By Brian Laidlaw, US Border Patrol
During my junior year of high school (about 1991), in Elkhart, Indiana, I began wondering, ‘where is the name Laidlaw from?’ I asked my dad to which he simply replied ‘Scotland’. I do not remember anyone in my family really talking about the genealogy, or maybe I wasn’t listening. Looking back, the moment I asked my dad was the start of a long journey that continues today. The first time I heard bagpipes was about seven years later at the funeral of fallen Patrolman, Thomas Goodwin. The day was very emotional but I do remember thinking, “What a sound; how do I learn to play? no way, I am not musical”. So that thought was put aside – for the time being.
I joined the U.S. Border Patrol (USBP) Honor Guard and was certified in February 2002. The first event I did with the team was a presentation of Colours at the Douglas, Arizona, campus in late May 2002. When I arrived, there was a USBP piper there by the name of Michael DeMik. Mike walked up to me and apparently noticed my nametag of BC Laidlaw. So the first thing out of his mouth was, “With a name like that (pointing to my name tag) you should be a piper”. I was very confused. I barely knew my last name was Scottish so how in the world did this guy know? Again, I thought about learning the pipes but also quickly dismissed the idea for the same reasons as before. Additionally, I was stationed in Douglas and Mike was in Tucson (a four hour round trip drive on a good day) so there was no way I could get lessons. I was, however, able to transfer to Tucson Station December 26, 2004.
Nearly another year goes by and it’s now October 2005. An Arizona Sheriff’s Deputy had died on duty. So, as we always did, we put together an honour guard team and went to the funeral. When I got there I saw Mike with all the pipers from different police departments and went to say hello. When I walked up another comment about Laidlaw and piping was made and Mike promised to tell me over lunch what the connection was. I was truly inspired to find out more about The Piper of Loos, Daniel Laidlaw VC. I went home and spent hours online looking at page after page of info. I was also very involved in connecting many genealogy dots in my paternal line. I knew where my patriarch came from and where he died at that point. I began to see if there was a connection to Daniel from my line. That work introduced me to several distant ‘cousins’ that have been very welcoming and helpful. The following information came from http://www.victoriacross.org.uk/bblaidla.htm
‘Born in 1875 in Little Swinton, Berwickshire, Daniel Laidlaw joined the 2nd Battalion, Durham Light Infantry on 11 April 1896, where he was immediately posted to India where he stayed for two years until June 1898. Whilst there he was employed on plague duty in Bombay from March to May 1898. After returning to Britain he was claimed out of the DLI by his eldest brother and served in the King’s Own Scottish Borderers as a piper until April 1912, when he was placed on the reserve. Upon the outbreak of war in Europe, Daniel Laidlaw re-enlisted in the KOSB on 1 September 1914 and went to France with the regiment the following June. In his own words he describes his action that resulted in him being awarded the Victoria Cross.
‘On Saturday morning we got orders to raid the German trenches. At 6.30 the bugles sounded the advance and I got over the parapet with Lieutenant Young. I at once got the pipes going and the laddies gave a cheer as they started off for the enemy’s lines. As soon as they showed themselves over the trench top they began to fall fast, but they never wavered, but dashed straight on as I played the old air they all knew Blue Bonnets over the Border.
‘I ran forward with them piping for all I knew, and just as we were getting near the German lines I was wounded by shrapnel in the left ankle and leg. I was too excited to feel the pain just then, but scrambled along as best I could. I changed my tune to The Standard on the Braes o’ Mar, a grand tune for charging on.
‘I kept on piping and piping and hobbling after the laddies until I could go no farther, and then seeing that the boys had won then began to get back as best I could to our own trenches.’
The London Gazette, 18 November 1915, Loos, France, 25 September 1915, No. 15851 Piper Daniel Laidlaw, 7th Battalion, King’s Own Scottish Borderers:
‘For most conspicuous bravery prior to an assault on German trenches near Loos and Hill 70 on 25 September 1915. 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.’ Daniel Laidlaw was invested with his Victoria Cross by King GeorgeV at Buckingham Palace on the 3rd February 1916. He was promoted sergeant-piper on 12 October 1917, and was eventually demobilised on 3 April 1919; total service 20 years, 6 months. He died peacefully in 1950, aged 74, in Shoresedean, near Norham, Northumberland, and was buried in St. Cuthbert’s Churchyard. There is also a memorial plaque within the church.’
