b. 15/02/1877 Turriff, Scotland. d. 04/03/1942 Turriff, Scotland.
George Frederick Findlater (1877-1942) was born on 15th February 1872 at Turriff, Aberdeenshire, one of eleven children of Alexander Findlater, a miller, and his wife, Mary Ann Clark. He attended the school in Turriff but left at a young age to work as a farm labourer; under the law then in force, children were permitted to leave school at thirteen. Two months after his sixteenth birthday, on 7 April 1888, he travelled to Aberdeen and enlisted in the 2nd Battalion, Gordon Highlanders. The battalion was posted to Ceylon, where in 1891 he transferred to the 1st Battalion, then serving on the North-West Frontier of British India, now part of Pakistan. He first saw active combat there in March 1895, at the Malakand Pass, where he was hit but not wounded; later in the year, he served with the relief force in the Chitral Expedition.
In December 1896 he was appointed as a piper in the battalion’s band. The Gordons, in common with other Highland regiments of the time, maintained a pipe band in each battalion for both ceremonial and military purposes; the pipers were trained infantrymen, and accompanied the main force on operations. The following year, the 1st Battalion was assigned as part of the force for the Tirah campaign, an expedition into the mountains to secure the Khyber Pass and the northern approaches to India.
On 20 October 1897, an attempt by a British force to take the strongly held Dargai Heights was beaten back, leaving three battalions pinned down under heavy fire from above and unable to withdraw. They were reinforced by the 1st Gordons, who were ordered to advance through the open ground and storm the heights, led by their five pipers. Findlater was wounded before reaching the hillside, with a superficial wound to his left foot and a broken right ankle. Unable to walk, he pulled himself to a boulder, propped himself up, and continued to play to encourage the advance. The infantry following behind successfully reached the hillside, climbed the heights, and dispersed the defenders.
He was gazetted for the Victoria Cross on 20th May 1898, though he had already received his medal six days previously from Queen Victoria whilst he was convalescing from his wounds at Netley Hospital, Southampton. He was then offered a position, probably at Balmoral. He declined this because of the poor pay. He then took up a concert career for some time, much to the distress of the War Office. Returning from his travels Piper Findlater settled at Mountblairy in the parish of Alvah, Banffshire. Both of his parents were dead but he was not far from many of his family who lived in the surrounding countryside. On Wednesday, 2 August 1899 George Findlater married his cousin, Nellie Findlater. Nellie’s late father, John, was the brother of George’s father. She was 23 years of age and lived at South Brownside, Forglen. The wedding took place at St Congan’s Episcopal Church near Mill of Turriff where Piper Findlater had been born.
When the Findlaters returned from their honeymoon they settled in a newly-built cottage near the banks of the Deveron at Mountblairy. Piper Findlater’s ambition had always been to find a small farm and by June 1900 he had secured the tenancy of a holding at Bridgend, Forglen on the estate of Mr Harvey of Carnousie. George and Nellie Findlater had four children at Bridgend. John Alexander was born in 1900; Frances Harvey in October 1900; Mary Ann in November 1901, and Frederick George in April 1904. The Findlaters moved to a 30-acre farm in Forglen, Cairnhill, and in September 1909 Helen Kennedy was born there. George and Nellie were to live at Cairnhill for the rest of their lives.
When war broke out in 1914 George Findlater was a 42 year old farmer. The 9th Battalion of The Gordon Highlanders was formed at Aberdeen in September 1914. Findlater volunteered for service. In January 1915 the battalion was made a Pioneer battalion providing labouring jobs for low-grade medical men. He travelled to France with the battalion in July 1915 as a Sergeant Piper and was wounded at Loos. Invalided out of the army he returned to Aberdeenshire to his farm. He received the 1914-15 Star medal and the British War and Victory medals. For the next 27 years George Findlater farmed Cairnhill and was active in the Turriff pipe band as Pipe-Major. On 4 March 1942 George Frederick Findlater, VC, the Piper of Dargai, died of a heart attack aged 70 years. George and Nellie Findlater are buried in Forglen Cemetery a short distance from Turriff. His medals are held by the Gordon Highlanders Museum, Aberdeen, Scotland.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: GORDON HIGHLANDERS MUSEUM, ABERDEEN.
BURIAL PLACE: FORGLEN CEMETERY, NEAR TURRIFF, SCOTLAND.
Thomas Stewart – Image of Findlater’s VC grave and his medal group in Edinburgh Castle.