The Allies were waiting to go over the top
to attack a weak enemy position.
The British used gas for the first time.
Unfortunately, after a half an hour,
the wind changed and it all blew back
over the King’s Own Scottish Borderers.
Unsurprisingly, the men were distressed.
Lieutenant Young called out, “Pipe them together,
Laidlaw, for God’s sake, pipe them together.”
And the forty year old veteran climbed
the ladder, tuned his pipes and marched back and fore
along the parapet, playing first
‘The Blue Bonnets O’er The Border’ – about
Bonnie Prince Charlie’s invasion of England –
and then ‘The Standard On The Braes O’Mar’ –
about the raising of the Jacobite flag.
He marched until shrapnel in his leg downed him
then, sitting, played on. And the laddies were
‘piped together’ and went over the top.
They were almost immediately
in enfilade from the German gunners
in an abandoned factory. Nothing
was achieved. No ground was gained or lost.
Piper Laidlaw VC died nearly eighty
and was buried in an unmarked grave.
This almanac of ironies is truly
beyond satire for something in this story –
and the paintings, photographs, footage
of other Pipe Majors playing the pibroch
on other parapets, in No-Man’s-Land –
moves to tears not laughter: certainly
the music – the chanter and the drone –
the selflessness, of course, and, perhaps,
the conviction that their history
and their traditions would transcend misfortune.