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Reserve Forces & Cadets Association
Northern Ireland



12 October 2014

Pipe Major K McAleese, Ballymoney Detachment, B Company, 1st (NI) Bn ACF

The Combined Cadet Force Pipes and Drums offers incredible opportunities to cadets with a musical ability. As only having recently been picked to play in the National band, Lucy Somerville and I were thrilled when we were given the opportunity to perform in the band in the presence of HM the Queen, and other members of the Royal Family at her castle in Balmoral.

Lucy and I stayed at the Cadet Training Centre of the 2nd Battalion the Highlanders ACF, along with all of the other members of the National Band. Lucy and I met with our friends that we had previously made in the band and it was nice to see everyone again.

On the second day of practice, I was presented with the promotion to Pipe Major. I was absolutely delighted and I wear my rank with extreme pride.

We would spend the week practicing in preparation for a Beating Retreat in Aberdeen and our performance at Balmoral. We spent every day practicing hard but were happy that it was coming together nicely. It was hard work and the standards had to be high- perfect in fact. On the Wednesday, the Air Cadets arrived and we continued the practice. With the Air Cadets taking their positions in the band, there was a total of 109 pipers and drummers on parade – a fantastic turn out and a huge sound!

We did a Beating Retreat in Gordon Barracks, Aberdeen. The guest list included members of Parliament and high ranking officers of the ACF, as well as other important public figures. It was a great experience and we used it as a learning curve to help us improve for our performance in Balmoral.

On the morning before we’d be travelling to Balmoral, we finished off our final rehearsals and got our kit ready as we would have to look our best in front of Her Majesty. On the coach to Balmoral Castle, everyone was excited and we couldn’t wait to see her in person.

Not many young people get the opportunity to meet the Queen in person so Lucy and I felt honoured and very privileged, even further still knowing that we would be providing entertainment to her and her guests. To any piper or drummer, performing in front of the Queen is the biggest honour they will ever face and it was certainly the case for Lucy and I. Before the performance, the candidates were picked who were going to meet and speak to the Queen – the highest ranking cadets of each battalion, 14 in total. We all stood in ‘The Queen’s Room’; this is the eating-quarters of the Queen’s staff. She walked along all of the adults and then all the cadets, speaking to the 14. After the Queen had made her appearance to the cadets, she was escorted back up to the main building of the castle to watch our performance. The National Band marched out on to the esplanade in front of the Queen and her guests. It was a unique experience piping at Balmoral, but just about the best experience of my life so far.

After we had performed and marched off the esplanade, the 14 battalion cadet representatives were presented with a medal, of which I am very proud. I also was very lucky to get to meet and speak with Sovereign Piper, P/Major D. Rodgers, who is an Irish Guardsman from Co. Londonderry. P/Major Rodgers is the first soldier outside Scotland to be selected for the post of Sovereign Piper and therefore, for this reason, I had a keen interest in his achievement, as I was the first cadet piper in 1st NI Battalion ACF, a position I thought would be impossible to achieve as there were no pipers at that time in the NI ACF.

It was amazing to see HM the Queen in person, and a memory that we can carry for the rest of our lives. I would encourage any cadet to get involved with music in the ACF, and experience the things Lucy and I have over the past year. The ACF offers so many opportunities that young people wouldn’t get the chance to experience anywhere else and anyone who has a musical ability should definitely look in to getting involved with the National Band – you don’t even have to be able to play pipes or drums already as we always have lots of keen learners being taught by the cadet instructors who help the band.

I would like to thank the ACF for giving me these tremendous opportunities.