John Murdoch Henderson (1902-1972)
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Piper George Findlater VC 1872 - 1942
Greg D. Allen

Almost every region in Scotland can boast a piper hero and Aberdeenshire is no exception.

Allen George Findlater was born at Forgue, near Turriff in Aberdeenshire, in 1872. He enlisted in the Gordon Highlanders in 1888 and soon after was posted to the 2nd Battalion with which he served in Belfast and Ceylon. Whilst serving in Ceylon in 1891 Findlater was transferred to the 1st Battalion Gordon Highlanders. Four years later, in 1895, he accompanied the Battalion on the expedition to relieve Chitral, and in December 1896 he was appointed to the rank of Piper.

In 1897 the 1st Battalion was part of the Tirah Expedition to north west India to protect trade routes and suppress local, hostile tribes. The Tirah Expeditionary Force amounted to no less than 32,882 officers and men, with a supplementary back-up of 19,558 cooks, medical officers, hospital staff and various trades persons. Blacksmiths and vets were also in attendance to oversee the welfare and treatment of the 8,000 horses, 1440 riding ponies, 18,384 mules not including camels, baggage ponies, wagons and carts.

A point of strategic importance for the Force to surmount was the ridge or "Heights Of Dargai", a rocky plateau with eroded natural ramparts occupied by the 8,000 strong Afridis tribe. On the 20th October 1897, assaults by the 1st Battalion Dorsetshire Regiment, the 2nd Battalion Derbyshire Regiment, and the 2nd Battalion Ghurkhas, with the Sikh Infantry, failed to gain any ground on Dargai. Early in the afternoon Colonel Mathias addressed the 1st Battalion Gordon Highlanders saying, "The hill must be taken at all costs....the Gordon Highlanders will take it!"

The Battalion Pipers, Kidd, Milne, Fraser, Wills and Findlater led the charge with Colonel Mathias at the front. Piper Findlater was wounded in both ankles during the initial charge over 150 yards of open ground from a hail of bullets from the "Heights". Nevertheless he continued to play on the bagpipes, leaning against a boulder, encouraging the "cocky wee Gordons" up the steep mountainous slopes of Dargai.

To the sounds of the Pipers and strains of "Cock O The North" and "The Haughs O Cromdale" the Gordons had stormed the "Heights Of Dargai" in approximately forty minutes, a climb of some 1,000 feet. By 3.15pm the Gordon Highlanders had taken and secured Dargai, and thereafter assisted in taking the wounded of all the regiments down to the hospital tents.

Findlater and the other wounded were transported to Netley Hospital in Southampton. The local newspapers and national press praised the bravery of the Gordon Highlander in this decisive attack, and when detailed reports became known Findlater was singled out for his actions in spite of severe wounds.

On the 16th May 1898 Queen Victoria visited the hospital and presented the Victoria Cross to Findlater and also to Lance-Corporal Vickery of the Dorsetshire Regiment. Private Lawson of the Gordon Highlanders was also awarded the Victoria Cross for his gallantry on Dargai.

As a result of his wounds Piper Findlater was discharged from the army. He was content, after a brief period of public appearances throughout Scotland playing to huge audiences and giving recitals on the bagpipes, to settle in Forglen in Aberdeenshire to a life of farming. However, on the outbreak of the Great War in 1914 Findlater enlisted again in the Gordon Highlanders and served with the 9th Battalion, rising to the rank of Sergeant Piper. He was discharged in 1919 and returned to Forglen and to his farm. Between 1919 and 1939 Findlater served as Pipe Major of the Turriff Pipe Band.

Piper George Findlater, VC died at Forglen, Turriff, 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.

DARGAI RIDGE, 20th October, 1897.
Inscribed to Piper Findlater

The Cock o the North, the Cock o the North!
The Hielan pipes did skirl,
And the Gordon men, they didna "hen",
Tho death at their ribs did dirl.
The Cock o the North, the Cock o the North!
Struck up, on Dargai steep;
As furth wi a roar, broke the kilted Core,
Where Death stood ready to reap.

The Cock o the North, the Cock o the North!
If ye hear the chanter shrill?
As the Gordons gay, faced Death that day,
Through the reek, on Dargai hill.
The Cock o the North, the Cock o the North!
Though winged in the fight still screamed,
For Findlater blew, where the bullet flew,
And Death in red riot gleamed.
The Cock o the North, the Cock o the North!
A bonnie red comb has he!
Were proud o his kind well keep them in mind
For the look they gave Death in the ee,
On the rocky ridge o Dargai o.

MAGGILLIVRAY (From the Aberdeen Journal 2nd April 1898)

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