by Michael Hall
The 4th of August 2014 marked the 100th anniversary of the day Britain entered one of the costliest conflicts in history, the First World War. Many bloody battles ensued and millions of people were injured or lost their lives. There are countless stories of heroism and bravery in the face of grave danger and horrific scenes.
The Battle of Loos was a savage battle and one of the major British offensives launched on the Western Front in 1915 during The Great War. On the 25th of September the British were able to break through weaker German trenches and capture the town of Loos. One story from the battle is that of Piper Daniel Laidlaw of the 7th Kings Own Scottish Borderers.
They were under heavy shell fire on the morning 25th of September, 1915. A cloud of poison gas drifted over their position and a few of the men began to cough and choke, many succumbed rapidly to the effects of the gas and the remainder were shaken by the disturbing sights they saw. The overall effects of what was going on around them began to understandably unnerve the men in the trenches. Its difficult to imagine the horror they faced and that’s before they even went over the top. The commanding officer screamed for Laidlaw’s assistance “Pipe them together, Laidlaw, for God’s sake, pipe them together”.
With absolute disregard of danger and in an act of extreme bravery Laidlaw mounted the parapet, marched up and down and played the company out of the trench. Bullets whizzed past him, shells burst near him, but oblivious to the danger he played the companies regimental tune, “Blue Bonnets Over the Border”. Seeing the men take courage, the commanding officer gave the order to advance and shouted, “Come on, Borderers, who’ll be the first to reach the German trenches?”
Laidlaw followed his regiment into the assault, men were being killed all around him, but Laidlaw continued piping until he got near the German lines where he was hit and fell wounded. Like many other wounded pipers, he attempted to play on, he eventually managed to get up and hobble after the regiment.
For his efforts the 40 year old Laidlaw received the Victoria Cross, one of only 74 awarded to Scots during the First World War, he also received the French Criox de Guerre and was afterward promoted to Sergeant-Piper and later became known as The Piper of Loos. A piper doing exactly what they did best, encouraging the men into an attack. Their drones drawing courage and drive whilst their chanters play melodies which remind them of their homelands and of their fight for freedom.
This is just one brief story of extreme bravery during horrific and unthinkable conditions of Pipers leading their regiments into battle. Hundreds of pipers died on the battlefields of the Great War and it is in their memory along with all those brave soldiers to date who have paid the ultimate price for our Country and Freedom, a price that we shall be eternally grateful.
We will remember them.