2010 Centennial Battlefield Pilgrimage
The 2010 Battlefield Pilgrimage was the culmination of this year’s
ambitious Centennial plan for the Calgary Highlanders.
the months of April and May we commemorated St. Julien by exercising our Freedom
of the City of Calgary, the Regimental Pipes and Drums released their first
compact disc in over a decade, and we collaborated with 41 Service Battalion and
the King’s Own Calgary Regiment to mount the final military parade at Currie
Barracks, followed by a Soldiers’ Ball for 600 people at the Military Museums.
Within days, more than 80 soldiers, musicians and retired members of the
Regiment were on their way to Paris.
purpose of the Battlefield Pilgrimage was to reaffirm our connection to our
forebears, the soldiers who fought and died in Europe during the First and
Second World Wars. We did this by visiting the salient battlegrounds in
Normandy, Belgium and Holland, and by conducting ceremonies of remembrance at
nearly a dozen military cemeteries where Highlanders and members of the Fighting
Tenth Battalion are buried.
There are many people to thank for these memories:
of this would have been possible without the generosity of Honorary Colonel Bob
Gibson and Honorary Colonel Fred Mannix, as well as 41 Canadian Brigade Group.
They made it possible for the Pipes and Drums, as well as young serving soldiers
and our veterans to participate.
a memorable adventure in many ways, but several moments stand out for me:
unveiling a bronze plaque to mark the Regiment’s actions in liberating Clair
Tison in Normandy, then sipping the mayor’s homemade Calvados afterwards;
marching up to the hallowed brilliance of the Vimy Ridge Memorial, its sheer
whiteness piercing a bright blue sky; savouring the electric jolt up my spine
when the Pipes and Drums played “Flowers of the Forest” and “Highland Cathedral”
at Ypres’ Menin Gate; marching the length of the Walcheren Causeway and
envisioning what it must have been like for Highlanders to struggle along it
under fire that night in 1944; and how humbled we were by the attention and
gratitude of the Dutch people who received us in Groningen.
Lieutenant Colonel Mike Vernon at Vimy Ridge
after the regimental remembrance ceremony and wreath laying. Photo by
Colonel Fred Mannix.
particularly pleased that Second World War veteran Floyd Rourke was able to
accompany us and to lay wreaths on the Regiment’s behalf. I’m grateful to his
daughter Karen, and to all the young soldiers and Afghanistan veterans who did
their best to make him as comfortable as possible.
Corporal Michael Dorosh produced a comprehensive reading package to ensure that
we all had the background knowledge we needed to appreciate the nuances of the
sites we visited. Once we got there, Nancy Desilets worked tirelessly, shooting
hundreds of photos to document our visit.
idea for the Clair Tison plaque came from Ron and Evelyn Matthews. Ron’s father,
Corporal Curly Matthews, was a Highlander wounded at Clair Tison. After doing
their own battlefield tour a few years ago, the Matthews thought we should have
a plaque on the bridge there, just like the Regiment de Maisonneuve. It was
great to bring this idea to fruition in a moving and intimate ceremony on 6
also indebted to Koos Suurhoff, who was just 14 years old when Canadian soldiers
liberated his city of Groningen. Kos helped us to appreciate what war was like
for a scared and starving teenager, and his gratitude to this day is still
overwhelming. He’s 79 now, and he worked very hard to arrange a memorable and
informative final day for us.
final, substantial bit of thanks is reserved for Captain Peter Boyle, who
devised the itinerary and coordinated all the confusing and frustrating elements
necessary to make this the incredible experience that it was for all of us. The
Regiment is extremely fortunate to have someone so competent and dedicated. He’s
given me a new-found respect for Logistics officers!
Second World War veteran Floyd Rourke,
escorted by members of the Pipes and Drums, his daughter following behind,
and preceded by members of the Old Guard. Cabaret Rouge British Cemetery.
Photo by Lieutenant Colonel Vernon.