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Friday, 4 December 2009


My great grandfather James Piper was a whisky merchant and gentleman farmer. As well as his farm in Fife, he had a sheep farm in Australia, which he visited on at least two occasions. The second visit was probably to get rid of it, because while he was in Australia the farm at home lost money through an incompetent manager. He died a few years before I was born, but the fondness with which my mother talks of him is the best character reference anyone could ask for.

James Piper (1870-1952)

He had a bonded whisky warehouse in Leith, and the bombing of it during the Great War is a standard family story. The event is remembered by Victor Heyward in his 1977 memoir “HMS Tiger at Bay”. He recalls:

Jerry tried to bomb [by zeppelin] the battle cruisers whilst lying at anchor below the Forth Bridge. Their night navigation was poor and they mistook Leith for Rosyth, and away in the distance we heard the beat of their engines. But the noise was receding, so wisely we did not switch on our searchlights, and they missed us, but scored a bull’s eye on a whisky storehouse in Leith. Soon the streets were awash with the precious liquid. Jerry’s bomb created almost a scene from Dante’s Inferno. Men, women and kids were out lapping it up, and filling bottles and jugs. What a carve up! Our canteen manager was fourteen hours adrift from the ship, and on his return to the officer of the watch’s classic question “I know! But why?” was, “You see sir, it was a pity to see all that stagger juice going to waste. So I joined in with the Jocks and before long I was drunk as a fiddler’s bitch, and my back teeth were awash.”

There's an apocryphal story about a piece of melted glass from the inferno which was a family keepsake for many years, but it seems to be lost now, much like all that stagger juice.


  1. There is a bench in the village of Sorn, Ayrshire, donated by a James Piper of Leith in 1914. Could this be the same gentleman. Did he have any connection to our village.

    Many thanks.

    1. Hi Pauline,
      Yes! The Pipers were from Sorn, and there are many memorials to them in the village church yard. See other Piper articles in this blog via the Piper link on the right. You can contact me privately via my website (see link above right) if you want to discuss the Sorn Pipers further. Best wishes,
      Colin Salter


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