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Piper George Findlater, VC of the Gordon Highlander became known as The Hero of Dargai for his involvement in that siege on 20 October 1897. Findlater and the Gordon Highlanders inspired the following tune.
MAN’S A MAN FOR A’ THAT.
As their own native hills,
The Highlanders wait the word of command
With eager hearts and wills.
‘Men of the Gordon Highlanders‘
(Their Colonel’s voice rings clear)
‘Yon Ridge of Dargai! - ours we must make it,
The Gordon Highlanders will take it.’
(Not one thinks of death or of fear).
Forward they sweep, those men of the north
To the music of skirling pipes;
Resistless in might, in faith, and in fight,
Winning new glorious stripes.
But one of the pipers who help to blow
That blast of national song
Is wounded sore in that gallant rush
Of the Highlanders, brave and strong.
His ankles are both shot through and through!
He falls to the ground in pain -
But soon he is up - and sitting there
Commences to play again.
The bullets shower around like hail,
Yet louder the music swells!
In spirit he goes with his comrades brave,
Their victory he foretells.
And that gallant form of the piper true
Alone on the field of Death,
Will live in the hearts of his countrymen,
And be to all nations a sure token
We Britons will fight as becomes good men
Till we draw our dying breath.
The Tirah Expeditionary Force was created respond to unprovoked attacks by the Afridis and the Orakzais with a show of force in the tribes’ summer home of Tirah. Set to advance into the Chagru valley, the Alikhel tribesmen had seen the preparation of a mountain road by the army working parties, and anticipating the army’s intentions, occupied the village of Dargai and the Narik spur, which completely dominated the road along which the Expeditionary Force was to travel. It was therefore necessary to dislodge the tribesmen from their position. The task was assigned to the 1st Brigade, 2nd Division which was made up of the 1st Battalion Gordon Highlanders, 1st Dorsetshires, 1st Battalion 2nd Gurkhas, and the 15th Sikhs. At 10am on the 20th of October the 2-inch guns began the bombardment of the tribesmen, but it was ineffective as the enemy were entrenched on higher ground and protected by the rocks and sangar. After four hours the 1st Battalion 2nd Gurkhas leading the attack had reached the most hazardous zone. Few managed to cross the open area; many were killed or mortally wounded. The Gurkhas, Dorsets and Derbys were met by intense fire from only 200 yards away; that those who were not cut down in the charge struggled to hold onto the position. Over 100 men lay dead and wounded. The tribesmen began waving their standards and beating their drums prematurely celebrating their victory. General Kempster responded by ordering the Gordon Highlanders to the front.
The Gordon Highlanders advanced, covering the retrieval of the dead and wounded of the other regiments. Upon reaching the Derbys and Dorsets, the Gordons lay under cover for three minutes as the artillery again concentrated their ordnance on the summit. Colonel Mathias addressed his highlanders, "The General says this hill must be taken at all costs - the Gordon Highlanders will take it." After a moment’s silence the Gordon Highlanders cheered. The Pipers were ordered to the front, and as their pipe major was overseeing the bringing up of the reserve ammunition, Lance-Corporal Piper Milne, as the next most senior piper, led Pipers Findlater, Fraser, Wills, Walker and Kidd into action. The advance was sounded and the pipers struck up as the officers shouted, "Come!"
Sir William Lockhart, in his dispatch to The Adjutant-General in India, wrote on 9 December 1897:
"The Gordon Highlanders went straight up the hill without check or hesitation. Headed by their pipers, and led by Lieutenant-Colonel Mathias, CB, with Major Macbean on his right and Lieutenant A F Gordon on his left, this splendid battalion marched across the open. It dashed through a murderous fire…"
Piper Milne received a bullet through the right lung and fell. Major Macbean, shot through the thigh, fell almost immediately and dragged himself to shelter. He cheered on his men as they passed. Three-quarters of the way across the exposed area Piper Findlater related in an interview shortly after arriving in London
“I got about half across when I was struck on the left foot, but as the bullet only grazed my toes that did not matter. Then a stray shot broke my chanter…(it did not stop my playing) because the break did not make it impossible to play. I had not gone much further when a third bullet went through my right ankle. I could not stand. My leg went under me, and as a result my pipes slid off my shoulder. But I managed to keep on playing to cheer on the other fellows. I got my back against a stone, and that helped me wonderfully.”
