Extremely rare 54 year old Piper’s DCM group for sale on behalf of the family.

19th December 2023

A World War 1 Distinguished Conduct Medal group of 8 medals to Sgt Piper Thomas Aitken is offered in our 21st February auction with an estimate of £5,000, finally hammered at £5,750 after some spirited bidding on EasyLive.com.


Thomas Aitken lies in an unmarked grave in Logie Cemetery at the bottom of Wallace’s Monument in Stirling and the medals are being sold to help pay for a grave stone to mark the grave.

He originally enlisted in the 42nd Foot as a piper on 14th October 1879 aged 17.

He served during the campaigns in Egypt and the Sudan and was awarded the Egypt Medal with 5 clasps, which is scarce in its own right. He was eventually discharged from the 3rd Bn Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders on 15th November 1904.

With the outbreak of WW1, he re-enlisted in the Argylls on 5th September 1914 stating his age as 49 (a little white lie to ensure he was not rejected as overage). He served with the 10th Battalion for the next 2 years.

Thomas Aitken's DCM was announced in the London Gazette dated 26th January 1917 "For conspicuous gallantry in action. He has performed consistent good work throughout, and has at all times under fire set a splendid example of coolness and courage."

Aitken himself was in the thick of the action and was wounded in the action. The War Diary recorded he was finally admitted to hospital on 27 July having been:

"continuously through the battle and previous operations attaching himself as personal Orderly to the CO, never leaving his side except to carry messages. His behaviour and gallantry was a fine example to all ranks."

The Thin Red Line published:

"One of the most interesting and well known personalities in the piping world today, is this grand old veteran of 83 years of age. He holds a distinguished and wonderful record of service in the Army, and is one of the few pipers left to-day who sounded the onset of pipes at the famous charge of the Highland Brigade at the Battle of Tel-el-Kebir, in 1882.

Pipe-Major Aitken joined the 57th Brigade at Perth in 1879, and later joined the Pipe Band of the 42nd Highlanders at Parkhurst, Isle of Wight, proceeding to Aldershot in 1880. The Band and Pipers of the 42nd and 71st were present at the 'Wet Review' in 1881, and played the Volunteers past the saluting base.

In the same year Aitken was piper with the Guard of Honour of the 42nd at Ballater, and owing to trouble in Egypt, he was recalled from there to rejoin his Battalion for active service.

He was present at all the battles in Egypt between the years 1882 to 1885, and holds Medals for Tel-el-Kebir, El-teb, Tania, Kirbican Medal and Star (5 clasps on Medal). In 1886 Aitken was transferred to the 93rd Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders as Pipe-Major, and later joined the Highland Borderers, Stirlingshire Militia. During the South African War he was Pipe-Major of the 3rd Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.

He went to France with the First Hundred Thousand, as Pipe-Major of the 10th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders under Colonel MacKenzie of Ord. The gallant Pipe-Major pawkily remarked of the great change from the old system of warfare:

"In the old days we would march to meet the enemy, but in France he was always at the door."

At the Somme he was wounded three times in one day. At the end of 1916 he was invalided and received the D.C.M., in all he holds eight decorations; D.C.M., 3 Great War Medals, South African Medal (2 clasps), Egyptian Medal (5 clasps), Egyptian Star and Long Service Medal. Pipe-Major Aitken is an active member of the A. and S. H. Club in Glasgow."

The Pipes of War records:

"During the fighting at Longueval in July 1916, although a man of sixty years of age, Pipe Major Aitken, at his own request, acted as Orderly to the Commanding Officer for the whole day; he was ultimately wounded. He was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for conspicuous gallantry on this and many other occasions."

On 14 July 1916 at Longueval the 10th Bn were part of the attack of the 26th Brigade. It was recalled:

"Where we were the brunt of the action fell on two New Army Battalions of historic Highland Regiments. Their advance was one of the most magnificent sights I have ever seen. They left their trenches at dawn, and a torrent of bullets met them. They answered immediately with the shrill music of the pipes, and, indifferent apparently to the chaos around them pushed steadily on towards their objective."

Another observer with his unit recalled:

"We came under a blistering hot fire but the men never hesitated. In the middle of it all the pipes struck up "The Campbells are coming", and that made victory a certainty for us. We felt that whatever obstacles barred our path they had to be overcome...the last fight was the worst of all. It was at the extreme end of the village, where the enemy had possession of some ruined houses. They had a clear line of fire in all directions, and we were met with a murderous hail of fire. Then a piper sprang forward, and the strains broke out once more. The attacking line steadied and dashed at the last stronghold of the Huns. Their line snapped under our onslaught."

He was discharged no longer physically fit on 15th January 1917.

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