Wednesday, April 27, 2011

May 31, 1898 --- Pay the Piper

The Piper Findlater, V.C., gives his final performance at the Alhambra Theatre in London. The previous October on India's NW frontier, Findlater, a piper with the Gordon Highlanders, had been shot through both legs during the charge at Dargai. Somehow, cradling his precious pipes, he managed to drag himself to a rock. There, though bloodied, he propped himself up and continued to play "Cock o'the North." The scene so inspired his fellow Scots that they swept up the hill in face of intense fire and routed the Pathans in savage fighting.

Among the many battlefield honors won on Dargai Day was the coveted Victoria Cross for the doughty piper. The piper's tale was soon told across Britain.  Discharged for his wounds and back in London, Findlater was a star attraction. The Alhamabra management signed him for £30 a week to just play "Cock o'the North." This was a not inconsiderable sum when compared with the financial reward for his heroism: his VC annuity of £10 a year plus a medical pension of two shillings a day. The War Office nonetheless frowned and officers of the highest rank cowed the Alhambra into a quick surrender. Findlater, it is announced, is released from his contract per the wishes of the Commander-in-Chief, Sir Garnet Wolseley, who feels the performance is "not in countenance with the traditions of the Army."

Findlater is offered a position in Her Majesty's Household. In Parliament, however, questions are raised about "this official interference with the free action of a discharged soldier." Mr. Broderick, the War Minister replied that it had been considered "repugnant to military feeling that an exhibition should be made at a music hall of a soldier so recently decorated by the Queen." Still, many members demanded that War Office increase the VC annuity, unchanged since 1854. The Piper's own MP from Aberdeen reminded the War Secretary "that several VC men are known to have lately ended their days either in workhouse or in great destitution." In fact, one VC winner had forfeited his medal when convicted of theft to - he claimed - support his family. The War Office soon raised the annuity to £50.

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