How the Bagpipes Motivated Troops in War


Pipers were present in clan battles nearly 3000 years ago and continue to be present in war today. There were pipers in both World Wars, the Gulf War, Desert Storm, the Boer War and more.

The bagpipes were used as an incentive to battle, motivation for the troops, and intimidation of the enemy. They celebrated victories and mourned the fallen. Drums were used as a motivation and for communication. They signaled orders, tactical maneuvers, and firing of weapons.

Pipers were not only soldiers, but morale boosters. Thousands of pipers died while playing their men into battle, as they could not carry a weapon and their pipes at the same time. This was a great act of bravery. Below is one such example of this bravery.

James Richardson, or Jimmy as he was known, was born in Scotland and moved to Chilliwack, BC with his family at a young age. He had won 3 gold medals in piping competitions in BC. He was noted for his bravery at a young age when he tried to save a drowning boy.

Enlisting in the army in 1914, Jimmy was assigned to the 16th Infantry Battalion Expeditionary Force. He served in Belgium and France as a soldier, piper, and cook.

On one occasion, Jimmy advanced alone beyond Canadian lines into a thick dark forest. He stumbled upon a farmhouse and realized that he was surrounded by German soldiers. Although he tried to hide in the grass, a German officer signaled the others in his direction. Bravely, Jimmy quickly shot the officer and ran as fast as he could back to his own camp. He informed the others and the artillery quickly took care of them.

The Battle of Somme in 1916 was one of the bloodiest battles in WWI. Jimmy was at the Regina Trench. On October 9th, he was granted permission to go in with a planned assault. In the early morning, the Canadians, including Jimmy, left the safety of the trenches and advanced upon the Germans. They came upon heavy barbed wire stretching 400 yards. It hadn't been cut by artillery as they had planned. Heavy gunfire came from the German lines and the Canadians scattered for cover. The outlook was grim. Jimmy asked the Sergeant Major if he should play his pipes and was confirmed.

According to the official citation, Piper Richardson piped up and down outside the wire, playing his pipes with "the greatest coolness". Inspired, the Canadian soldiers rushed the wire with fury, overcame the obstacle, and captured the position. Later, Jimmy was sent to take a wounded soldier and prisoners back to camp. After about 200 yards, Jimmy realized that he'd left his pipes behind and insisted on recovering them. He never returned. Jimmy was buried at Adanac Military Cemetery, France. He was 20 years old. Jimmy was awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest honor. He is the only Canadian piper to receive this award.

In 2000, a project at a private school in Scotland sent out an email to identify the tartan on a set of old, mud and blood covered pipes with a bullet hole that had been kept in the school for over 75 years. The pipes had been found after the Battle of the Somme and were kept as a souvenir. It was discovered that the tartan belonged to the 16th Canadian Expeditionary Force. A collective effort of research led to conclusive evidence that these were the pipes that Piper Richardson had gone back for and never returned. The pipes were returned to British Columbia in 2006 and are on permanent display in the British Columbia Legislature.

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