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Rupert Neilsen pipes for history and the future

By Suzanne Hansen.

Kuaotunu’s Rupert Neilsen is off to Glasgow, Scotland this August to compete in the 2023 World Bagpiping Championships. Last held in 2019, the competition attracted more than 40,000 spectators over two days to watch in excess of 146 bands and thousands of pipers and drummers compete during the two days. The World Bagpiping Championships were first introduced in 1906 to the Cowal Highland Gathering in in Dunoon, Argyll. From then, the competition has been held annually, apart for the intervening World War I and World War II years, and of course recently, Covid.

Eighteen-year-old Rupert, who has been piping for almost seven years, will be competing as part of the Manawatu Scottish Society Pipe Band, a formidable Grade One band of 21 bagpipes, 9-10 side drummers, a bass drummer and five tenor drummers. The band will be competing with 18 other Grade One bands who are the “top of the world”.

Although Rupert has been living at home in Kuaotunu, he has now relocated to Wellington for a couple of months where the Wellington-based members of the band practise twice weekly. The full band, hailing from around the Wellington/Manuwatu region, practise every other weekend in Wellington or Palmerston North. Rupert says that with the amount of sound generated by the full band when it converges in Wellington, it has been difficult to practise anywhere inside so the band travels to a large reserve in Lower Hutt, where they can amass and play. Rupert has been playing with the Wellington-based band since June 2022, and has been literally commuting since then.

Rupert has also been playing with New Zealand’s National Youth Pipe Band since 2020 and has played at our national ANZAC Memorial Services in Wellington since then as well as a part of a tour around the South Island.

None of this comes without a cost, and Rupert is in fund-raising mode. As a Kuoatunu son, the Kuoatunu Volunteer Fire Brigade (KVFB) and Helen Mobberley are pitching in to help. The Kuoatunu Fire Brigade Social Club is organising a fund-raising dinner for Rupert’s travel costs on Friday, 7 July at the Kuoatunu Fire Brigade social rooms. There will be dinner, drinks, entertainment and auctions to raise a projected $5K towards the costs of Rupert’s trip. Details will be coming out soon on the Fire Brigade’s Facebook page, but it sounds like a fantastic night at one of the best social venues around. Rupert has also been dropping into the KVFB social club on the odd Friday to pipe a few ditties for the club and will set up a Give A Little Page for the trip.

Hidden Pipes return home:

As part of his trip, Rupert will go over a couple weeks early to play in a few competitions around Scotland, staying in student accommodation. His family, including Grandmother Alice Ferguson, will arrive later to cheer on Rupert at the Worlds. The family will make their way north of Edinburgh after the competition to visit the family home of Alice’s father, Alexander Ferguson who was the pipe major and a sharp shooter for his regiment in in World War II, fighting in Crete and North Africa. Apparently, Ferguson was shot (twice in fact) and the regiment had to evacuate quickly from their position somewhere in North Africa. His pipes were hidden in a cave and a map was drawn up, just as Ferguson was being shipped back to New Zealand to recover. While in the hospital in New Zealand, he gave the map to another band member, Alan Sperry who was sent back to the War. Sperry recovered the pipes from the cave and returned them to Ferguson. The piping Neilson family still has those pipes and their love of bagpipes endures as a family legacy. Let’s all get out to support this fabulous young man!

Caption: Rupert Neilson.


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