The Gordons

Piper George Findlater VC

Piper Findlater is one of the most famous VC winners in the British Army. He took part in the renowned scaling of the Heights of Dargai by the 1st Gordon Highlanders on 20th Oct 1897. In the early stages of the advance he was shot in both feet but dragged himself to a rock to prop himself up and continued to play the bagpipes. His action gave encouragement to the men who were facing great danger from sharp-shooting Afridi tribesmen up on the Heights.

George was born on 15th Feb 1872 in Turriff, Aberdeenshire, one of 11 children. When he was 16 he enlisted in the 2nd Battalion on 7th April 1888, serving in Ceylon. He transferred to the 1st Battalion for a more active military career on the North-West Frontier. He was a private when the battalion stormed the hills at Malakand. His boot was hit but he was unhurt. In Dec 1896 he became a piper and as such was part of the Tirah Field Force in 1897.

At Dargai he was one of 5 pipers in the Gordons. The pipe-major was unable to continue after being hit in the chest. Findlater claimed that he did not hear the order to play Cock o' the North which is a marching tune. He chose to play a quick strathspey, The Haughs of Cromdales which he thought more suitable. He felt sick with pain after he was shot but managed to play on for another five minutes.

He became a celebrity when the Gordons returned home. He received his VC from the Queen in May 1898 and retired from the army soon afterwards. He received many requests to perform in public. The War Office were scandalised that he was having to augment his meagre pension by taking money for performances. At the Alhambra Theatre he received #100 a week, but soldiers were barred from attending. In that year, 1898, he was involved in a lawsuit for breach of promise and the audiences began to turn on him. So he left the UK for a while and toured North America.

In 1899 he returned home and married Nellie. He set them up with a farm in Banffshire and had 5 children. When the First World War broke out he re-enlisted and was appointed pipe-major in the 9th Battalion. But due to ill health he had to retire in 1915. He spent the rest of his life as a farmer and died in 1947 aged 70.

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by Stephen Luscombe