On June 2006 I attended my first piping summer school: The College of Piping California Summer School in Carlsbad. Everything Mike had been teaching me was reinforced and Dugald MacNeill offered plenty of straightforward feedback. I returned to the school in 2007, 2009, 2010 and 2011. I began competing in amateur solos (Grade 4) in June 2009 at the San Diego Highland Games. In January 2010 a friend and fellow piper introduced me to a band that previously competed in Grade 3 but was rebuilding at Grade 5 level. I joined and was invited to compete with them (Grade 4b) at the World Pipe Band Championships. The complete duration of the trip to Scotland would be two weeks.This left me with a few opportunities to work on family history, compete in solo contests and, of course, do some sightseeing. My parents and younger sister decided to take advantage of the group rates for travel and came along as guests of the band.
I made an appointment at the Old Gala House with the Borders Family Historical Society researcher. We were assigned a two hour block but, because no one else had taken the next appointment, we were allowed to stay for four hours. This was very exciting! Twelve new members were confirmed to be in my ancestry but still nothing on Daniel being directly related. I loved Galashiels and have never felt more at home in a strange place in my life.
Saturday, August 6th, was a day for the games at North Berwick where we were to meet Evelyn Law and her husband Brian, a distant relation of Daniel’s. They offered to take us to Daniel’s grave and the KOSB Museum in Berwick upon Tweed. They first took us to St. Cuthbert’s Churchyard where Daniel is buried. Touring the inside of the church was already moving for me but then Brian led me outside to Daniel’s final resting place. I noticed the headstone was in great shape and that’s when I was told he did not get one until 2002.
I had brought my pipes along but was somewhat reluctant to play them at first. I can’t explain why. After some coaxing I got them going and wasn’t sure what I would play. I was so excited and overwhelmed to be standing there it was hard to focus. Mom asked me to play Amazing Grace and I can’t tell mom ‘no’. Hector the Hero came out next and I wrapped up my ‘gratitude session’ with the piobaireachd I had been working on, The Company’s Lament. While I was playing, I truly wondered what The Piper of Loos would think of this man, born in Indiana, with the same last name, piping at his grave. I also pondered what it was about the pipes that made men in battle continue forward into a wall of bullets and bombs. The entire experience in the churchyard had me buzzing and humbled at the same time.
Next stop, the Kings Own Scottish Borderers Museum. As I entered I remember wanting to clear my mind so that I could take everything in. Just as I walked in the door, my sister pointed to a display case on the wall. It was full of pictures and several items of Daniel’s including his pipes! I had wondered on several occasions what had happened to them but assumed the family had them or they were damaged badly in battle and discarded. I clearly have no claim to them so I never researched it much – but I could not believe they were right there! As my sister was trying to get a shot of me in front of the pipes, Brian walked up to me with a museum volunteer. They began to remove the glass and told me I could hold Daniel’s pipes and take photos of them too! I was shaking with excitement and attempted to have a photo taken whilst I was holding the pipes standing at attention. Being a former U.S. Marine this should be no problem, right? Well, I never really accomplished a perfect Position of Attention that day simply because I was unable to remove the grin on my face!
As I type this I am still shaking my head in disbelief. I did ask about the silver on the pipes, assuming it was not original. The museum volunteer told me that it was commissioned after Daniel was presented with the Victoria Cross. Later Kevin Laidlaw, who is a direct descendant (great-great-grandson) of Daniel’s, wrote to me about the silver. He said: “In the 1920s there was no celebrity culture as we know it today, yet Piper Laidlaw was a celebrity and spent a lot of time in London. He played the lament at the Cenotaph every year. He also played the pipes in cinemas at his part in the Guns of Loos, a silent film.
“There was a woman whose name I don’t know but who was so taken on with his story that she always put him up in London and it was she who paid for the silver mounts on the pipes along with a silver soled chanter.”
As the day trip wound down, I realised I would not likely sleep well that night because so much happened in one, wonderful day. The next 24 hours capped off an incredible 72 hours of piping/genealogy bliss for me. I ended up placing in the top six of all five categories at the CLASP contest in winning 1st in the March, 2nd in the Strathspey/Reel and 3rd in the Full Piobaireachd.
I am very happy that my parents, who 20 years earlier didn’t have much to say about our ancestry, were there to experience the entire trip but especially those 72 hours of pure magic. I am determined to ensure my children know their history and will support any desires they have to participate in the Scottish arts. On returning home I was asked to give a presentation on Daniel Laidlaw V.C. to the Scottish American Society of Michigan. In this journey of mine, I have fallen in love with the music of the great Highland bagpipe and its history. I can only hope to continue to improve my playing and will continue to pass on the historical importance of pipers like Sergeant Piper Daniel Logan Laidlaw V.C.
• From the November 2013 Piping Times.