The ‘magic bagpiper’

this is a story of bravery, music and emotional reunions. Its cast is one man from Girvan, an Italian woman and an Italian freelance writer determined to trace the ‘magic bagpiper’ of Operation Tombola.

The tale of the magic bagpiper is the subject of a new book, written by Matteo Incerti, of the military operation in the northern Italian town of Albinea as music filled the night air during the town’s most significant event in its history.

During the Second World War the town, like the rest of the country, was under the control of the Nazis and in a bid to support the partisans, who fought against their German occupiers, Winston Churchill launched Operation Tombola.

Operation Tombola would see a squad of SAS soldiers parachute into northern Italy and link up with the local resistance fighters to sabotage German positions and supply lines.

Among those SAS operatives was David Kirkpatrick – a man the townsfolk of Albinea remember well – who jumped into the Mount Cusna in the Apennines of the Reggio Emilia area on March 23, 1945.

After landing safely, the squad travelled into the hills to meet up with the partisans and prepared for their attack on the German positions on the night of April 7.

David was a piper who provided the soundtrack to the attack on two German positions in Albinea and, for the locals who heard him that night, his music symbolised as sign of life and hope.

The music of Highland Laddie fooled the German occupiers into believing that this was a military attack by the British Army and not a partisan one which, in turn, saved hundreds of local lives. German law at the time was ten civilians killed for every German soldier who died at the hands of a partisan.

On that night, a team of 100 ‘Battaglione Alleato’, of which 70 were made up partisans, killed or wounded 60 Germans. Three SAS soldiers were killed and David’s music saved the lives of 600 civilians.

Italian freelance writer and author, Matteo Incerti, has been researching and writing a book about the mission and began to track down the man the locals knew as ‘magic piper.’

Matteo told the Gazette: “David is the magic bagpiper who jumped from the airplane in his kilt on Mount Cusna in the Apennines in the Reggio Emilia area. He jumped with his kilt on, so many people thought he was a woman coming from the sky!

“His music helped save the lives of many that night.

“It let the Germans think it was a military attack and not a typical partisan attack.

“But of the 100 or so men involved, 70 of them were partisan with some German and Austrian deserters involved too.

“You have to consider that the German law at that time was for every one German killed by partisans, ten civilians would be murdered. And that night, the casualties of Germans was around 60 men, so around 600 people were saved by the sacrifice of the three SAS men and also from the music of David.”

Matteo revealed that David had suffered a lot since Operation Tombola and the pain and suffering that he saw that night.

But after tracking him down and meeting him last year, Matteo explained that his music that night was a sign of life for the villagers and he was still talked of highly today. He continued: “David never knew that he was so fondly remembered in Albinea and had suffered a lot from the war. When I met him last summer I told him of this and I think it helped him and to start to speak about it.”

David is remembered fondly by one particular resident, Albertina Magliani. Albertina used David’s parachute to make her wedding dress and, through the investigation work of Matteo, the pair spoke for the first time since last month.

After posting the story in his blog, a comment was left: “It’s the guy who gave the parachute to my future family. My mum is still alive and has the wedding dress still with her.”

Albertina told Matteo: “How could I forget the boy who arrived from the sky with his kilt on and played the bagpipe?”

Matteo is currently writing a book on David and Albertina’s story and is also currently translating his story of the magic piper.

Matteo continued: “The book has been well received in Italy and is selling well.

“In the last three weeks we have been in the top ten in its category of European history and military history on Amazon.”

Matteo, who managed to track down David on the internet, will visit the town this weekend to present him with an honorary citizenship of Albinea and a recognition from the town Villa Minozzo – the mountain area where he landed.

The actions and bravery of those involved on April 7 have never been forgotten by the residents of Albinea.

Now, 66 years on, the music of David will be remembered.