It was a single act of bravery by a piper in the Canadian Scottish Regiment, based in Victoria, that inspired soldiers to fight in World War I.
In 1914, hundreds of soldiers from all over the world went to war to fight for their country. More than nine million soldiers would not return home, including close to 61,000 Canadians.
One of those soldiers who would not return home was piper James Cleland Richardson, who was part of the 16th Battalion (later renamed the Canadian Scottish Regiment).
The Chilliwack resident was only 20 years old when he joined the army.
On Oct. 8, 1916, as part of the Battle of the Somme in France, Richardson did what many soldiers couldn’t.
“They were pinned down by machine gun fire and they couldn’t move,” said John Azar, president and chief commemoration officer, adding traditionally units had pipers to motivate troops during war.
“He got up, walked out of the shell hole he was in and just started walking back and forth playing his pipes, even though there were machine guns all around him.”
Richardson’s act of bravery and the boom of the bagpipes over the gunfire roused the troops. They climbed out of their shell holes, attacked the enemy and were able to capture the trenches.
On his way back to camp following the victory, Richardson realized he left his bagpipes behind in the fight. He went back to get them and never returned.
His remains were found in 1920 and he is now buried in France. He was later awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest military decoration awarded for valour in the face of the enemy.
The bagpipes eventually found their way into a school in Scotland, which helped determine they belonged to Richardson. Shortly after, the bagpipes were returned to Canada and are now on permanent display at the legislature.
“It’s one of the most famous sets of pipes in the world from Canada just because of the combination of the fact that this piper was from a Canadian regiment and he won the Victoria Cross,” said warrant officer Roger McGuire, former pipe major of the Canadian Scottish Regiment. “Mud of the Somme is still visible on the pipes. It’s something you really have to see to appreciate.”
Richardson’s pipes will be on display to the public at the Bay Street Armoury’s 100th anniversary celebration Sunday, Nov. 22. The celebration includes an open house from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. to give residents a glimpse into the big red building on the corner of Blanshard and Bay streets, which is currently home to the Canadian Scottish Regiment (Princess Mary’s).
“Most of our soldiers grew up here and went to school here. Our soldiers belong to the community,” said Lt.-Colonel Stephen Sawyer, commanding officer of the Canadian Scottish Regiment. “We feel it’s important to maintain ties with the community.”
Residents have the chance to see the regimental museums, one of which features more than 12 cabinets of artifacts from WWI up until the current day.