‘For Abbigail’: Sailor uses music to commemorate friend lost in Stalker 22 helicopter crash
“This may be the story of one life, this may be the story of a loss,” rings the ballad Lieutenant (Navy) (Lt(N)) Kevin Offord sings. “I have the same dream that you and I are walking down this same street, and it’s a beautiful old sleepy town and everyone here misses you.”
The song is a tribute to the sailor’s late friend, Abbigail Cowbrough, a Marine Systems Engineer who died in the 2020 CH-148 helicopter crash off the coast of Greece. Sub-Lieutenant (SLt) Cowbrough was one of six Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) personnel killed in the crash.
The lives of Captain (Capt) Kevin Hagen, Capt. Brenden Ian MacDonald, Master Corporal (Cpl.) Matthew Cousins, Sub-Lt. Matthew Pike, and Capt Maxime Miron-Morin were also lost in the accident.
But SLt Cowbrough’s memory as a “kind soul” and her love of music is preserved in the lyrics of Lt(N) Offord’s four-minute-long song, The Street (For Abbigail).
Lt(N) Offord and SLt Cowbrough first met through their shared love of music at the Princess of Wales’s Own Regiment Band. SLt Cowbrough played the bagpipes and Lt(N) Offord was a drummer. He fondly remembers “Abbi” as a friend to all.
“She was the type of person who would say hello to everyone, but if she noticed somebody wasn’t included, she’d go out of her way to bring them into the group,” Lt(N) Offord recalls.
The news of the helicopter crash and the twenty-three-year-old’s passing was a shock to Lt(N) Offord who felt compelled to commemorate his friend in a way that could be shared by many.
“About a day or two after the accident, I had this dream where her and I were walking down the street in a stony old town somewhere. She smiled and I woke up,” Lt(N) Offord recalls.
He enlisted the help of long-time friend and fellow-musician, Andrew Vanhord to help him compose the music and write the lyrics. Vanhord says the decision to help produce the song was a no-brainer.
“It was important to Kevin,” he said. “And it was a tragedy for a lot of Canadians.”
Vandhord was also pleased to find a way to give back to the Navy, who has hired his band, The Celtic Kitchen Party, to play for the ranks on several occasions.
“The Navy has been really good to us as a group,” Vanhord said. “It was important for me to give something back.”
The pledge to commemorate SLt Cowbrough and the other victims goes beyond the song. Following the crash, Lt(N) Offord posted on the Princess of Wales Regiment Foundation page to raise funds to install plaques at the Royal Military College (RMC) memorial arch for each of those lost in the helicopter crash.
“It literally happened in like seven days. It was so quick,” Lt(N) Offord recalls. “On the seventh day the honorary Colonel said ‘Kevin, you’ve already gone over the money you need for this. We can install all the plaques right now.”
When asked about how SLt Cowbrough’s memory lives on in the three years since her death, Lt(N) Offord says the Princess of Wales Own Regiment band often gathers at an Irish pub in downtown Kingston, where a framed photo of SLt Cowbrough hangs on the wall.
“People have put poppies around the picture, so if we go there for lunch or dinner, that’s where we congregate,” Lt(N) Offord said. “People who knew her from RMC sometimes come and leave messages and say ‘we sat with Abbigail today.’”
That sense of togetherness is what Lt(N) Offord hoped would come from The Street (For Abbigail). He says he hopes the lyrics resonate with others who have lost someone close to them. The song is available for listening on Spotify.
“I know why we’re sad, for on us you left your mark,” the song goes. “So, when I leave this world at last, won’t you pipe me up from the dark.”