In 2011 I got the chance to photograph David Kirkpatrick in his home town of Girvan. Around that time the story of his WWII exploits were being told by journalists in Italy and to quote one of them: "....David Kirkpatrick, the Scottish soldier that parachuted in a kilt, and with his bagpipes saved a whole country...".
He was part of Operation Tombola, and under command of Major Roy Farran, in which he played his pipes during a successful attack on German LI Corps headquarters. It was an act of extreme bravery — and madness — but the fact that he had played the pipes during the attack meant that the Germans knew it was allied forces, rather than the local partisans, who attacked and so the Germans didn't retaliate against the civilian population.
In 1944 and 1945, the German forces in Italy — with the Italian fascists' support — adopted a retaliation policy that was meant to repress the insurgents and partisans. For each German soldier killed or wounded by the partisans, 10 civilians from the area would be executed.
But this time, thanks to David's bagpipe, the civilians were left out of the war. Since 60 German soldiers had fallen, this could have meant the killing of up to 600 civilians — virtually the entire population of Albinea and Villa Minozzo, the villages closest to the 51st HQ.
When the book “Il Bracciale Di Sterline” was published in 2011 and the results of Operation Tombola became clear, the mayors of Albinea and Villa Minozzo decided to present David with the honorary citizenship of of both villages.
Before I photographed David he told me the whole story of his time in Italy and I was privileged to hear it from him first-hand. But what I also found fascinating, was that he was a neighbour of my Great Grandparents, and my granny and all her brothers and sisters, in Girvan when he was a child. The family name was Zitkus, they were Lithuanian, and David named all the brothers and sisters and could also remember regularly being in their house eating some sort of fried food that my Great Grandmother prepared for him.
It really is a small world, and heroes can live right next door to us. Lest we forget.
David's story has also recently been reported in the UK media: http://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/mad-pipers-bravery-has-italian-fans-in-full-voice-khg5fslc6