In the middle to late 1800’s, the British were struggling to maintain their colony in India. The country had been a long established center of trade for one of history’s most profitable and well-known trading enterprises: the British East India Trading Company. The company began its dealings with India around the year 1600, though it wasn’t until 1757 that the British got a foothold on the subcontinent. British rule was established as the Raja, and when a famine decimated the Native population in the late 1700’s, the British offered aid that secured a peaceful existence for some years to come. It wasn’t until 1857 that India saw its first major conflict.
George Findlater was born in Aberdeen Scotland in 1872. He was the son of a carpenter who did not want to see his son join the army, but at the age of 16 young Findlater ignored those wishes and enlisted. He joined the 2nd Battalion Gordon Highlander in Aberdeen. Since his childhood, Findlater had shown a particular interest in music, so it came as no surprise that after enlistment he took up instruction on the bagpipes. In 1896 he was promoted to the rank of piper.
On October 20, 1897, Findlater found himself in the northwest frontier of India (now Pakistan) where Afridi and Orakzai tribesmen were staging attacks from a hilltop stronghold known as the Heights of Dargai. This strategic position had to be taken if the British were to advance. Several other regiments including the Derbyshire and Dorsetshire had made attempts, but all had ended in failure. The task then fell to the Gordon Highlanders.
The enemy’s fire was intense; almost from the start, the commanding officer, Major Macbean fell, was shot through the thigh. He drug himself behind a boulder where he sat cheering his men on. Piper Milne was struck in the chest and fell, unable to continue. Piper Findlater pressed on for nearly three quarters of the field of battle. It was there that a bullet struck him in the left ankle and he stumbled. Another bullet shattered the lowest portion of his chanter, and a final bullet passed through his right ankle, bringing him to the ground. In a situation where many would hide behind a rock and tend to their wounds, Findlater instead propped himself up against a boulder, still exposed to enemy fire, and continued to pipe his colleagues into battle. His wounds bled so profusely that his kilt was stained red and soon his pipes silenced as he slipped into unconsciousness. The Gordons, many of them greatly inspired by Findlater’s actions, took the Heights in just 40 minutes. Of the five pipers who led the charge, only Piper Kidd made it to the Heights.
The War Office saw this as opportunist on Findlater’s part and openly berated their hero. He began to loose public sympathy until turning the focus on the plight of fellow soldiers whose bravery had also forced them out of the service. He pointed to pittance of a stipend the Army called a pension. Eventually through Findlater’s efforts, the government increased the soldiers’ pensions, and he retired from celebrity to become a farmer.
At the outbreak of the First World War, Findlater then 42 years old, volunteered for service. He was given the rank of Sergeant Piper with the 9th Battalion Gordon Highlanders. In 1915 he was again wounded at the Battle of Loos and was sent home where he returned to farming. He also served as Pipe Major for a local band.
On March 4th, 1942, George Frederick Findlater, VC, the Piper of Dargai, died at the age of 70 from a heart attack. His is a legacy of courage at the front lines and dedication to his fellow soldiers.