Canadian Expatriates: The Expat Blog: Richardson's Pipes

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    Thursday, March 17, 2005

    Richardson's Pipes
    by Expat

    I came across the following song lyrics today which lead me to do some more research regarding the gentleman and the events that inspired the song writer. The song has been consigned to the public domain, so I hope that it is alright to post the lyrics here.

    Richardson's Pipes - Barry Taylor

    In a trench at the front in the war to end wars
    Young men readied for battle like thousands before
    A last note to sweethearts, a last chance to pray
    They'd be 'over the top' at the first light of day.

    And when the time came, they advanced into hell
    Torn by bullets and shrapnel, in dozens lads fell
    So deadly the fury of enemy fire
    That even the bravest could not breach the wire.

    They tried to find cover on wide open plain
    Where machine gun and rifle sang deadly refrain
    A resolute foe had repelled their attack
    They couldn't go forward... they wouldn't go back.

    Then from the top of a trench came a sound
    That made even 'most fearful of lads look around
    A piper, in full view of enemy fire
    Marching, defiant, the length of the wire.

    So renewed was their spirit, the fight to sustain
    That they sprang to their feet and advanced once again
    They cut through the wire, 'charged across no man's land
    The field was theirs and the victory at hand!

    But later 'mid shell hole and carnage they found
    His pipes, now silent, on death-laden ground
    The people at home, of his bravery they'd learn
    But the gallant young piper would never return.

    Today in a museum's glass case display
    The mud-crusted pipes that he played on that day
    And at night when the great hall is empty, they say
    You can still hear the sound of the young piper play.

    The song is based on the heroism of Piper James Cleland Richardson, of Chilliwack, British Columbia, who served in the 16th Battalion, Canadian Scottish during the First World War. On October 8, 1916 the seventeen year old piper, along with the First Canadian Brigade, was advancing against the Germans lines through the early morning darkness and heavy rain when his Battalion became pinned along an unbroken barbed wire fence in No Man's Land. As the battalion took on heavy casualties and commanding officer Major George Lynch lay dying, Richardson stood up and walked back and forth under heavy fire for a quarter of a mile playing Reel of Tulloch. He inspired his Battalion to continue moving forward and they managed to take on the fiercely defended German position before the ruined French village of Courcelette and cleared Regina Trench.

    Later that day, Richardson escorted the wounded Sergeant Major and several prisoners to the rear. He forgot his pipes behind and when he later went back to the front line to retrieve them, he was killed in action. He was one of 8,000 Canadians that were listed as killed and missing at Courcelette. It was on June 15, 1920 that his remains were exhumed from a battlefield grave, identified, and reburried at Adanac Cemetery. His pipes were discovered in 1917 by Major Edward Bate near Courcelette. They were broken and mud soaked. Bate kept the pipes as a souvenir of the Battle of the Somme and gave them to Ardvreck School in Crieff, Perthshire, Scotland, where he was a teacher. For over seven decades the pipes were on display at the school, that is until Roger McGuire, a Canadian historian and pipe major, saw a post on the internet asking for information regarding the history of the pipes. McGuire flew to Scotland and confirmed the authenticity of the pipes, whose ivory material was still stained with blood and mud. The inside of the bag still proudly displayed the Lennox Tartan which was unique to Richardson and Piper John Park, both of the 16th Battalion and both lost on October 8, 1916.

    Richardson was awarded the Victoria Cross posthumously in April of 1919. He is the only Canadian Piper to receive the award. The pipes are still located in Scotland but hopefully will one day be repatriated to Canada.

    Further reading:
    Piper Richardson Statue Project
    Chilliwack Museum and Archives

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