Pipe Banners

 Pipe Banners

In simple terms, a pipe banner is a heraldic flag flown from the large bass drone of the bagpipes. They are used by clan chiefs, chieftains, lairds and military officers of certain rank. The first written reference to an armorial pipe banner would appear to be 1679*. A Print of a Piper and the banner taken from a print of 1838 by John Kaytitled 'McArthur, piper to Ranald Macdonald Esq. of Staffa' is shown to the right (the colouring is assumed to be modern)**.

*Thomas Kirk quoted in'Early Travellers in Scotland' (Author:Hume-Brown - p285)


**The reverse of the print is inscribed 'Piper to the late Sir Reginald Macdonald Stewart Seton of Touch and Staffa, Bart'.

In the military they are allowed, in general, to officers who command companies of Scottish regiments and those of senior rank. It is held that such officers have a 'following' of soldiers (including the establishment of a company piper) and are thus of the status of a'laird'; this entitles the company commander to have his banner carried by his piper. A rifle company is normally commanded by a major and generally consists of just over 100 soldiers. For most of the 20th Century there have been three or four rifle companies to an infantry battalion. However, before the First World War there was a different establishment of eight companies, each commanded by a captain, in each battalion. In 1914 these were amalgamated into four 'double-companies' and through out the Great War (as before it), captains acted as company commanders. As aresult some regiments allow 'captain's banners'. Banners are normally designed to hang down from the drone so that the 'hoist' (a term appropriate to flags and used to describe the edge of a flag nearest the flagpole) is at the top and the 'fly' (the opposite edge to the hoist) below. They are generally made of silk, with fringes of appropriate colours (usually the principal or livery colours of the arms of the owner of the banner). The insignia are finely embroidered with silk or metal thread. Their size is normally 1 foot by 1.5 feet (30 cm by 45 cm). Civic authorities and members of bodies such as the Royal Company of Archers may also have pipe banners.

Pipe Banner of the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders

Behind the head of the model (which is wearing the pre-1914 uniform Uniform of Captain RFB Dickinson) is a blue silk pipe banner. This would be suspended from the largest drone (the bass drone) of a set of pipes and carried either on ceremonial occasions or when pipes are played in the messes. In this case the reverse side is showing although for this pattern of banner both sides are identical.

The pattern is that of the 79th Cameron Highlanders, which from 1841 to 1873 used to be in green silk and thereafter, having become a Royal Regiment, the green silk was replaced with blue. The pattern continued and was used by the 1st Battalion, The Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders until amalgamation with the Seaforths in 1961. The centre is embroidered with a wreath of thistles and the number LXXIX. Officers' personal arms, crests or monograms were not used on these banners. The 2nd Battalion of The Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders, raised in 1897, carried similar blue fish-tailed banners with a central design similar to that at the centre of a Cameron regimental Colour but with the Union flag appearing only on one side, the obverse. The banners of the 2nd Battalion were personal to officers and carried their crest, monogram or company letter embroidered on the reverse.The Liverpool Scottish set of pipe banners, an example of which is illustrated elsewhere, was presented by individuals at the time that The Liverpool Scottish became part of the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders in 1937. They are similar to the 2nd Battalion pattern but without the Union flag. The monograms of those who presented banners are embroidered on a small raised shield in blue silk placed in a corner of the banner. These distinguishing marks are visible only on close inspection. 

The rules governing banners both complex and contradictory are detailed below.


The Heraldry Regimental Variation References

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Marking and breaking the Law Heraldic Display Which Side is Which? Making a banner personel
Heraldic Law - Entitlement to Arms

The entitlement to arms is a matter fraught with difficulty. Essentially the following should be born in mind

  • If a person has petitioned a heraldic authority and been granted arms, he or she has an entitlement to use and display those arms within the jurisdiction of the granting authority. He or she is an armiger. Put simply (and leaving aside the question of who or what exactly is the 'authority') in Scotland this is the Lord Lyon, in the rest of the United Kingdom it is the College of Arms, in Canada it is the Canadian Heraldic Authority and in Eire it is the Chief Herald of Ireland. There are other authorities in other countries and in many countries it is the accepted practice to 'assume' arms. Generally the authorities of these countries will consider petitions or the granting of arms from those who can show descent in the male line from people who were born in that country. Citizens of the United States have received honorary grants.
  • If a person has proven legitimate descent in the male line from an armiger, there is usually a right to arms but this might need to be confirmed or matriculated with the granting authority. The original arms may have to be differenced with a mark of 'cadency' such as a small charge placed on the arms or a border of a particular design being place round the arms. The latter method using borders is particularly appropriate in Scotland and is strictly regulated by the Lord Lyon.
  • If arms are to be borne and displayed within a heraldic jurisdiction other than which the were granted there may need to be a 'confirmation' of those arms (a recognition by one heraldic authority of the grant of another).
  • There is no right to arms simply because a person has the same name as someone who has borne arms in either the recent or distant past. Arms do not belong to a family name; they are the property of the person to whom they were granted and the descendants of that person. Using another person's arms is against heraldic law in all parts of the United Kingdom and whilst the Court of Chivalry in London last gave a judgement in 1954 (after a dormancy of over 200 years), in Scotland the Court of Lord Lyon takes legal action and has teeth.

