The Battle of Loos was one of the major British offensives launched on the Western Front in 1915 during WWI. The battle began on September 25th when the British were able to break through weaker German trenches and capture the town of Loos. It was a savage battle involving the use of 140 tons of chlorine gas. Unfortunately due to a shortage of men and arttilery sheels, the British could not exploit the breach they opened in the German line, and on September 28th the battle ended where it began, with the British pulling back to their original trenches.
Despite the futility of this poorly planed offensive, the men who broke the German lines and fell in the mud provided us with many examples of courage and heroisim. The most famous among these stories is that of Piper Daniel Laidlaw.
“Pipe them together, Laidlaw, for God’s sake, pipe them together,” cried the commanding officer.
Immediately Laidlaw climbed onto the parapet and began marching up and down the length of the trench. Bullets whizzed past him, shells burst near him, but oblivious to the danger he played, “All the Blue Bonnets Over the Border.” The effect it had on his company was almost magical. Seeing the men take courage, the commading officer gave the order to advance and shouted, “Come on, Borderers, who’ll be the first to reach the German trenches?”
For his efforts the 40 year old Laidlaw received the Victoria Cross. The official entry in the London Gazette, November 18, 1915, read:
"During the worst of the bombardment, Piper Laidlaw, seeing that his company was badly shaken from the effects of gas, with absolute coolness and disregard of danger, mounted the parapet, marched up and down and played company out of the trench. The effect of his splendid example was immediate and the company dashed out to the assault. Piper Laidlaw continued playing his pipes until he was wounded."
Laidlaw also received the French Criox de Guerre and was afterward promoted to Sergeant-Piper.
Recently on September 25, 2005, the 90th anniversary of the battle, Laidlaw’s grandson, Victor Laidlaw, donated the Victoria Cross to the National Museum of Scotland. The medal is one of only 74 awarded to Scots during the First World War and arguably the most famous. Laidlaw returned home a celebrity, much like Piper Gerorge Findlater, and made several public apperances. He is also one of the only pipers of WWI ever to be filmed piping the tune he played in battle. Through his popularity he received the title, The Piper of Loos.
The Vicotria Cross, of which only 1,300 have ever been awarded, and only 11 gifted to the state, is valued to be worth £100,000. It was first offered to the Borderers Regimental Museum, but politly refused they had no means to insure the famous medal. It was also decided that the small museum located in Berwick-upon-Tweed was somewhat off the beaten tourist path where few members of the public could view such a prize. Instead the VC will go on display and the National War Museum in Edinburgh Castle.
Victor commented on the gift of the medal to the state saying, “My father was quite adamant that these things should not be hidden in vaults.” Victor’s father who was also a piper represented the war hero for many years at official functions like the VC centenary.
With the attention given to the display of the ultimate battlefield honor, Daniel Laidlaw will not soon be forgotten. His is the archetypical Scottish story: a warrior piper doing exactly what pipers in Scottish regiments are best known for, encouraging the men into an attack. It was said at the handover of the medal, “You can't get more of an exemplar of grace, coolness under fire, than the Piper of Loos."