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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.




© Copyright David Selzer

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