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 Making and Breaking Heraldic Law

Sir Thomas Innes of Learey, as Lord Lyon King of Arms between 1945 to 1969, specified that the 'more correct way' to display heraldry on a pipe banner was for the charges of the arms to occupy the whole surface of the personal side of the banner. However, in fact, the forms of heraldic display that might be found are

  • Shield charges covering the whole surface of the banner as is shown here on reverse of the banner of ameron of Locheil as Honorary Colonel of the 2nd Battalion, 51st Highland Volunteers. The arms are Gules (red), three bars or (gold). The obverse shows the regimental badge of the 51st Highland Volunteers (which had previously been the Highland Brigade badge and is now the badge of the 51st Highland Regiment). The badge is a stag's head affronté on a saltire (St Andrew's Cross .
  • The complete achievement with shield, helm, wreath, helm, crest mantling, compartment and (motto) together with supporters and slughorn (war cry) if there is an entitlement. Presumably orders and decorations might also be added.

The example on the right shows the fish tail banner of Lt. Colonel Arthur A. Gemmell MC who commanded the Liverpool Scottish 192X - 193Y later Sir Arthur Gemmell, sometime President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists).

 The blazon of the arms is 'Argent, two bars gemelles Sable between three bear's heads couped Gules, muzzled of the field, two in chief and one in base'. [Silver/white background with two pairs f horizontal black bars together with three red bears heads with white muzzles] This is an example of canting or punning arms as the use of the 'bars gemelles' (twin bars close together) is a play on the name of the owner of the arms.

These arms were originally granted in 1919 to John Edward Gemmell, the father of Lt. Colonel Gemmell. the banner was most probably designed by A G. Law Samson, Herald Painter to the Court of Lord Lyon in the 1920's as correspondence of 1927 survives regarding the commissioning of a banner. As Lt Colonel Gemmell's father died in 1931, it might have been expected that the arms would have been 'differenced' with a 'label of three points' to indicate that he was the heir to the arms rather than their owner at the time the banner was made. It might be that the label was removed subsequent to his father's death. Unusually, the personal arms appear to be on the obverse where the regimental badge normally appears. The reverse of the banner show the badge of the Liverpool Scottish, officially the 10th (Scottish) Battalion, The King's (Liverpool Regiment) TA. In the course of research about this banner, the late Don Pottinger, Lyon Clerk, provided a sketch of how these arms might appear occupying the whole surface of reverse of a banner of guidon shape. Note that the heads of the bears are couped (cut clean) vertically behind the ears in the manner usual in Scottish heraldry.

  • Complete Achievement with Supporters The Pipe Banner presented to the 5th/8th Bn of the King's Regiment to be carried by the pipers of its Liverpool Scottish company shows the regimental badge of the King's Regiment on the obverse and the complete achievement of the City of Liverpool on the reverse. This banner was carried at the Dedication and Unveiling of the Liverpool Scottish memorial in Belgium in July 2000 in the presence of the Lord Mayor of Liverpool. Click on the smallest picture to see the detail of the King's badge.


