John A. MacLellan was born in Dunfermline, Fife, in July, 1921. He attended Fort Augustus Abbey School and joined the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders as a boy piper in 1936. His potential became apparent quickly, and in 1941 at age 19 he was named Pipe Major of the 9th Battalion, Queen’s Own Highlanders: the youngest man ever named pipe major in the British Army to that point. He would subsequently serve as pipe major with the 1st Seaforth Highlanders, the Lowland Brigade, and the 11th Seaforths.
In 1946 he attended the Pipe Major’s course under Willie Ross and graduated with a Distinguished Certificate. He took over from Willie Ross in 1959 at the Army School of piping.
Prizes began to fall to him immediately after the war, when he won the marches at the Argyllshire Gathering in 1947 and the Former Winners’ MSR the following year. By the time he retired from competing in 1968 he had compiled one of the most successful competitive careers on record. His most notable competitive achievement was to win the four major former winners’ events at Oban and Inverness in 1958 – a feat not accomplished before or since.