Following a short ceremony at the St Mary’s ADS Cemetery in the morning veterans and onlookers gathered in the centre of Loos-en-Gohelle for a walk out to the old German front line.
Those gathered would be preceded by two pipers from the King’s Own Scottish Borderers and a young piper called Kevin Laidlaw.
Kevin’s great grandfather Daniel had joined the army in 1896 as a member of the 2nd Durham Light Infantry. He saw service in India before joining the King’s Own Scottish Borderers two years later. Within his new regiment Daniel Laidlaw soon became one of the regimental pipers.
He had served for 18 years and returned to civilian life, but when war broke out in August 1914, Laidlaw was quick to re-enlist in his old regiment. Signing up again on 1st September, he found himself in France in June 1915.
At that point French efforts to take Vimy Ridge were foundering badly and thoughts had already turned to planning a new Franco-British offensive in September.
For the British this would be the Battle of Loos — and the first time that they would use gas in warfare.
Laidlaw’s Battalion, the 7th Bn KOSB was part of the 15th (Scottish) Division and on 25th September 1915 they had the daunting task of advancing over open territory and into the village of Loos.
The release of the gas was only partially effective and some blew back into the Scots’ own trenches, causing some nervousness.
In his own words Laidlaw described the morning as it unfolded for him.
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 the position I began to get back as best I could to our own trenches.
For him, he had simply done his duty but the London Gazette, Number 15851, of 18th November 1915 records his deserving the Victoria Cross as follows:
For most conspicuous bravery prior to an assault on German trenches near Loos and Hill 70 on 25th 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 recovered from his injuries and continued to serve until he was finally demobbed in April 1919. He had seen twenty and a half years service with the colours and had become a sergeant-piper in 1917.
Ninety years after Daniel Laidlaw’s courageous advance, pipers returned to Loos in celebration of his deeds.
At a short ceremony held in the village museum Victor Laidlaw, Daniel’s grandson donated the Victoria Cross to the National War Museum in Edinburgh Castle.
The twenty minute walk through the village and out to the position of the Loos Road Redoubt brought home just how exposed the Scots were as they went into the attack.
To the right in the distance was the familiar Lone Tree whilst just to the left in the shadow of the great Double Crassier was Dud Corner Cemetery and the Loos Memorial. In front it is just open territory with nowhere to take shelter.
The three pipers walked out a further hundred metres or so and then turned. The skirl of the pipes was soon blowing our way again as young Laidlaw re-enacted the walk his ancestor had taken towards the German redoubt.