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Homecoming of the 1st Battalion - 24 November 1945

Calgary's Welcome

The homecomings for Calgary sailors, soldiers and airmen began in June 1945.  Some of the returning groups were actually volunteers for the Pacific theatre of war, where Canada was planning to send a full division of soldiers to participate in the invasion of Japan, in addition to the men of the RCN and RCAF who were still engaged in that theatre.  In July, repatriations increased in number - on 28 July alone three seperate trains brought over a 1000 service personnel back to the city.  The war against Japan was concluded on 2 September 1945, and still more soldiers returned home - one day in mid-September brought 2600 personnel on ten trains, to be greeted by the usual reception of military band, Red Cross and Legion volunteers, and happy relatives.

The first formed unit to arrive back in Calgary was a company of the Royal Canadian Army Service Corps that had served in the First Division.  They had been the first Calgary unit to go overseas, and their arrival in October was met with flags, two bands, a speech from the mayor, the senior RCASC officer of the 4th Armoured Division, and a formal march-past.

Three weeks later, the 13th Field Company, Royal Canadian Engineers, received their homecoming in Calgary.

At 1430 on 24 November 1945, a train at the Canadian Pacific Railway station on 9th Avenue (located where today's Palliser Square stands next to the Calgary Tower) brought three units back home - the 23rd Anti-Tank Battery (a component of the 2nd Anti-Tank Regiment), the 91st Field Battery, Royal Canadian Artillery, and at long last, The Calgary Highlanders.

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The Calgary Highlanders formed up at the CPR station; the Pipes and Drums can be seen at centre.

Of the 476 Calgary Highlanders on the train, only thirteen had been original members of the battalion that left Calgary in 1940 for Shilo.  

A route between the CPR station and Mewata Armoury had been decorated with red, white and blue bunting, streamers, and flags of the nations that had defeated Germany, Italy and Japan.  The unit formed into ranks and the Pipes and Drums - in full ceremonial dress - took positions at the front of the column.  Under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Heyland and RSM Bowen, the battalion marched through appreciative crowds and clouds of confetti - first to a reviewing stand and brief address by the Mayor of the City of Calgary, His Worship Andrew Davison:

The First Battalion, Calgary Highlanders, occupy a warm spot in the hearts of all of us.  As one of the senior units which left our city early in the war, your progress has been watched with special interest.  We have gloried in your accomplishments and are justly proud of your record.  Perpetuating as you do the famous "Fighting Tenth" of the First World War, you have lived up to their glorious traditions and have added lustre to their outstanding acheivements.  We welcome you home in all sincerity.  We thank you for a difficult job splendidly done.  Again, thanks a million from a legion of grateful friends and admirers and the best of everything to you all.

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One of the artillery units marches north from the CPR station (just visible in the background) on 24 November 1945.  At bottom right, one of the military bands has just wheeled west onto 8th Avenue and the artillery are about to follow.

And finally, the battalion set off down 8th Avenue, to the home station where the first recruits had been mustered over six years previous.  According to Farran's history "Spectators manned roof-tops, fire escapes and balconies to welcome home their unit - the famous Calgary Highlanders - with the warmest reception in Calgary history."

It had been a long war, and the number of men on this final parade was deceptive.  The number of men to pass through the Calgary Highlanders during the Second World War actually numbered in the thousands - Bercuson states that 3,220 men joined the battalion as reinforcements from July 1944 to May 1945 alone.   Few can claim to have served continuously from September 1939 to November 1945.  Over 400 men had been killed and left behind in cemeteries ranging from the Normandy beachhead to northern Holland.  There were over 1,300 instances of Calgary Highlanders being wounded in action; some never to return to service, indeed, some still in hospital in November 1945.  Many other Highlanders transferred to wherever the Army felt they were needed most. And a few were captured by the enemy and held in camps until war's end, such as Drummer William Campbell, or Private Einar Stokke who was Mentioned in Despatches posthumously before word of his capture had been made known.

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Some old faces were discernible, either on parade or in the crowd.  While Pipe Major Sutherland took ill on the train and could not play with the band during the parade, Lieutenant Colonel Ross Ellis had actually travelled to Halifax after his early arrival in Calgary in order to meet the battalion and travel back to Calgary with them.  Ellis and Heyland, whose friendship had been forged overseas, went into business together now that the war was over.

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And one last time, lined up in front of Mewata Armouries, the battalion was dismissed.  A reception was held inside, and the men went their seperate ways on thirty days leave, followed by - for most - discharge from the Canadian Army.  At right, Drummer H.E. Douglas of Bowden, Alberta hugs his wife at the homecoming reception.  Above, Calgary Highlanders sample the local brew - "Calgary Ale".  All returning soldiers were given brand new uniforms to come home in.  The soldier at centre has received the ribbon of the France-Germany Star to wear alongside his Canadian Volunteer Service Medal ribbon.  He also wears a brass Wound Stripe on his left sleeve, representing a serious injury suffered in a combat zone and inflicted by hostile action. 

The wearing of neckties was a privilege extended to Other Ranks after the start of the Second World War - a dress distinction that had traditionally belonged to officers only. Returning veterans would notice other far more important societal changes in Canada in 1945.  The smiling women in the photographs saw a continued trend towards equality in terms of job opportunities.  In 1990, many veterans of the The Calgary Highlanders attended the presentation of a new Queen's Colour to the Regiment - a parade on which female infantrymen, proudly wearing the kilt and carrying rifles - were active participants.

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If any of the veterans had felt that it might have really been the final war to end all wars, they found out differently just five years later when Canadian soldiers again saw combat in Korea. Floyd Rourke, awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal after taking over platoon at Gruppenbühren, was just one Calgary Highlander who went on to serve in Korea. War crimes of the types perpetrated by the Nazi regime or by the Japanese in Asia have, sadly, been repeated in the lifetime of many of the veterans who had sacrificed so much in the Second World War trying to bring an end to such things. Canadian soldiers have been able to intervene in some cases - such as Medak Pocket in the former Yugoslavia - and been held powerless in others, such as Rwanda.

The lesson - always clear to soldiers of the Regiment - has been that men and women of conscience must always be prepared to defend the way of life which Canada and its allies has evolved.  The Regiment continues to perpetuate the tradition of hard work, teamwork and tradition that the returning veterans in 1945 so painstakingly established, furthering those same traditions forged in the trenches by the members of the Fighting Tenth.

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