  • The shield alone. A banner was commissioned for presentation to the town of Ieper (Ypres) following the dedication of Liverpool Scottish memorial at Hooge near Ieper in July 2000. The design shows simply the shield of arms of Ieper on the reverse with the regimental badge of the Liverpool Scottish [the version in use today by the Liverpool Scottish element of the King's Regiment and between 1908 and 1937 by the 10th (Scottish) Bn, The King's (Liverpool Regiment)TF]. The shield of arms may be seen by clicking here The cross features an heraldic pattern of blue and white known as 'vair'. Vair is a heraldic 'fur' and its blue and white pattern represents squirrel fur. In this case, the arrangement is unusual in that the orientation of the 'bells is different in the vertical arm of the main cross when compared with the side arms of the cross. The historical precedent for this is shown in the arms displayed on a 1305 for the seal of nearby town of Bailleul shown on the now in France). The full achievement of Ieper is shown to the right and the French Croix de Guerre and the British Military Cross awarded to the town after the First World War may be seen suspended below the shield. The crown shown should be a mural crown representing ramparts (Ieper is a walled and motted city) rather than a form of a ducal crown as shown here. A separate page may be accessed by clicking here.
  • The crest with or without the wreath and with or without the mott and or slughorn (A slughorn is a war cry and in Scots heraldry is granted nly to a chief of a clan or house). On the right is the banner of Brigadier James Oliver as Honorary Colonel of 1st Bn 51st Highland Volunteers. The design of the banner is the Black Watch pattern (a guidon shape with the regimental badge on one side and a personal crest on the other). The badge is the Highland Brigade badge which was adopted by the Highland Volunteers on their formation in 1967. In 1999, it was adopted as the badge of the 51st Highland Regiment.
  • A heraldic badge. A badge in heraldry is distinct from a rest and is generally used by a follower to show allegiance to the owner of the arms rather than to show his own identity. A grant of arms may include he granting of a badge to an armiger for the use of his followers.
  • A clansman's badge (the chief's crest within a circle of a belt and buckle) a though this is technically improper as such a badge worn as the follower of a clan chief rather than as a mark of personal distinction and the user has 'no right to use this ... on flags or pipe banners', a regulation which see s more honoured in the breach than the observance. Many officers seem to ha e used this device to persoalise their banners (See Reference: Agnew Yr of ochnaw below).

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 Heraldic Law - Display

In Scotland, heraldry has a recognised place within the law and the Lord Lyon King of Arms is a judicial officer. He has powers to regulate heraldic display in Scotland. Sir Thomas Innes of Learney, as Lord Lyon,laid down prescriptive rules for the form of the banner. In particular, Innes of Learney specified that the personal heraldry should be the surface of the 'shield' spread across the entire surface of the banner in the same way that the arms of the Sovereign occupy all of the Royal 'Standard*'. Even though there may be an 'approved' form for the pipe banner within a regiment laid down in its Standing Orders (which are themselves unlikely to follow Lyon's precepts), there are often exceptions as a banner is made for an officer at his own expense and 'He who pays for the pipe banner calls the thread'.

*The Royal Standard is not a true standard in the heraldic sense; one might argue it is a flag or a banner.

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 Which Side is Which?

The two sides of the banner are known as 'obverse' and 'reverse'

 'Obverse' is the side that would be seen if a piper was circling the observer in a clockwise direction. This side usually carries the regimental badge. The 'Reverse' is the side which often carries the personal device of the owner of the banner. When pipes are played at dinner, pipers will generally start by circulating the table clockwise but will later circulate anti-clockwise so that the reverse side of the banner may be seen by those sitting at the dinner table on the inside of the circle. A regiment may specify

  • The shape of the banner i.e. either 'fishtail' (with pointed ends) or 'guidon' (with rounded ends)
  • The main colours to be used on one or both faces (usually the regimental colours although these might not be appropriate in some cases because of the main colours of any heraldic device to be used)
  • The form of the regimental badge to be used
  • The type of personal device t hat might be used

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 Non-Heraldic Personal Devices

A banner may be made 'personal' by

  • Adding a monogram of greater or lesser prominence, usually instead of a heraldic device
  • A company device or letter (in the context of military usage). Again, this would be in place of heraldic device and in these cases the banner is often regimental rather than personal property.
  • An additional (different) regimental badge or badges representing previous service of the owner of the banner. This might no meet with approval at the Court of Lord Lyon but makes for interesting guesswork and speculation at Regimental Dinner nights regarding the identity of the badges themselves and the multi-faceted career path of the officer whom they represent. An example of such a personalisation is the pipe banner of Lt.Col CTJ Harris who served as OC of V (The Liverpool Scottish) Company in both the 1st. Bn. 51st Highland Volunteers and 5th/8th (Volunteer) Bn. The King's Regiment and subsequently as Commanding Officer of the Liverpool University OTC. The badges on reverse of his banner represent service with he Liverpool Scottish in both regiments (Highland Volunteers and the King's and his previous volunteer service with the Yorkshire Volunteers, the Green Howards and the Queen's Lancashire Regiment. The obverse shows the bonnet badge of the Liverpool Scottish readopted during Lt Colonel Harris's period as company commander when the company transferred from the Highland Volunteers to the King's Regiment. This is shown to the right. The colours result from artistic interpretation as the actual bonnet badge is silver.
  • A further example is the banner of Major GS Green TD, also of the Liverpool Scottish and with service in both the King's Regiment and the Highland Volunteers. It shows the Liverpool Scottish bonnet badge with the Highland Volunteers badge below left and the King's Regiment badge below right.

