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2nd Annual Claude Nunney, VC, DCM, MM Mess Dinner

On 9 February 2013, the Warrant Officers' and Sergeants' Mess of The Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry Highlanders, a Primary Reserve infantry regiment in Cornwall, Ontario, hosted their 2nd Annual mess dinner in honour of Claude Nunney, VC, DCM, MM. Claude Nunney was a soldier in the 38th Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force (today perpetuated by The Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa) who received three decorations for bravery during the First World War, including the Victoria Cross, the highest award for combat valour possible in the British Commonwealth.

Chief Warrant Officer Kent Griffiths, MMM, CD, appointed Chief Warrant Officer of Reserves and Cadets (the senior Reserve Non-Commissioned position in the entire Canadian Forces) in 2009, was invited to the dinner to present remarks. He took the opportunity as a Calgary Highlander to cement bonds between the two regiments, and share his deep interest in, and knowledge of, Highland traditions.

His speech to those assembled is reproduced below: 

CWO Griffiths, the Chief Reserves and Cadets Chief Warrant Officer, presents a regimental Quaich to Regimental Sergeant Major Grant Pyle of The Stormont, Dundas & Glengarry Highlanders.

Upon receipt of my invitation to the 2nd Annual Claude Nunney, VC, DCM, MM Mess Dinner, I immediately was confronted by a number of questions regarding the history of this Victoria Cross Recipient. I look forward to learning more about this amazing soldier.

I also asked myself, “What does a Calgary Highlander have to provide to the group assembled tonight?”

The answer was clear - provide my perspective as the last CF Reserves and Cadets CWO, a prior Army Reserve Sergeant Major, and as a previous RSM of a fellow Highland Regiment with a focus on the value of traditions, messes, and mess dinners.

Highland traditions:

With a history going back to at least 1812, the regiment has a responsibility to not only perpetuate tradition, but to educate and evolve as required. Change for the sake of change is never a good plan; however evolution is a necessary. For example, at one time only men were infantry soldiers and thus there were no female highlanders. We have come a long way.

Within the regiment, certain practices (based on regimental history, heritage and routines) are adhered to with the aim of perpetuating the legacy and strengthening unit pride (esprit de corps). These include the typical highland dress, music and decorations as well as some other elements unique to the regiment:

  • The Colours;

  • The Highland Uniform and Mess Kit;

  • Regimental Trophies, Portraits, and Pictures (Nunney’s Portrait and medals);

  • Portions of the Gaelic Language (Regimental Motto and toasts)

  • The Pipes and Drums; Toasts, Songs, and Stories; and

  • The Regimental History.

The RSM is charged with not only the Development, Dress, Drill, Deportment, and Discipline of the Non-Commissioned Members, but also as custodian of the regimental history and traditions, counsellor in the development of young officers, colleague to other RSMs, and most importantly intimate advisor to the CO.

Through this relationship with the NCMs, junior officers, and the CO, the RSM perpetuates and protects tradition, but also recommends and supports necessary changes. He or she is the one who ensures that heritage is not lost, lessons are learned, and that only informed decisions are made regarding the future of the regiment. The RSM does not do this alone. The network of subordinate Senior NCOs and Warrant Officers as well as colleague Chief Warrant Officers provide the counsel and feedback to allow the necessary “finger on the pulse” to predict second and third order consequences of critical decisions.

The Mess:

The mess is an important part of military life, and the Warrant Officers' & Sergeants' Mess is even more vital. It is the only mess that you must earn your way into. It is an institution that provides a location, opportunity, and environment that supports the backbone of the regiment. The social aspect is often misunderstood. It is not a “drinking club” but rather an assembly of those who are instrumental in the development and delivery of the capabilities that are demanded of the Canadian Forces. The fact that informal discussion regarding training, development, connecting with the community, succession planning, and other fundamental subjects, is accomplished in a social setting is just an effective practise that is not unique to the military, but has become entrenched in the military culture. Moreover, it is a venue to impress and influence outsiders. What civilian would not be amazed?