The storming of the Heights only took the Gordons about 40 minutes. The position was secured at 3.15pm, the tribesmen having fled from the onrush of Highlanders. Colonel Mathias came over the last incline commenting to one of the sergeants, "Stiff climb, eh, Mackie? Not quite - so young - as I was - you know." To which the sergeant replied, "Never mind, sir! Ye’re ga’un vara strong for an auld man!" The Gordon’s raised three cheers for their colonel.
Determined to hold the Heights, General Yeatman-Biggs and the Dorsets, with the 1st and 2nd Gurkhas camped on the summit. The Gordon Highlanders carried the wounded of all three regiments down and as they passed were cheered by the men of the other regiments. The Commander-in Chief of India, Sir G S White, later wrote of the Gordon Highlanders: "Their conduct at Dargai helped Yeatman-Biggs out of a great difficulty, and one that was, as hour by hour passed without driving the Pathans off, rapidly passing into an actual danger."
Sir William Lockhart had the Gordon Highlanders paraded the following day (October 21st) and addressed them regarding their conduct on the 20th; "Your records testify to many a gallant action performed by you, and you have now added to them another which may worthily rank beside those that have gone before." He commended Lieutenant-Colonel Mathias for leading his battalion in the assault and recommended him for a Victoria Cross, but the War Office had previously decided that General Officers and battalion commanders were not eligible for the VC. Major-General Yeatman-Biggs reported favorably on several Gordon Highlanders:
"Major F Macbean, who was the first to spring out of cover and lead his company to the attack... Piper Findlater, who after being shot through both feet and unable to stand, sat up under heavy fire playing the regimental march to encourage the charge... Private Lawson, who carried Lieutenant Dingwall, when wounded and unable to move, out of a heavy fire, and subsequently returned and brought in Private Macmillan, being himself wounded in two places in so doing... I recommend Piper Findlater and Private Lawson for the Victoria Cross."
Lance-Corporal Piper Milne, and eleven other officers and non-commissioned officers were brought to notice as being deserving of recognition. Each was awarded the medal for distinguished service in the field.
Later, Findlater wrote:
"I remember the Colonel addressing the regiment, telling them what they were expected to do. I remember again the order for the regiment to attack, and the order "Pipers to the front". I am told that the ‘Cock of the North’ was the tune ordered to be played, but I didn’t hear the order, and using my own judgment I thought that the charge would be better led by a quick strathspey, so I struck up ‘The Haughs o’ Cromdale’. The ‘Cock o’ the North’ is more of a march tune and the effort we had to make was a rush and a charge.
“The battle fever had taken hold of us and we thought not of what the other was feeling. Our whole interest being centred in self. Social positions were not thought of, and officers and men went forward with eagerness shoulder to shoulder.
“When I got wounded the feeling was as if I had been struck heavily with a stick. I remember falling and playing on for a short time; but I was bleeding profusely and in a few minutes sickened. I am told that the time I continued playing after falling was about five minutes. After the position was won, and the wounded taken to the rear, my first thoughts on recovery were how lucky I had been in getting off so easily. It never occurred to me that I had done anything to merit reward. What I did I could not help doing. It was a very great surprise when I was told that my action had been brave, and a recommendation had been made to award me the soldier’s prize - the VC."
Contrary to popular belief it was not the Chief’s own song, Cock O’ The North, that native Aberdonian and Gordon Highlander George Findlater played at Dargai, but a strathspey, ‘The Haughs o’ Cromdale’.
As a result of his wounds, Findlater was discharged from service. After a brief tour of Scotland giving recitals to large audiences (one that became controversial when active members of the regiment were forbidden from attendance), Findlater retired to Forglen in Aberdeenshire to farm. However, at the outbreak of WWI in 1914, he re-enlisted in the Gordon Highlanders and served with the 9th Battalion, rising to the rank of Sergeant Piper. In 1919 he was discharged and returned to Forglen and his farming. From 1919 to 1939 he served as Pipe Major of the Turriff Pipe Band.
Piper George Findlater, VC died at Forglen on the 4th of March 1942 at the age of 70 years. His Victoria Cross is displayed in the Gordon Highlanders Museum in Viewfield Road, Aberdeen.
|Piper George Findlater, VC
The Haughs O' Cromdale
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