New exhibition pays tribute to Raglan’s enduring pipe band

Its drummers and pipers have come and gone over time, but Raglan District Caledonian Society and Highland Pipe Band has endured for more than 70 years, playing a big part in the town’s social history.
Now the band which proudly heads up Raglan’s Anzac Day and New Year’s Eve parades is taking centre stage elsewhere downtown – in an exhibition which occupies pride of place, if not a vast expanse, immediately inside the entrance to the museum in Wainui Road.

A stone’s throw from the fire station where members have practised for years, the band’s drums and pipes of old are on display along with early uniforms worn by two mannequins fondly called Tom and Betty after the Whites, who were involved in the society from the beginning.
The display also includes footage of members and parades – from the early days through to the present – showing continuously on a small TV screen.
“It’s a fantastic exhibition,” band stalwart Brett McCardle told the Chronicle.

Now in his 60s, the former Raglan District High School student remembers being asked as a young lad if he’d like to learn the pipes. “Why not?” he thought, so along with a few others Brett took up tuition under the eye of late Te Uku identity Kelly Gifford.

That was during the 1970s and Brett’s been playing on and off ever since. At one stage it seemed like everyone in Raglan was in the band, he recalls. “It was a real social event.”

Another at the museum on Monday to talk to the Chronicle about the exhibition was Raglan Community Board chair Bob MacLeod, whose first connection with the band goes back the best part of a decade earlier.
Bob – who started school in Stewart Street then went on to the district high in Norrie Ave – began piping about the age of eight.
Being in the band back then was a real commitment, he says. Piping practice was on Tuesdays, it was marching on Thursdays at Kopua reserve and come Saturdays – when Raglan “closed down” at noon – a 30-seater bus took band members further afield to the likes of Ngaruawahia, Hamilton and Paeroa for Caledonian events.
“I used to pipe for the Highland dancing (competitions),” Bob recalls. He reckons it beat hanging around all day after playing in the band.

Caledonian events were big entertainment in those days, Brett chimes in.

But the band ebbed and flowed like the tide, he adds. It went through another rejuvenation in the mid 2000s with the addition of drummer Rob Kirkwood – who ultimately got son Jack involved – while Kelly Gifford’s grandson Warren Yorston joined as a piper.

Then old hand Jamie Edwards, who’d piped way back as a schoolboy with Brett, returned to the band and – with the addition of seasoned piper Deirdre Bourne – made up a core group of six or so who pretty much remain today.
“It’s not exactly dying,” Deirdre laughs.

The band – boosted by members from other Caledonian societies – has led every Raglan New Year’s Eve and Anzac Day parade for more than 40 years.
At New Year’s the Raglan band has relaxed its dress code to accommodate pipers and drummers who regularly join their ranks while on holiday at Kopua campground. Jandals, T-shirts, anything goes, says Deirdre – just as long as they’ve got the all-important kilt.

Raglan & District Museum secretary Barbara Day and collections administrator Kaz Willoughby put the exhibition together last month. It will continue through until early 2019.

Edith Symes

*If you are interested to learn more or be part of the band  contact Brett and Deirdre on 021322510.