Brechin-born Pipe Major who helped mourn JFK

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COMRADES of Brechin-born Pipe Major Charles Clark have spoken of the “gentleman with the stripes” from Brechin who served with the Black Watch.

Mr Clark had two claims to fame, both from his time as a prominent member of the Black Watch.

The first was that he was amongst a select band of men chose to play at the state funeral of John F. Kennedy in November 1963, as a direct result of a request made by then First Lady Jackie Kennedy.

However, Mr Clark, a hugely talented Piper, is also believed to have come up with the score that eventually became one of Scotland’s best know tunes “Amazing Grace”.

Local businessman, Andy Stewart, who served under Pipe Major Clark in both Hong Kong and Northern Ireland, spoke with great affection of one of his guiding lights in the British Army.

Andy said: “Charlie wouldn’t be typical of officers in the British Army of the time, simply because he was so loved, recognised and respected by ordinary soldiers who often sought his guidance and counsel at difficult times.

“He was always a willing listener and someone who would offer any young soldier good advice.

“What you have to remember is it was about 1970 when I joined up and the army had something of a reputation for bullying at that time within its senior ranks.

“However, there was never any of that when Charlie Clark was in charge.

“He was a gentleman first and foremost. These were hard times.

“Most of those with stripes were bullies, but Charlie was respected by young soldiers and officers alike and was seen by many of us as a father figure.

“Many of us were just young laddies. I can only describe what he did for me and many of my peers who were in the Black Watch as nothing short of brilliant.

“Quite simply he was a fantastic and very able man.

“There is also no doubt that Charlie should have been responsible for bringing out “Amazing Grace” as a pipe solo, which went on to make it into the charts.”

Indeed, “Amazing Grace” was initially a Christian hymn penned by English Clergyman John Newton in 1779.

It was made famous when the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, a then senior Scottish regiment of the British Army, recorded an instrumental version featuring a bagpipe soloist accompanied by a pipe and drum band. It hit number 1 in the UK singles chart, spending 24 weeks total on the charts (the best-selling single in the UK in 1972) and rose as high as number 11 in the United States as of 2002, it was the best-selling instrumental record in the history of the British charts.

Pipe Major Clark was born in 1939 at the West Toll House on the outskirts.

He was the second eldest of six children of Mary and George Clark.

Charles attended Damacre Primary School and Bank Street School.

On leaving school, Pipe Major Clark joined Kay’s Garage in Clerk Street as an apprentice mechanic.

Charles’ love of the pipes was nurtured in the Brechin Pipe Band where, along with his brothers George and John, he was a member.

He entered the Black Watch before completing his apprenticeship and began what was to prove to be a highly rewarding military career. Something which woukld continue as he also saw service in the Royal Scots.

His tours of duty included two stints in Cyprus in the sixties and also a six-month secondment working for the United Nations Force in the Middle East and a number of spells with the Black Watch in Northern Ireland. He also saw service in Hong Kong, Australia and Thailand.

Pipe Major Clark’s performance at the Kennedy State funeral followed on from a huge performance by the regiment’s band on the Whitehouse lawn, which was attended by JFK, who joined the band’s members following the performance.

The president informed Mrs Kennedy how impressed he had been by the Black Watch Members, which led to her making a personal request for the members to attend the president’s funeral.

Another significant musical contribution was a tune penned for the wedding of Princess Anne. Pipe Major Clark married Winnie Rait from Forfar in March 1964 and they had a daughter, son, 11 grandchildren and one great-granddaughter.

His funeral took place at New Livingston Crematorium on Monday.