In the evening of Wednesday, 26 May 2021, Pipe Major Emeritus John Terence, MMM, CD, died. It was sudden and followed immediately upon the completion of a virtual band practice. With the work of the day and the tasks of a lifetime completed, John Terence died. This is, obviously, sad news and most distressing for the Terence family, the serving battalion of the Argylls, the Argyll Regimental family, and a wide cohort of men and women across the military and civilian piping world. The first news of JT’s passing was greeted with Regimental astonishment; most thought John would play on forever. Such, however, is not the fate of mortals.
John’s extraordinary service hearkens back to an early time when eager young men (boys, more accurately) such as John and his close friend, Peter Baker, CD, connived to lie about their ages and join the Regiment. John was 13 at the time and, truly, he never left. His official period of active service dates from August 1958 to June 2001. He was Pipe Major from 1973 to June 2001 and remained a dedicated volunteer piper until his last day.
When the Regiment was established in 1903, our founders paid particular attention to two elements that would signify forever more the Highland roots of the 91st: Highland garb and Pipes & Drums. The latter has been the most public face of the Regiment since then. Two of the Regiment’s most iconic photographic moments feature the P & D: the 19th Battalion crossing the Rhine River in November 1918 at the end of the First World War and the P & D leading the Canadian Berlin Battalion at the British Victory parade in Berlin in July 1945 at the end of the Second.
The Pipes & Drums have had, since 1903, only 13 Pipe Majors. Commanding Officers and Regimental Sergeants Major come and go, for the most part, with regularity but not so the Pipe Major. PM Terence served in that capacity longer – much longer – than anyone else. There have been two great leaders of the band since 1903: Pipe Officer Charles Dunbar, DCM, ED and Pipe Major John Terence, MMM, CD. The former was the great pre-war giant of the band; the latter was its post-war colossus. Moreover, he is one of the outstanding postwar leaders of the Regiment, a simple incontrovertible fact. He was, to adopt an apt cliché, the heart and soul of the band, a man who embodied the finest elements of superior musicianship, soldierly attributes, bandsmanship, teaching, training, and organization. John Terence’s loyalty to the band and to the Regiment is peerless: countless have served; many well; none better.
Institutional excellence is often, in human affairs, an elusive pursuit, and that quality leads some to consider its attainment fickle by nature, as if it were a random gift bestowed by capricious gods. Rather, its elusiveness derives from the difficulty to achieve and sustain it. It requires talent, leadership, commitment, diligence, continuity of effort, discipline, and high morale. Such were John Terence’s qualities, a combination unattainable for most. The excellence of the Pipe & Drums over so many decades required such leadership throughout almost 120 years and found it in two men: Charles Dunbar and John Terence. Like Dunbar, John Terence bestowed gifts to the Regiment that will last well beyond him. And his life, again like Dunbar’s, will provide the standard of measurement for all who follow.
The piper symbolizes a Highland regiment. It is not just the distinctive dress that sets the piper apart: it is the music itself – powerful, wild, sombre – capable of evoking every human emotion without a touch of sentimentality. In a toast to the Regiment many decades ago, Maj Bob Paterson, a long-time Argyll and distinguished company commander during the war, wrote: “Above all we heard the pipes …” and their “glorious music … passing through the lines. Those sounds we heard and when we think of them we are back in the Regiment.” John Terence gave his life to those “sounds” and to the Argylls.
Day after day, month after month, year after year, John Terence faithfully attended practices, parade nights, P& D events, battalion exercises when the P & D often acted as enemy force (JT was a crack shot), military tattoos in Hamilton, the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, Mess dinners, and ceremonies, and performed at weddings and funerals. John’s presence and his pipes marked every military and human rite of passage. Indeed, on 23 May of this year, he played three tunes in Ancaster for a video to cheer an aged Argyll supporter. Duty was his professional soulmate.
When Her Majesty, our Colonel-in-Chief, presented John with the third clasp to his CD at Balmoral Castle in 2000, John had his picture taken with The Queen. Later, LCol Rick Kennedy commented, “John, you should have smiled.” The Pipe Major replied sardonically: “I was.” The wry smiles came when the day’s work was done and before the cares of tomorrow could offer interruption. Every Argyll has an image of JT standing with fine single malt in his hand and betraying, perhaps, the slightest hint of satisfaction.
Beaming satisfaction was reserved for but a few, and they were his daughters: Jeanne, Jackie, and Julie, all of whom served in the Regiment. MCpl Jackie Terence, CD, is Drum Sergeant in the P & D; WO Julie Terence-Pittman serves in the Royal Canadian Medical Service. And it is impossible to think of John without his beloved wife, Lynda, coming immediately to mind.
Everyone knew this piper – John Terence – and all Argylls who knew him will never forget and we give thanks for his life. For this extraordinary lifetime of service, we express, on behalf of the serving battalion and the Regimental family, our gratitude and our condolences to Lynda, his daughters, his grandson, and to the members of the P & D, past and present.
CWO John Terence on parade.
Her Majesty, the Colonel in Chief, and CWO John Terence at Balmoral Castle, 2000.
CWO John Terence, MMM CD, and Cpl Jackie Terence, CD.
The famous CWO Terence smile. Daughter Jeanne clearly did not inherit it!