Colonel Mark Tennant, CM, SStJ, ED, CD
Mark Tennant was perhaps one of the most memorable personalities to serve in the Calgary Highlanders during the Second World War, whose service to his country extended well past the end of the War. He has been fondly remembered by all who served with him.
...was a day-in day-out struggle to get rations, water and ammunition up to the rifle companies. Tennant ensured that every vehicle that went to the front had a water tank tied to it but "the big thing was to get ammunition up to them," he later remembered. "We used to tell them, 'don't be machine gun happy,' but they would hear a bit of noise at night and fire off all their ammunition. So we had to get ammunition up to them all the time." Tennant always had several cases of land mines, grenades, and machine gun ammunition in his carrier and visited the rifle companies as often as he could to keep them supplied.
On 22 August, he was called on to do a reconnaissance for the entire battalion; it was not the first time, according to Regimental historian David Bercuson. Tennant himself boasted that he was the only Calgary Highlander who "really knew how to read a map." That same month, Tennant was promoted to Major.
Life in Support Company was no less dangerous than life with the rifle companies. Tennant later recounted an incident from the night of 25 August in an interview:
Someone had fired a flare right over our area and then the Stukas came in, their sirens screaming. You could have struck a match on their noses they came so close to the ground. As they pulled up, down came their bombs, not the ordinary kind but containers with five to six hundred bomblets a little smaller than a grenade - grass-cutters. One container landed near me and didn't explode, Thank God.
There's always been an argument about how many Stukas there were. I think maybe three, others say half a dozen, others more. But they only made the one pass. No one had dug in except for Bob Morgan-Deane who was killed the next day. He made his platoon dig in and one of those clusters landed right beside them. Not one of them got a scratch. But counting a little skirmish we had next day, (the battalion) lost five officers and 115 men to those damn Stukas.
Normally, digging in was the first thing a battalion did when it arrived anywhere; here the Highlanders had been ordered to make a night move and were waiting for the order to get going.
Other duties in Support Company included evacuating the wounded. On the 22nd of September, he found himself ferrying wounded soldiers across the Albert Canal on makeshift rafts. Tennant also found himself acting as a forward observer for the 5th Field Regiment, RCA. On one occasion, Tennant was directing artillery and mortar fire from the bow-gunner's position of a tank. In an interview with Jeffrey Williams, he remembered:
Ahead of us, a German was running away and I decided to let him go. I didn't want to shoot the poor devil but then he turned back and picked something up. I thought that it must be pretty valuable and that if he was that serious about it, we probably needed it more than he did. I gave him the works and told the tank commander to stop. In the German's hand was a tin can with a swastika on it, used to collect coins for the war effort. And that had cost him his life!
Tennant continued to scout for billeting locations, finding a first class "hotel-like" lodge for battalion headquarters at the end of September. Other scouting missions were recce patrols into enemy territory; one such mission found Tennant involved in a firefight on the night of 7 October; it hadn't been the first time he ran into enemy soldiers while patrolling.
The next day, when communications were cut between battalion HQ and the forward companies, Tennant drove his carrier to a church, hoping to survey the ground ahead from the steeple. He was hit by 20 mm gunfire on the steps of the church, and evacuated. It was his second wound; he had also been hit on July 27th.
The Army wanted to send Tennant home; his wounds required months of hospitalization. Tennant wanted none of that. "I talked to the colonel and got him to agree to let me stay as a training officer. Later, I talked myself back into the war. I volunteered to fight a war, not a portion of a war. They were my men and I figured I could probably look after my men better than anybody else. I loved my men."
At the start of April, Tennant was back, now in command of D Company. He led his company into vicious street fighting in the Dutch town of Doetinchem, and later led his company in the capture of Groningen. When his company went to ground under fire during the Groningen battle,
...Tennant was determined to get them moving. "The men went to ground...they would have been massacred if they had stayed there...I went to one platoon and said, 'Get going, you sons of bitches, or I will gun gut you myself.' The padre looked around and he said to me, 'Very crude, but very effective, Mark.' The men went in."
material comes from Battalion of Heroes by David Bercuson and The
Long Left Flank by Jeffrey Williams.
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