The key to the success of the mess, is participation. It is an integral part of the regiment and must not be considered optional. As with all things worthwhile, effort is required. I realize that a Reservist must balance their family, civilian work, school, and military lives. Often, there is not time for all, and a need to prioritize. All those in the room tonight have been taught to prioritize, to accomplish tasks concurrently, and utilize tools like the operational planning process and time appreciations. Make time for the mess, and the regiment will reap the benefits. Those faithful to the regiment should also be faithful to their mess. For a Glen, being faithful is the regimental motto.

Mess dinners:

Mess dinners are guided by Canadian Forces guidelines and conducted according to Regimental Customs and Traditions, for the purpose of gathering the Senior NCOs and Warrant Officers to dine and discuss the business at hand, as well as to foster camaraderie and cohesiveness within the ranks of the mess. They are often arranged in accordance with a specific theme or employ a guest speaker to deliver a topic suitable to cultivate discussion and critical thinking. They also differ greatly from Unit to Unit, Arm to Arm, and even Mess to Mess.

The Army has customs, the Navy has traditions and the Air Force has habits.”

In the WOs' & Sgts' Mess, the dinner is not unlike a parade. Decorum is adhered to and a format is followed. Discipline is also maintained. There is no tolerance for drunken misconduct or any other action that would bring embarrassment upon the mess. It is true that members of the WOs' & Sgts' Mess are held to a higher standard, but for good reason.

The mess dinner also provides a platform to expand experience and acquire skills that are difficult to come by: how to organize an event; deal with non-public funds; coordinate many competing priorities; and learn etiquette and diplomacy. The toasts remind us of our common essence: Service to Queen and country; service before self; respect and remembrance for our fallen; and an appreciation of others outside the regiment.

As stated before, there are many customs specific to Highlanders. Toasts, for example, may be performed in a typical CF fashion, employ a Scottish aspect, or be extremely different- executed with Full Highland Honours; left foot on the table, right foot on their chair, daunting to witness, and powerful to be part of.

Another element unique to Scottish heritage and Highland Regiments is the Quaich (pronounced "quake”).

The quaich is an invention unique to Scotland. Evolving over time from a scallop shell, this traditional Scottish drinking vessel is used to offer a guest a cup of welcome or a farewell drink. Traditionally made of wood, it is a bowl shaped vessel for whisky, with a pair of small handles on opposite sides of the rim. In the 15th century, it was common for the Celtic people to toast each other with a special type of Quaich in a form of the “Loving Cup” ceremony. The purpose being for the bride and groom to share their first drink together as husband and wife, to toast their love, devotion, and friendship, and to show the coming together of two families. The cup would then be passed down from generation to generation to ensure happiness and good fortune to all who drank from it. This was also the origin of the trophy cup that is still presented as an award today.

To perpetuate happiness, good fortune, and friendship between the Calg Highs and the Glens, I would like to present a Quaich to the WO and Sgts Mess. If I may ask the RSM to join me in a dram of whisky to forge this bond.

In this ceremony, I will hoist the quaich to chin level, and give the toast “Slàinte” [slanj] meaning "Good health". I will drink from my side of the Quaich and offer it to the RSM. He will reply: “Slàinte mhath” [slanj'-uh va'] meaning “to Your Good Health!” and finish the whisky, turn the quaich over, and kiss the bottom of to indicate that is has been entirely drained.

"DILEAS GU BAS" – “Up the Glens”

CWO Kent Griffiths, 9 February 2013, Cornwall Armoury

Claude Nunney was one of seven Canadians awarded the Victoria Cross for actions on 2 September 1918, during the fighting for the  Drocourt-Quéant Line. Another of the seven was Acting Sergeant Arthur Knight of the 10th Battalion (today perpetuated by The Calgary Highlanders). Nunney was mortally wounded and died 16 days after the deeds which earned him the Victoria Cross. He was 25 years of age. His medals are displayed today at the Armouries in Cornwall, Ontario, the home station of The Stormont, Dundas & Glengarry Highlanders.

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