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Remembrance Week 2009
Article by Lieutenant Colonel Mike Vernon, CD, Commanding Officer The Calgary Highlanders

During the period 26 October-4 November, six members of the Regiment flew to Europe to participate in ceremonies marking the 65th anniversary of the Battle of the Scheldt. 

The battle was fought by First Canadian Army in the fall of 1944 in order to open up the approaches to the port of Antwerp.  At that time, the Allied armies were suffering from extended supply lines stretching all the way back to the beaches of Normandy.  Opening up a port like Antwerp would substantially shorten the logistical chain and make it easier to supply the troops poised to attack Germany itself. The Calgary Highlanders participated in the Scheldt battle as part of 5 Canadian Infantry Brigade, which also included the Black Watch and Regiment de Maisonneuve.

It was during this battle that the Calgary Highlanders distinguished themselves in the fight for control of the Walcheren Causeway (also known as the Sloedam) 31 October/1 November 1944.  Today, a cairn exists at the western end of the causeway, marking ground the Highlanders captured and held for several hours, before being compelled to pull back.

This fall's regimental delegation included the CO, RSM, Capt Peter Boyle, Sergeant Denny Russell, Pipe Major Mike Giles, and Second World War veteran Floyd Rourke, DCM.  Floyd is 85 years old and was one of only about two dozen veterans who was able to attend from the United Kingdom, Norway, and Canada.  At a ceremony in Middelburg, he and the other vets received a commemorative medal from the Commissioner of the province of Zeeland. 

Pipe Major Michael Giles, Sergeant Denny Russell, Captain Peter Boyle, Floyd Rourke, DCM, Lieutenant Colonel Mike Vernon, and Regimental Sergeant Major Emmett Kelly at the cairn at the former Walcheren Causeway.

Floyd's daughter Karen also attended, travelling from her home in Bath, England, along with Floyd's grandsons Joe and James.  This was an excellent chance to see how much the Dutch appreciate what their modest grandfather did during the war.

All members of the delegation attended the opening of a new museum in Nieuwdorp.  They also participated in a memorial ceremony at the Sloedam and later paraded through the streets of Middelburg to the town hall for a special reception in their honour.  All these events were also very well attended by civilians wearing period uniforms and driving Second World War vehicles.

When not involved in official ceremonies, the Highlanders delegation visited the Canadian war cemetery at nearby Bergen-op-Zoom and placed regimental flags on the graves of fallen members of the Regiment.

Sergeant Denny Russell places a Regimental flag on the grave marker of a fallen Calgary Highlander.

According to Dutch organizers, this will be the last year for such major celebrations due to the scarcity of veterans able to attend.  This is why the Regiment considered it so important to send a delegation this year.  Montreal's Black Watch and Regiment de Maisonneuve did the same.

On 1 November, Sgt Russell, the Pipe Major and Floyd Rourke returned to Canada.  The CO, RSM and Capt Boyle headed off to do a quick recce for next June's battlefield pilgrimage.  This included stops at the Menin Gate (in Ypres) and St Julien in Belgium, as well as Point 67 and Clair Tison in Normandy, France.  These are locations where we intend to hold small ceremonies in June.   A real highlight was sharing coffee and homemade Calvados (apple brandy) with the mayor of Clair Tison.  

Members of the delegation are grateful to the 10th Battalion Calgary Highlanders Association, the Calgary Highlanders Regimental Funds Foundation, and 41 Canadian Brigade Group for providing the financial support to make this possible.

Remembrance Day activities in Calgary on November 11th included the annual ceremony at the civic cenotaph at Central Memorial Park, which was well attended.

Lieutenant Colonel Vernon at the head of the Regiment on Remembrance Day before the Cenotaph.

New soldiers not yet entitled to dress uniforms mixed with veterans for the parade. We're not sure who the dog was, but he was appropriately attired for the weather.

The crowd at the cenotaph was large and supportive.

As the City of Calgary moves forward in officially revamping Memorial Drive - plans which include the Centennial Committee's project to erect a  new regimental monument - a private citizen donated a large sum and received many hours of volunteer help to illustrate the cost of war to Calgary. Memorial crosses, one for each Calgarian who perished in combat, appeared along Memorial Drive in the days before Remembrance Day in a grass-roots commemoration that gave a visceral reminder of the sacrifice the City has made from the earliest days of the 20th Century to the present. Soldiers were identified by name and unit and a stated intent to repeat the display annually was made.


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