Piper Richarson project leads student to Vimy Ridge for anniversary

You may have driven or walked past him countless times.

Piper James Cleland Richardson V.C., of the 16th Battalion C.E.F., is memorialized distinctly and fondly in the front of the Chilliwack Museum at Yale Road and Spadina Avenue. The detailed bronze statue includes a plaque explaining the Chilliwack bagpiper’s achievement in the First World War.

“For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty when prior to attack, he obtained permission from his Commanding Officer to play his company ‘over the top.’”

For Bethany Lengkeek, learning that one of Chilliwack’s sons went to war as not just a soldier but a musician, has become her ticket to learning even more about Canada’s role in the First World War, and even more so, Vimy Ridge. She entered a contest to win the Vimy Pilgrimage Award, which includes an all-expenses-paid trip to France and Belgium for one week. And her hard work, along with a in-depth study of Piper Richardson, earned her one of the 20 seats on the trip. On Monday, she’ll fly off in time to participate in the commemorations at the Vimy Memorial on Vimy Ridge Day (April 9).

“I was kind of very shocked I found someone so perfect for the project,” Lengkeek says of Piper Richardson. She wanted to find someone she could really feel a connection to. While she lives in Cloverdale, she was born in Chilliwack and lived here for three years. She visits regularly, as her grandparents still live here.

And, just like the heroic piper, Lengkeek is a musician herself. The 15-year-old Credo Christian student plays piano, violin, flute and percussion.

“I was looking for someone from Chilliwack, someone I could have a closer, personal connection to,” Lengkeek says. “It was surprising because my grandparents live in Chilliwack, and they went when it (the statue) was first unveiled. They had pictures, but I never knew about it.”

She was impressed that he was able to use music to muster up courage among his company, in the face of war.

“I think he really went over his call of duty when he specifically asked his commanding officer that he could go over the top specifically,” she says.

She learned all about Richardson’s efforts in the war, when his company approached their objective and were “held up by very strong wire and came under intense fire.” Soldiers were hurt and killed, and morale was low for a moment. That’s when Richardson lifted his pipes and strode up and down the wire, “playing his pipes with the greatest coolness.”

The troops were inspired, pushed through, and captured their position. Tragically, Richardson was presumed to be killed during the war, after falling back about 200 yards to retrieve his pipes. He was strongly urged not to do so, reported the London Gazette at the time. “He has never been seen since.”

All of that and more can be learned by visiting Piper Richardson’s statue in Chilliwack, through reading the plaque and gazing upon his tribute, and reading the names of other Chilliwack soldiers who were lost in war at the nearby cenotaph.

But nothing will compare with visiting Vimy Ridge, where Lengkeek will get a chance to see the landscape of the First World War. She will even visit the Adanac Military Cemetery, to Piper Richardson’s gravestone.

“I’m looking forward to … gaining a personal connection to the battles and the lives that were lost there,” she says. “It’s one thing to learn through the lessons in school, but quite another to actually go there.”

She and others will take rubbings of the gravestones of the heroes they’ve learned about. When she returns, she’ll be expected to present her learning experience to her school, either the entire student population or perhaps a socials class. She looks forward to sharing her knowledge as much as gaining it.

It was a lot of work to be one of the 20 chosen from across the country for this trip. It was open to students who dedicate their time to volunteering — something Lengkeek is keen on. She also had to provide a resume of her volunteer work, and a reference letter from a manager where she volunteers, two separate essays, and a potential question for the Canadian citizenship test, along with an answer and explanation.

She wrote this question: “How did Canada’s participation in the First World War help develop and establish its identity as an independent country?”

And the answers? She explains that it’s three-fold. It was the first time Canada fought with independently commanded units, it was the first time the country had widespread war efforts of volunteers coast to coast, and Prime Minister Borden’s work helped obtain control over foreign policy in Canada.

Lengkeek has a worldview that comes from living in both Canada and South Africa. Her family lived there from the time she was six to eight, and seeing the contrast of comfort to poverty as a young girl prompted her to start volunteering early in life. She volunteers in numerous positions, peer tutoring immigrants at her school, putting in time at a thrift store, and supporting a non-profit for girls in Zambia. She also works as a tutor, and has started her own business as a cleaner.

So she’s not too nervous about jetting across the pond without her friends and family. She’ll meet up with a few other students in Vancouver, and carry onto Europe to meet the larger group.

“I haven’t met them before but we do have a Facebook group, and I’ve been getting to know them through the internet,” she says. She’ll spend two days travelling, and six days in Europe.

To learn more about Piper Richardson, and other Chilliwack war heroes, over the 101st anniversary of the victory of Vimy Ridge, visit the Chilliwack Museum. On April 9, the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 280 Vedder will hold a parade and service, with light refreshments at the branch afterward. That begins at 11 a.m. at the cenotaph on the corner of Vedder Road and Keith Wilson Road.


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