought and won.
He’s seen the glory, he’s told the story,
Of battles glorious and deeds victorious.
But now he’s sighing, his heart is crying,
To leave these green hills of Tyrol.

Because these green hills are not Highland hills
Or the Island’s hills, they’re not my land’s hills,
As fair as these green foreign hills may be
They are not the hills of home.

And now this soldier, this Scottish soldier,
Who wandered far away and soldiered far away,
Sees leaves are falling, and death is calling,
And he will fade away, on that dark land.
He called his piper, his trusty piper,
And bade him sound away, a pibroch sad to play,
Upon a hillside, a Scottish hillside
Not on these green hills of Tyrol


And now this soldier, this Scottish soldier,
Who wanders far no more, and soldiers far no more,
Now on a hillside, a Scottish hillside,
You’ll see a piper play this soldier home.
He’s seen the glory, he’s told the story,
Of battles glorious, and deeds victorious;
But he will cease now, he is at peace now,
Far from these green hills of Tyrol



  Il était un soldat, un soldat écossais
  qui guerroyait loin de sa patrie
  Nul ne lui était plus audacieux et robuste
  Il combattit dans de nombreuses mêlées toutes victorieuses.
  Il a vu la gloire et raconté l’histoire
  des actes de bravoure émaillant ses glorieuses batailles.
  Mais à présent il soupire et son coeur pleure
  de quitter ces collines verdoyantes du Tyrol.

  Parce que ces collines verdoyantes ne sont pas celles des Highlands
  ni celles des îles, terres de ses ancêtres.
  Aussi douces ces vertes collines puissent-elles être
  elles ne sont pas celles de ma patrie.

  Et maintenant, ce soldat, ce soldat écossais
  qui sillonnait au lointain, guerroyant
  voit les feuilles tomber et la mort l’appeler
  Il va disparaitre sur cette triste terre.
  Il appela son sonneur, son fidèle sonneur,
  et lui enjoignit de jouer un triste pibroch
  afin que la mélodie le transporte au loin, par delà les collines
  vers celles d’Ecosse et pas celles verdoyantes du Tyrol.


  Et maintenant, ce soldat, ce soldat écossais
  Ne parcourra plus le monde, ni ne combattra.
  Aujourd’hui, sur une colline écossaise
  Vous verrez toujours un sonneur jouer en souvenir du soldat
  qui a vu la gloire et dont on raconte l’histoire
  des actes de bravoure qui émaillèrent ses glorieuses batailles.
  Mais tout est fini maintenant, il repose désormais en paix
  loin des collines verdoyantes du Tyrol.



Andy Stewart

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