A Medal For The Piper

When I found out that friends of mine were going to Toronto for the 2016 Comic Convention, I was quite jealous for several reasons, but the main one is only partly comic related and that is the simple fact that they were going to be on the same continent as the bagpipes of James Cleland Richardson. Now some of you will have never heard of him and wonder why on earth I should be so jealous of someone seeing an old set of bagpipes. But I ask you to pull up a chair, grab yourself a drink of your preference and immerse yourself in this tale.

When I first read of Jimmy Richardson, it was back in 1975 and in issue 749 cover dated 28th June 1975 of The Victor.The art was done by Ted Kearon.

749 Cover

Now the story is of James Richardson and how he won the Victoria Cross in October 1916 for inspiring his peers to continue an attack  to assault enemy positions as he played the pipes during the Battle of The Somme. Not only did he hurl bars and notes against the enemy, he laid down his pipes to rescue his wounded comrades. And when the last one had been rescued, he then went out into No-Mans Land once again to recover his beloved bagpipes. And that was the last time he was seen alive and his pipes were thought lost in the mud and craters of the Battle of the Somme. His family were awarded his Victoria Cross posthumously after the end of the Great War.

I was unsure as to why the story stuck with me, but when I look at the date of issue 749, then I realise that it was the first Victor of the summer holidays. For a kid growing up in 1970s Scotland, that issue would have been read to death over the six weeks while on release from Primary 2. Plus to see how brave someone could be and still be younger than my big brother was something that blew me away.

Until 2014, I had always presumed that the pipes had been lost to time and war. But then serendipity nudged me and gave me a job at the National Museum of Scotland and I was working there when the Common Cause: Commonwealth Scots and the Great War exhibition was curated there. I went there armed with my camera and nearly fainted with excitement when I realised that the bagpipes of Jimmy Richardson had been recovered and repatriated to Canada some years before. While I did not touch the bagpipes, I was fairly close to them. Out of the 31 photographs I took and posted to social media, 17 were related to Piper Richardson. So it gives you a fair idea of how excited I was by this one piece of the exhibition.

Pipes 001 Pipes 002 Pipes 003

The reason that the pipes are still around is that the pipes were found by Army Chaplain Major Edward Yale Bate in Spring 1917 and he presented them to Ardvreck School, Crieff when he retired as a faculty member in 1931.

In 2002, it was identified that these pipes did not belong to a Scottish regiment. However, it took until 2006 to identify these pipes as being the ones that Jimmy Richardson went looking for. And they were repatriated to the Parliament Buildings in Victoria, British Columbia where they are now on permanent display in the Memorial Rotunda.

Now the publication in 1975 of this story was not the first time it had been printed. It had been previously been used in 1965 as the cover story to Victor issue 237 dated 4th September 1965. However, this cover was done by C D Bagnall

237 Cover

I have been in the military and I was always impressed with my oppos that went into the front line. But for someone to go into the front line armed only with a musical instrument, then that just blows me away with how crazy brave you have to be to do this.

One thought on “A Medal For The Piper

  1. A good story , Col and amazing that they still exist, let alone that you came across them years later; you couldn’t make it up!
    I can imagine the young Col being absorbed by this comic and story all those years ago; you paint a very vivid picture.


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