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Day 1-3 (Paris) Day 4        5       6 (France) Day 7     8      9 (Belgium)    Day 10         11       12 (Nether.)
C.O.'s Intro | Itinerary

June 1-3

Dieppe | Juno | Clair Tison Ypres | Vimy | Low Tempo Walcheren | Arnhem | Groningen

2010 Centennial Battlefield Pilgrimage

The 2010 Battlefield Pilgrimage was the culmination of this year’s ambitious Centennial plan for the Calgary Highlanders.

During 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.

The 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:

None 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.

It was 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.

I was 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.

The 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 June.

We are 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.

My 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!

M.C. Vernon
Lieutenant Colonel
Commanding Officer


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.

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