Article and photos by Corporal A. Hardiment
On 23 June 2016, 145 soldiers from across Canada descended into the nationís capital. The Royal Canadian Navy, Canadian Army and Royal Canadian Air Force were all represented. After a long flight out to Ottawa we awoke at 0600 for a quick breakfast. We formed up in the hotel parking lot for a quick inspection by the sergeant major; quickly he realised a glaring problem. What is the dress standard for Highland kit? With only a Master Corporal to represent the some 15 Highland units represented on parade we quickly re-oriented into our own sub-parade and started going over each individual units' kit layout. Sporrans were looked over and spats were inspected in great detail. With the command team overall happy with the turn out of the different units' dress uniforms it was off to the drill square for a quick parade practice.
For the first time for many soldiers of the Highland units we were taught to respond to rifle drill in French and then foot drill in English, with a few difficulties (the drill commands coming from a Royal Newfoundland Regiment officer were hard enough to understand in English let alone French). We pressed on, quickly moulding into a single cohesive unit. A command sergeant major looking on from the sideline asked how long we had been drilling together and was shocked to find out that the different units had only been working together for a few hours, suggesting that we looked as if we had been working together all summer long. With parade practice over, and with everyone having a good grasp on what the parade format would be on the day, we were dismissed into Ottawa with many of us choosing to see the Parliament building and the National War Museum.
The parade broke into two chalks and early in the morning of 28 June we set out for Lilles, France loading on a military charter flight. An agonizingly long time later we finally landed and passed through French security and customs. From there it was just a matter of loading all the military and personal kit up onto three busses and taking the quick trip into Mons, Belgium where we had been shockingly set up in a 5 star hotel. After another quick ground and security briefing we were let loose into the town itself to explore the Neolithic architecture and try out the local cuisine.
Early in the morning of July 1st, under a grey rainy sky, we dressed in full uniform and stepped off to the battlefield of Beaumont-Hamel. Marshalling in the rear of the historic front-line, we were all aware that we were quite literally standing and moving exactly along the same route that the men of the Newfoundland Regiment had done 100 years ago to the day. As we marched up the main causeway up to the massive caribou monument the clouds parted and the sun broke through, bathing the parade and monument in warm light. As the procession of dignitaries arrived, the men and women of the parade stood in resolute silence waiting for HRH Prince Charles, The Prince of Wales, and HRH Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall. After receiving their royal salute came a procession of speakers and presentations by local school children, culminating with a video message from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and a speech from Prince Charles. After a quick tour of the monument the Prince and other dignitaries led a procession off the battlefield.
After marching off the parade and turning in our rifles, we were awestruck by how surreal the whole event had been. During the next two days we were treated to guided tours of Courcelette, Beaumont-Hamel, and culminating in a massive tour of the trenches, tunnels and monument of Vimy Ridge. It left us all in awe of the achievements of our forbearers, from the dogged determination and courage of the men who stormed the heights of Vimy, or the super human discipline and tenacity of the failed assault of Beaumont-Hamel. We all left with our own precious memories of the parades and the tours all were supremely motivated to maintain their position as members with good attendance and excellent kit turn out so that we could re unite in one year time for the 100th commemoration of the battle of Vimy ridge.
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