The gloomy rain matched the sombre mood of the ceremony.
The relentless downpour was “somehow fitting” for the Piper Richardson centennial celebration, according to some who attended the event at the Chilliwack Museum on Saturday.
The event was held beside the piper’s statue in bronze which graces the museum grounds, followed by a warm and cheery community reception held upstairs following the speeches.
To remember such a brave hero a century after his death on Oct. 8, there were effusive and kind words, real artifacts, like his battle pipes, letters home, and his haversack with the word, “Chilliwack,” scrawled in pen.
There were pipers playing in tribute, a trumpet player, rows of chairs for family, local officials, military and dignitaries, and tents overhead to stave off some of the downpour.
A small but resolute crowd paid tribute to the shining memory of James Cleland Richardson VC, known as ‘Jimmy’ to his family.
The event is proof the piper’s courageous heart has stood the test of time.
“Words really aren’t enough in this community but we’ll do our best,” said Matthew Francis, event emcee and executive director of the museum. “The rain in a way seems fitting to recognize Piper Richardson today.”
“I don’t think the Somme was comfortable on that day by any means.”
It has been 100 years since Richardson’s valorous death in the battle of Ancre during the Somme offensive in 1916. He was only one of a few pipers ever to posthumously receive the Victory Cross for bravery, and he is well remembered in Chilliwack.
As it is with many of Chilliwack’s Remembrance Day Services and events to recognize Richardson, Francis pointed out, the rain is often a fixture.
“But on this day our hearts are full, not only of the history of this brave soldier, but also full with thanks giving, as this is Thanksgiving weekend.”
Mayor Sharon Gaetz greeted the children in the crowd, and members of council and other dignitaries. But she started by saying hello to the kids.
“Thank you for being here. I am so glad you came to learn a lesson about people who do well in life.”
She left the crowd pondering how they would be remembered a century later, as the community remembers the piper who gave the “ultimate” sacrifice.
“The last thing, I want to say is to each and every one of you. A hundred years from now how will people remember you? Will there be an act of compassion? Will there be an act of heroism in your life? Will you have loved deeply and cherished; forgiven quickly, hugged often?”
The steward of Richardson’s home pipes, is Grant Laporte, pipe corporal of the Delta Police Pipe Band. He performed Flowers of the Forest in tribute and in memory of the long-dead piper.
Military historian Paul Ferguson, registrar for Royal B.C. Museum, described the scene where Piper Richardson was buried in 1916, in the Adanac Military Cemetery in Somme, France, where Ferguson has conducted field research.
“It is here that Piper James Cleland Richardson rests with his fellow soldiers. Today it is largely quiet, a stark contrast to the incessant noise of the Great War,” he recounted.
That battle saw soldiers climb over the top, push forward “amidst obstacles, machine gun and rifle fire, shrapnel bursts, shell fragments,” and more.
“It was here James Cleland Richardson was hurt, wounded amidst this carnage and died a day after the deed that earned him the posthumous honour of the Victoria Cross.”
Despite heavy casualties on the battlefield, Richardson had ventured back out to the edge of the wire to inspire his fellow troops, to give them “wind” by which they meant inspiration. They were moved by the passion of his pipes, and surged over the wire to take the position.
Later Richardson was transporting wounded comrade when he left his pipes in no-man’s land. Despite being urged not to, he went back out after his beloved pipes to be tragically hit by enemy fire, and never to be seen alive again.
He was remembered by Ferguson, as both Scottish and Canadian, as a boy scout, a piper and brave soldier.
“He was a son, brother, ancestor and hero,” and the Chilliwack gathering was a reminder that “the Great War is never too far away.”
Chilliwack MLA John Martin was gratified to celebrate and recall Chilliwack’s history and brought greetings and thanks to organizers on behalf of the Province.
“We throw around the words ‘hero’ and ‘icon’ way way too often,” Martin said. “I think today we are genuinely celebrating a true hero and a true icon.”