Memorial Held To Commemorate Bagpiper Awarded VC In First World War

The extraordinary bravery of a piper, 20-year-old James Cleland Richardson, who was awarded a Victoria Cross, was commemorated recently with a special memorial stone laid in Bellshill, England, to mark the occasion.

On October 8, 1916, when the Canadian Scottish Battalion were snared by concentrations of barbed wire and under intense enemy fire at Ancre Heights on the Somme, Richardson played the company “over the top” with his bagpipes as he paraded up and down beyond the wire at Regina Trench. He so motivated the battalion it encouraged the men to capture the German location.

Soon after, he was helping injured comrades and shepherding prisoners, when he noticed he had forgotten and left his pipes at the previous position. He asked for permission to go back, was refused, and went anyway. He was never seen again. Richardson’s remains were located in 1920. He is interred in France’s Adanac Military Cemetery. His pipes were found and repatriated to Canada in 2006 after they spent some years at the Ardvreck School Crieff, where they had been gifted.

Dan Richardson, his great-grandnephew, attended the occasion from Canada.

Any memorial is emotional, particularly when it is someone they are attempting to remember from their family, he said. It causes a person to recall what the person did and be proud.

Richardson’s family immigrated to Canada from England in 1912 and eventually gravitated to Vancouver. After the war had started he joined the Seaforth Highlanders that merged with a few other regiments to morph into the 16th Scottish Canadian Battalion. Soon, they were bound for France. Estimates place Richardson in Vancouver for a short eight months.

It was never determined whether Richardson was shot on the way to pick up his bagpipes or on the return trip.

Richardson said the pipes were located by a padre who helped clean up sites. Following the war, he returned to teach at a school and was unsure what to do with the pipes. He put them on display at the school and they remained there, Daily Record reported.

With the bagpipes was a small note pinpointing where the padre found them. They remained at the school for almost 80 years. When Thomas Christie began looking at the pipes, he did not recognize the tartan. He began making inquiries and asking questions. He determined the tartan did not come from Scotland so he turned to the internet. He put up a notice and soon the regiment in Victoria, BC said the tartan was theirs.

The war memorial at Bellshill Academy was attended by family members, the Canadian Defense Chief of Staff, Lt. Col. Simon Rushden, at the ceremony represented Canada.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE