Two local army cadets have been selected to go on a trip of a lifetime in 2018.
Cadet Master Warrant Officer (C/MWO) Kristina Patrakova and Cadet Warrant Officer (C/WO) Dryden Macleod of the Royal Westminster Regiment #1838 will be going on a Canadian Battlefield tour of Europe hosted by the B.C. branch of the Army Cadet League of Canada. They are two of only 11 cadets and one officer chosen from across the province to go on the trip.
Candidates had to fill out an application form stating their name, rank and age, a copy of their passport and a letter of reference from their commanding officer. They also had to do a short video, between five and ten minutes, introducing themselves, stating what they have learned from being part of the army cadets and what they have learned by researching one of the sites they will be visiting on the trip.
Patrakova first joined the cadets as a soft-spoken 12-year-old and credits the organization for teaching her how build her voice and boost her confidence. In her video she emphasizes self service and team unison as values she has learned from being a cadet.
“Not to work to just gain for myself but to work so that the whole team receives gain or recognition,” the 17-year-old said gazing into the camera.
Patrakova did her research project on a Canadian soldier by the name of James “Jimmy” Cleland Richardson who was a bagpiper during the First World War. Richardson was born in Scotland and became a resident of Vancouver and eventually Chilliwack before heading off to war as part of the Seaforth contingent of the 16th Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force. He was also a bagpiper in the 72nd Seaforth Highlanders of Canada and on Oct. 8, 1916 during the battle of the Ancre Heights at Regina Trench in Somme, France, he played his bagpipes over the top of a wire that was under intense fire by the Germans and inspired the troops to capture the position. After the battle Richardson was ordered to take a wounded soldier and two German soldier prisoners of war back to the Allied trench line. But when he got there he discovered he had left his bagpipes in the German trench so he turned back to go get them and was never seen alive again.
Patrakova did her project on Richardson because members of the 2893 Seaforth Highlanders transferred to her army corps and she was intrigued learning about a Canadian soldier that had fought during the war from their regiment.
“I wanted to learn more about the regiment that my cadets originated from,” she explained in the video.
”I’ve never had this opportunity to go,” said Patrakova about the trip.
“It’s all the places I’ve learned about in school and I just thought it would be cool to go there and learn more about it,” she said.
Patrakova is most looking forward to seeing Juno Beach.
”To be able to go there and look around where soldiers stood years ago is just something that amazes me. That I could stand there now and everything’s changed,” she explained.
Macleod describes himself as a history buff who knows a lot about the historical battlefields listed on the itinerary. He did his research project on the roll of bagpipers during both World Wars, touching on the Somme offensive in 1916 and also the role Richardson played. He also researched what happened to the Newfoundland Regiment as they advanced at Beaumont-Hamel on July 1 that same year.
“They had prepared an artillery barrage on the German troops there to knock out the machine gun nests so the troops could safely advance while going in tot he enemy trenches,” explained Macleod in his submitted video noting that the artillery was off target and did not end up hitting the machine gunners, meaning that when allied troops advanced they were under heavy machine gun fire.
”The losses were staggering. So much so that if you go to Newfoundland these days, if you talk to almost anyone there they will have a family member that died in World War 1 unfortunately,” he continued.
Lastly Macleod told the story of Scottish D-Day bagpiper Bill Millin who famously played highland songs including Road to the Isles and Highland Laddie, marching up and down the beach in Normandy as Allied troops were being slaughtered around him. He was asked to play by the brigade’s commanding officer, Simon Fraser, the 15th Lord Lovat in Scottish aristocracy, who wanted to raise troop morale. At first he said no citing regulations stemming from lessons learned during the First World War that forbade the playing of pipes on the battlefield because of the high risk of attracting enemy fire. But when Lord Lovat explained to him that those were rules from the English War Office and that they didn’t apply to them because they were Scottish, Millin agreed and waded ashore in his kilt. Later when German prisoners of war were asked why they did not shoot the man on the beach they answered that they thought he was crazy. Millin died at his home in Scotland in 2004 from complications from a stroke.
Macleod, who has been playing the bagpipes for two and a half years now, is planning to bring his bagpipes on the trip and play at all the historical sites.
“There were a lot of pipers that died at these places and piped at these places and I thought it would be a nice tribute to them,” said Macleod who is looking most forward to visiting the beaches of Normandy.
Macleod still remembers when he first became interested in the military after finding green, plastic toy soldiers in a drawer in the closet when he was 5-years-old. The 18-year-old will be aging out of the cadets this year and plans to enter the infantry of the Royal Westminster Regiment of the Canadian Armed Forces.
Although the exact dates have to be confirmed, the Vimy Battlefield Tour will take place during spring break. The fully funded tour will include the Anne Frank house and the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam, the Vimy region, Normandy including the Vimy Memorial, the trenches, the Bény-Sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery and the Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial, Juno Beach and a complete tour of Paris.