Bagpiping war hero who died in obscurity in Scotland is celebrated in Italy

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A BAGPIPING war hero has become a celebrity in the Italian town he helped liberate during the Second World War – despite dying in obscurity in his native Scotland earlier this year.

David “The Mad Piper” Kirkpatrick began the war in the Highland Light Infantry – but was summoned to the newly-formed SAS for a top secret mission in March 1945.

As part of Operation Tombola, and dressed in a kilt, he parachuted behind enemy lines in northern Italy and provided the stirring soundtrack to a raid on Nazi forces in the town of Albinea.

Vitally, his music also gave the impression that the attackers were a solely British force when in reality dozens of Italian freedom fighters were participating.

This wiley tactic saved hundreds lives in Albinea – as Nazi policy at the time was to kill ten local civilians for each of their own soldiers killed in a partisan attack.

Kirkpatrick died on January 6 this year at Girvan Community Hospital in South Ayrshire at the age of 91, to little fanfare in his own country.

David during the war
David during the war

But now his life and times are being celebrated by a cult following in Albinea.

Italian fans are making international pilgrimages to his grave, publishing books in his honour and penning folk songs dedicated to the man they call “un poeta guerriero” – a poet warrior.

The mayor of the town he helped liberate also sent a telegram to his funeral, there are even talks of a museum being built in his honour.

Details of his fans’ exploits are being shared on social media.

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One image shows David’s grave, in photograph taken by pilgrim Matteo Incerti, who has also written a book on Kirkpatrick.

Prior to his death Italian Celtic folk band the Modena City Ramblers have also released a song dedicated to him – titled “The Brave Scottish Piper”, with the line “He’s the brave scottish piper coming from the skies.”

And the Italian-run Facebook page is littered with other tributes to the man – calling him a “real hero”.

David’s son, Lee Kirkpatrick, 50, said: “He’s a local hero.

“With all the Germans they killed that night – I think it was 80 – they would have gone out and wiped out the whole village.

“They see it as they’re all alive because of my father.

Discussing his father’s cult following Lee – who works for Moray Council – added: “He didn’t talk about the war at all so nobody back here knew about it, but in Italy it’s been going on since the war.

He has hosted Italian fans of his father, and has also visited Albinea twice for reenactments of the raid – playing the part of his father, “The Mad Piper”.

Lee – who lives in Elgin, and who previously served in the Air Force – said the experience was a “very emotional” one.

The story of David “The Mad Piper” Kirkpatrick is hidden away in the secretive records of SAS history.

As part of Operation Tombola on March 1945 he was parachuted into Italy to meet with an SAS force led by Major Roy Farran, which was harrying German troops across the Italian countryside.

Farran said he had ordered the musical accompaniment “to stir up the romantic Italian mind and to gratify my own vanity.”

Kirkpatrick famously parachuted wearing a kilt – leading observers to believe that a woman was falling from the skies.

On March 26 Kirkpatrick and the SAS force met with some 40 Italian partisans, 60 Russians and various escaped prisoners of war before launching an attack on 500 troops in the town of Albinea.

In an intense battle the raiders killed dozens of Germans – as well as destroying their headquarters, along with all maps and files.

David playing his bagpipes recently
David playing his bagpipes recently

Kirkpatrick played “Highland Laddie” throughout the attack – and one of his pipes was even hit by enemy bullets.

David was quoted as saying: “Farran said to me, ‘You’re my secret weapon – go and play’. And I played. But I’m not a hero, I just did my job. “

David has even been immortalised by an Italian toy soldier in a limited edition tin soldier – of which 150 have been made.

Author Matteo Incerti – has written two books on Kirkpatrick, titled “Il Bracciale di Sterline” – the Sterling Bracelet – and “Il Paradiso dei Folli” – The Paradise of Fools.

He interviewed Kirkpatrick extensively for them, becoming a close family friend.

He even travelled with to Girvan alongside the town councils of Albinea and Villa Minozzo to present him with honorary citizenship for both areas.

Villa Minozzo was the town where Kirkpatrick made his kilted jump on 24 March 1945 – afterwards donating his parachute to a local girl who used it as a wedding dress.

Mr Incerti said that Kirkpatrick was haunted by what he saw on during the assault on the town.

He said: “For 68 years he has been a ghost – everybody was searching for him and he didn’t want to talk about the war anymore. And then in 2010 magically I found him and he opened his heart.

“He put away the “ghost” of the war knowing after 68 years he was considered a kind of hero of saved the lives of hundreds of people with his bagpipe.

“It’s a pity he died on January 6 – he was a simple, great and funny man. A real hero who didn’t want to be a hero.”

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