With Remembrance Day just past there have been plenty of stories for a history buff such as myself to read and contemplate. One of those stories involves James Richardson of British Columbia.
Young Jimmy was just 19 when he enlisted in the 72 Seaforth Higlanders of Canada. He went overseas with the 16th (Canadian Scottish) Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force, During the Battle of the Ancre Heights on 8 October 1916 at Regina Trench, Somme, France, the company was held up by very strong wire and came under intense fire. Young Jimmy asked permission, then jumped out of his trench and played the pipes in full view of the enemy. Fired by his example, the Battalion forced its way through the wire and made it to their objective. Amazingly, Piper Richardson survived the battle. When the fighting paused, he acted as a stretcher bearer, bringing wounded comrades off the field. At the end of the day, he realized he’d lost his pipes. He returned to the battlefield to recover them and that was the last anyone saw of him. Jimmy Richardson disappeared into the mists of battle. He was awarded the Victoria Cross, Canada’s highest military honour, posthumously for “conspicuous bravery.”
It was believed his bagpipes had been lost in the mud but in 2002 they were discovered in Scotland. A British Army chaplain had found them and brought them home where they remained on display in a school where he taught. The pipes were then returned to the Canadian Scottish Regiment (Princess Mary’s).
I first learned this story when our Victoria Symphony presented a Lest We Forget concert at the Bay Street Armoury in Victoria in 1914. “The Piper” composed by Tobin Stokes commemorates Richardson’s exploits and his tragic end. The presentation included film and readings as well as music and stands as one of the most moving Act of Remembrance services I have ever attended.
At this sombre time of year, Canada is once again preparing to send troops into troubled places around the world. They take with them an inspiring history of service and bravery. They also take with them the love and prayers of the citizens of the country they serve. We wish them God speed, safe passage and the knowledge that they bring light and goodness into places of horror and evil.