Ceremony will honour extraordinarypiper who became a US music legend

There are many notable pipers in Scottish and British history - and the image of Bill Millin crossing Pegasus Bridge after D-Day famously illustrates the martial story.

However very few can compare to Donald Shaw Ramsay BEM, who - in a world of extrovert characters and astonishing musicians - seemed to break records with ease and vault from each dizzying success to still greater achievements.

On Sunday (August 4) his memory will be solemnly honoured at Polmont’s Grandsable Cemetery, in a ceremony which will revive memories and anecdotes of a man Scotland’s piping community see in much the same way as the Royal Navy regards Nelson.

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Born on August 4, 1919, in Heatherstalks (between Avonbridge and Standburn) in the parish of Muiravonside, he attended Drumbowie school in Standburn then Falkirk High before taking up an engineering apprenticeship in Bathgate.

But early indications of where his true vocation lay were soon forthcoming.

He learned his piping from Pipe Major Sandy Forrest of the Torphichen and Bathgate Pipe Band and went on to become a successful soloist, coming second in the under-21 Pibroch competition at the Northern Meeting.

Then came the Second World War, in which the Highland war pipes were to play their customary starring role.

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Donald joined the Glasgow-based Highland Light Infantry, and in what seems to have been record time became not only the HLI’s regimental pipe major but also the youngest pipe major - at just 20 - in the entire British Army.

A biography in the piping community’s online magazine pipetunes notes: “He saw action on the continent and proved himself a dynamic leader even at a young age”.

A tune he (and Corporal J Moore) composed about his comrades’ exploits in 1945 - “10th Battalion HLI Crossing the Rhine” (reputedly while riding on a tank) later became a “standard”, one of many lasting testaments to his talent.

Surviving the war, he joined the City of Edinburgh Police and, perhaps unsurprisingly, became their pipe major in 1949. He led them to victory in the World Pipe Band Championships in 1950 ... and then again in 1954.

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Then tragedy struck, when he was gunned down in the line of duty and severely injured. He managed to recuperate, but a further injury made him decide to leave the force. He and his wife Bessie moved to California, where - perhaps predictably - he led the City of San Francisco to its first California Pipe Band Championship.

Donald was later lured back to Scotland to serve as pipe major of the Invergordon Distillery Pipe Band - and duly helped it notch up a string of major successes and a stellar reputation.

He and Bessie later returned to California, but never lost touch with Scotland - Donald was involved in judging on both sides of the Pond. When he passed away on July 14, 1998, he came home to final rest in the Falkirk heartland where he was born, and on Sunday at 3pm the centenary of his birth will be marked by relatives, friends, councillors and admirers - and also by a piper’s recital of Schiehallion, a now classic tune which he composed. It is surely a fitting honour for one of Falkirk district’s most remarkable sons.

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