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 Military Banners Regimental Variation

In a military context, the banner may show the badge of the regiment on one side and a personal device (usually heraldic such as a coat of arms, a crest or the full achievement including supporters if appropriate) on the other side although the practice varies from regiment to regiment. Such banners are normally the personal property of a particular officer although some regiments have banners which are solely regimental property.

In some regiments the regimental badge appears on both sides.The banner of the Queen's Own Highlanders (Seaforths and Cameron) to the right shows the regimental badge on both sides with a Seaforth (buff) facing on the obverse and a blue Cameron facing on the reverse.

The set of banners presented to the Liverpool Scottish in 1938 at the time of the presentation of Colours by His Majesty King George VI consists of twelve pipers' banners and a pipe major's banner which carries the battle honours as shown on the Colours.

The Liverpool Scottish set of pipe banners, examples of which are illustrated to the left , was presented by individuals at the time that The Liverpool Scottish became part of the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders in 1937. The monograms of those who presented banners are embroidered on a small raised shield in dark blue silk placed in a corner of the banner. These distinguishing marks are visible only on close inspection. The banners are similar in pattern to those of those of the 2nd Battalion Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders but without the Union flag (see below). In each corner of the banners is the cypher or monogram of Queen Victoria (VR - meaning Victoria Regina encircled within the garter insignia bearing the motto of the Order of the Garter 'Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense (meaning 'Evil be to him who thinks evil of it'. A detail of the centre badge (The Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders with Liverpool Scottish scroll) may be seen by clicking on the small image to the right.

These banners were documented by Colonel R.C. Miers in the 79th News in 1954: see Bibliography and Sources

  • In others there is a personal device on both sides.
  • A third variation involves regimental badge on both sides with a small personal device (arms, crest or monogram) on th reverse side.
  • There may be a small representation of the Union flag in the top left hand corner (canton) though this may be restricted to officer who have held a Lieutenant Colonel's command (e.g. a battalion or depôt of the regiment). This is the practice in The Highlanders although previously the use of a canton of the Union Flag has been more widespread both in terms of regiments and officers using it.
  • There can be variations in the pattern between different battalions of the same regiment (e.g. there were different styles used by the 1st. and the 2nd. Battalions of the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders - see below)

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The Heraldry Society of Scotland This site (started in Spring 2000)presently carries information on the Society and on where to seek advice on design in connection with Scots heraldry.The journal of the Society is 'The Double Tressur '.

The Heraldry Society The Heraldry Society is based in England but considers all aspects of heraldry. The journal is the quarterly 'Coat of Arms' and there is also the quarterly Heraldry Gazette carrying news items and article of a more ephemeral nature.

Heraldry Today Heraldic booksellers (new, second hand and antiquarian). They publish excellent lists.

The Liverpool Scottish Regimental Association Pipe Band

Bibliography and Sources

The Pipe-Banner: C.H. Agnew, Younger of Lochnaw (Sir Crispin Agnew Bt. of Lochnaw). The Coat of Arms (Journal of the Heraldry Society) Vol X o. 75 July 1968. This is a scholarly treatment ofthe subject. It follows th development of the pipe banner from its first definite recorded appearance n 1679. It also specifies the 'approved' form of the pipe banners for each Scottish regiment of the Regular Army at that time (1968)

Scots Heraldry: Sir Thomas Innes of Learney (revised edition - Malcolm Innes of Edingight pub. 1978 by Johnston and Bacon/Cassell ISBN 0 7179 4224 7). This book, written by the Lord Lyon King of Arms who is the Scots heraldic authority, is generally considered to be the definitive work on Scots Heraldry although some of Innes of Learney's views on the nature of nobility are presently challenged. He is exceptionally prescriptive on the 'correct' form for a pipe banner. In practice, there is wide variation from the form laid down in this book. Malcolm Innes of Edingight, his son and revisor, is the present Lord Lyon (2000).

Regimental Pipe Banners' (of the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders): Colonel R.C. Miers (ret'd), 79th News (Journal of the Q.O.C.H) 1954 pp29-34. This describes all known pipe banners of the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders and the Liverpool Scottish at the time of writing.

'Pipe Banners': Lt. Col. Angus Fairrie (ret'd), 'The Queen's Own Highlanders (Seaforth and Camerons)', 2nd revised edition 1998 ISBN 0-9508986-2-7, pp 266-267. The section on Pipe Banners details the differing practices of the battalions of the Seaforth Highlanders and the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders and subsequently that of the amalgamated regiment The Queen's Own Highlanders (Seaforth and Camerons). The practice of the Queen's Own Highlanders has been adopted by The Highlanders following the amalgamation with The Gordon Highlanders.

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