Updated: 22 September, 2017


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PM James R. Fraser
Pipe Major James R. Fraser
The longest serving 48th pipe major,

By WO Robert Taylor, CD (retired)

Pipe Major James R. Fraser was born in the Parish of Keith in or near the town of Keith in the County of Aberdeen in 1874. He en-listed on the 1st of August 1892 in the 2nd Gordon Highlanders at the age of 18. He was appointed piper on the 11th of May 1897 and promoted to Lance Corporal on the 16th of January 1908.

Pipe Major Fraser was initially stationed in Aberdeen and Dublin before being posted to the 1st Gordon Highlanders in India, September 1894. While in India he saw service with the 1st Gordon Highlanders during the Chitral Relief Expedition in 1895 and the Punjab Frontier from 1897-1898. It was during his service on the Punjab Frontier that he took part in the Tira Actions, which included Dargai, Sempagha, Arhanga Passes, and the Maiden, Mastra, and Bara Valley's. It was at Dargai where the Gordons made their gallant charges that the won Gordons two Victoria Crosses. One went to Piper George Findlater, who although wounded in both legs pulled himself to a rock, propped himself against it and continued to play the Gordon's charge "The Haugh's of Cromdale". During this charge Pipe Major Fraser received a wound to his thigh but continued to pipe throughout the action.

Pipe Major Fraser then served in Egypt with the 1st Gordons in 1898 and 1899 before being sent to the South African War where he served from 1899-1902. Pipe Major Fraser came to Canada in 1913, on the recommendation of Pipe Major Dunbar of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada, in Hamilton, (who was a former Pipe Major of the 2nd Gordons), to become Pipe Major of the 48th Highlanders. Pipe Major Fraser served as Pipe Major of the 48th Highlanders from 1913 until 1952, the longest serving Pipe Major, by far, of the 48th.

For service for his sixty-year military career, Pipe Major Fraser was awarded:

  • The India Medal (1895) with clasps for the Relief of Chitral, Punjab Frontier 1897-1898, and Tirah 1897-1898
  • The Queen's South African Medal with clasps for Cape Colony, Paardeberg, Driefontein, Johannesberg, and Belfast; The King's South African Medal with clasp for South Africa 1901-1902
  • The King George V Jubilee Medal
  • The Long Service and Good Conduct Medal (British)
  • The Long Service Medal (Canada)

Pipe Major Fraser taught many pipers including two future Pipe Majors: Archie Dewar and Ross Stewart. It was also mentioned that when he first came to Canada the 48th Highlanders paid him $25.00 a week, and he never received a raise. As well as looking after the pipe band, during the day he also looked after all of the 48th Company rooms in the University Avenue Armoury. Pipe Major Fraser maintained a very strong pipe band for 48th Highlanders through most of the first half of the century. The 48th Highlanders Pipes and Drums was the best pipe band in north America through his 39-year tenure.

Back in the days before photocopiers and other copying devises, Pipe Major Fraser hand wrote all the pipe music the Band played and compiled them into hooks for all the pipers plus many more for pupils. Although his manuscript was not the easiest to read it must have taken many hours of careful work ensure he wrote every tune identically, with all of the same embellishments. Although some of the previous Pipe Majors had some pretty good credentials, Pipe Major Archie Dewar had mentioned that Fraser told him when he came to the Band in 1913, they did not play any strathspeys, reels, or jigs. Pipe Major Fraser obviously brought the Band a long way.

To have served as Pipe Major for as long as he did, until he was 78 years old, James Fraser must have been a very dedicated and hard working man, a 48th Highlander. Most of the members of the 48th Pipes and drums over the years have benefited from his contribution in one way or another.