Jimmy’s pipes are home.
Special arrangements were made to have the battle-worn bagpipes of Piper James C. Richardson VC on display in Chilliwack for a centennial celebration on Saturday at the Chilliwack Museum grounds.
“These bagpipes are a national treasure; a very significant artifact for all of Canada, as well as for B.C. and Chilliwack,” said Matthew Francis, executive director of Chilliwack Museum and Archives.
What remains of the storied bagpipes, after spending decades in a school in Scotland, were shipped to Chilliwack in a locked stainless steel case, lined with blinding white cotton fabric.
The museum official slowly opened the case with white gloves this week. He was giving them all due respect and deference, while giving Chilliwack Progress readers an advance look at them.
The pipes of Piper Richardson, including drones and chanter made of African blackwood, ringed with yellowing ivory, were gingerly packed into the travel case. They’re in padded grooves, with a remnant of the telltale tartan of the Scottish Canadian regiment peeking out from beneath the drones.
A special Chilliwack ceremony on Saturday will commemorate the valorous death of Piper James Cleland Richardson VC, during the Battle of the Somme at Regina Trench in 1916. The October 8 date marks 100 years since the brave piper fell, and his death was listed as October 8/9 in the official military record.
“These are the actual pipes that he lost on the battlefield, after he had been helping so many soldiers,” Francis said.
Piper Richardson was only one of two pipers ever awarded the Victoria Cross of valour for his courageous piping that inspired his company, fuelling them with “fury and determination” to go over the wire and capture the position, despite being under intense fire.
The community event is being staged adjacent the statue of Piper Richardson, starting at 1 p.m. sharp on the grounds of the Chilliwack Museum.
“Of course these pipes are of special significance in Chilliwack because of the direct connection we have to Piper Richardson and his Chilliwack family,” said Francis.
Museum officials had to take special precautions, in terms of using best practices for conservation and shipping to take temporary possession of the pipes.
“Especially for an artifact of this calibre and value, we took great care,” said Francis.
The original bagpipes are part of the permanent collection in the Rotunda at the B.C. Legislature and are being readied for display by Chilliwack Museum and Archives staff, along with the piper’s haversack and letters home to Chilliwack.
Francis credited the behind-the-scenes work of Chilliwack-Hope MLA Laurie Throness, and Mayor Sharon Gaetz, for smoothing the way for the pipes to be present in Chilliwack.
Today those deteriorated bagpipes have clearly seen better days, but are still recognizable, with the distinctive red and green Lennox tartan still attached, which made the Canadian-Scottish connections clear.
The “home” pipes of Richardson, will also be present at the centennial. They are believed to be the bagpipes played in Chilliwack during special community events. The museum has documents that point to this, and those home pipes will also be called into service, played at the Oct. 8 event by the steward of the pipes, Grant Laporte, a member of the Delta Police Pipe Band.
Attendees at the centennial celebration on Saturday will be seated starting at 12:30 p.m. near the Piper’s monument. There’s limited seating for invited guests and seniors. A reception will follow the ceremony in the Chambers Gallery, upstairs at the Museum to which everyone is invited.
The battle pipes are on display in Chilliwack, courtesy of special permission from the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia, and the Speaker of the House Linda Reid.
“It is our plan that they will be available in Chilliwack for the public to see on Remembrance Day as well,” Francis said.
The Oct. 8 celebration day also marks the 13th anniversary of the dedication of the bronze statue of Piper Richardson carved by master sculptor John Weaver, and the 10th anniversary of the repatriation of his battlefield bagpipes to Canada from Scotland.
Members of the Richardson Family, commanding officer of the Canadian Scottish Regiment, and other dignitaries, such as Mayor Sharon Gaetz, Chilliwack MLA John Martin, have indicated they will be in attendance.
Members of Royal Canadian Legion, #4 will form the colour party. At 12:30 p.m., while guests are arriving and being seated, musical selections will be performed by the Chilliwack Harmony Chorus.
The program runs 1 to 3:30 p.m. on the museum grounds and later upstairs for the reception, which the public is invited to attend.