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Saturday, 3 September 2011


I was lucky enough to visit Toronto on a couple of occasions in the 1980s when I was the stage manager for a Scottish theatre company. On both visits I was told proudly by (it seemed) almost every Canadian I met that they were Scottish. There has certainly been a substantial exodus from here to there over the last couple of centuries, prompted by the Highland Clearances and other periods of economic hardship.

In 1910 Archibald Piper, a great grandson of my 3x great grandfather William Piper, joined the list of exiles. He lived first in Pincher Creek, about 70 miles west of Lethbridge in Alberta where his brother John had settled via Nebraska and North Dakota. At about the same time his sister Catherine had emigrated to Melbourne in Australia. All three really were Scottish, born in Sorn, the tiny Ayrshire village where generations of their ancestors and future cousins lived and worked as farmers and blacksmiths.

Frederick James Piper (1920-1943)

In time John moved a little east of Lethbridge to Bow Island (now known as the Bean Capital of the West, 2007 population 1868) and Archibald moved a little further east to Tuxford in neighbouring Saskatchewan. These days Tuxford’s population is under 100, but back in 1919 it was a thriving trading post of around 300 people. It was there that Archie’s youngest son, Frederick James Piper, was born.

Fred’s mother died in October 1940, and in January the next year Fred enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force, the RCAF (which had coincidentally been founded in the year of his birth). The RCAF was expanding rapidly to assist in the British war effort, and a great many Canadians then as now retained strong links of loyalty to the Old Country. Frederick, a pilot officer, was posted to an airbase in Wales and took advantage of being in Blighty for the first time to visit his Scottish relatives.

Crew of a RCAF Lancaster bomber, 1944

He was probably attached, like many RCAF men, to No.6 Group, RAF Bomber Command. His father remarried in March 1943. In August that year no.s 5, 6 and 8 Group were assigned to Operation Hydra, part of a campaign to disrupt Germany’s development of V-weapons. Hydra was aimed at the Peenemünde Army Research Centre in northeastern Germany, where the V2 bomb was being developed and manufactured. The threat from such weapons was such that Churchill ordered that the facility be attacked “on the heaviest possible scale.”

The attack, by 596 bomber aircraft, took place on the night of 17th/18th August 1943. It was successful only inasmuch as it delayed the V2 programme by about two months, the time it took the Germans to move the project to a safer location in the mountains to the south. The raid killed two key scientists and several hundred civilian prisoners who had been forced to work at Peenemünde and were housed in a neighbouring concentration camp.

Bomb craters surrounding a V2 testlaunch site at Peenemünde after Operation Hydra – but many craters were mock-ups placed by the Germans to deceive allied reconnaissance flights checking the effectiveness of the raid

Allied losses were relatively slight considering the scale of the assault. 40 bombers were lost, with 215 personnel, of which about 86 were Canadian airmen. One of them was Pilot Officer Frederick James Piper. He is buried nearby in Kiel War Cemetery.

After the war, Canada honoured its fallen by naming some of the myriad lakes in the north of the country after them. Piper Lake, in northern Saskatchewan, is the rather beautiful memorial to my southern Saskatchewan cousin.

Piper Lake, northern Saskatchewan


  1. Fred visited his piper relations at Polquairn in 1943, while he was there a wee girl was born, mother Jane Piper, father Alex Wilson. the wee girl is my wife Jean Piper Caldwell, we now live in Manitoba Canada

  2. Hi, thanks for your message! I'm alwasy delighted to find more Canadian cousins. There were many Jane Pipers and I can't find your wife's mother among my notes. Do you know Jane's father? You can contact me privately via my website - link to that at top right of this page.


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