Published: December 19, 2018

New film planned for Piper Jimmy Richardson, VC

An image of Piper Jimmy Richardson, colourized by the makers of “Sound of the Somme.”

If all goes to plan, Los Angeles-based film producer Alexander Menu and co-writer Thomas Besançon will complete Sound of the Somme in 2019, a short film on Piper James “Jimmy” Richardson, a homage to the Scottish-born Canadian hero of the Great War, the only Canadian piper to receive the Victoria Cross for bravery.

Menu described Sound of the Somme as “a passion project of mine for many years.” The film will depict the final day of the 20-year-old piper’s life, October 8, 1916, on the horrific Somme battlefield. Born in Bellshill, Scotland, Richardson immigrated at a young age to Chilliwack, British Columbia and joined the 16th Canadian Scottish Battalion, assigned to the 72nd Seaforth Highlanders of Canada.

“Our plan is to go into production during the summer of 2019 and film the short in the famous Flanders Fields of Ypres in Belgium, a city that is known for its horrible battles and a place that I can proudly call my hometown,” Menu said. “The story behind Sound of the Somme is meant to touch, educate and inspire people and share the passion for the bagpipes, a beautiful instrument that always gets me emotional and gives me goose-bumps.”

Aged only 20, Jimmy Richardson was in action at the Battle of the Ancre Heights at Regina Trench at Somme, France. His company came under intense fire, and Richardson played the company “over the top” of the trench, striding up and down outside of the barbed wire defence. His piping inspired his comrades to rush and capture the German position.

As with most pipers who served in World War I, Richardson was made a stretcher-bearer for wounded comrades and prisoners. When he turned to recover his pipes that he had left behind, he was never seen again. His remains were found in 1920 and later buried at the Canadian Adanac Military Cemetery near Albert, France.

“We wanted to keep the screenplay as close to reality as possible and show how horrific the situation in the trenches were, how unstable the weather conditions were and how Jimmy and the sound of his beloved bagpipes inspired many soldiers into an attack that seemed to be doomed,” Menu added.

Richardson’s pipes were assumed lost forever until 2002, when they were discovered at Ardvreck school in Scotland, identified with the original Lennox tartan bag cover, always used by pipers of the 16th (Canadian Scottish) Battalion. With the help of an anonymous donor, the pipes were acquired for the citizens of Canada and are now on public display at the British Columbia Legislature in Victoria, British Columbia.

The Victoria Cross is the Commonwealth’s greatest military honour. The actual medal is said to be made from a Russian cannon captured by the British in the Crimean War. There have been 1,355 recipients of the VC, and only 15 since World War II have been presented.

For many years, Richardson’s Victoria Cross was on display with many other regimental medals in a cabinet in the Officers’ Mess at the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders of Canada’s James Street Armoury in Hamilton, Ontario, venue for many piping and drumming competitions.

Another famous piper, George Findlater of the Gordon Highlanders, was awarded the Victoria Cross for his bravery playing at the Heights of Dargai, part of the Tirah Expedition, in 1897. His medal was to have been auctioned in 1995 for more than £55,000, but was saved at the last minute and is now in the Museum of the Gordon Highlanders in Aberdeen, Scotland. Victoria Crosses have realized more than £400,000 in recent sales.

pipes|drums marked the hundredth anniversary of the end of the Great War with a series of archival pieces on pipers who served, one or more feature articles appearing each week for the months leading up to November 11, 2018.

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