The infantry battalions of the Canadian Army in the United Kingdom saw several major steps in modernizing, both its organization and its equipment, in the middle of 1943. The Calgary Highlanders had received the new Projector, Infantry, Anti-Tank (PIAT) weapons in April, and in the late summer would trade their 2-pounder (40mm) anti-tank guns for the 6-pounder (57mm) guns that would eventually accompany them to Normandy. Their Short Magazine Lee Enfields (Number 1 Mark III) would also be replaced by the newer No. 4 Mark I rifle. It was in May of 1943 that a new War Establishment laid down the basic structure for Canadian infantry battalions that would persist for the remainder of the war, creating a new Support Company with its Carrier, Anti-Tank, Mortar and Pioneer Platoons to assist the four rifle companies. The infantry sections had begun the war with a strength of 8 men apiece; they would go into action with a paper strength of 10 men each.
Exercise OUTBURST was described in Terry Copp’s history The Brigade as follows:
Brigade exercise “Outburst” held in June called for an advance to high ground to establish a defensive position and then a staged withdrawal. The battalions had to cross a river in assault boats while the engineers constructed a Kapok raft for the Bren carriers.
There was a “growing emphasis” on tank-infantry cooperation, largely as a result of the battle experience of Commonwealth formations in North Africa. The Calgary Highlanders spent time in 1943 exercising with Canadian tank units, including their sister unit, the 14th Canadian Army Tank Regiment. Exercise HAMMER saw them practice with an armoured squadron for several days.
In July, the regiment hosted a visit by Leonard Brockington (pictured at right). According to the Queen’s University website, Brockington was the longest serving Rector of that institution following the war, and went on to be the first chair of the CBC. In 1943, he had already established a reputation as an orator, having moved to Calgary from Wales in 1915 and gone into law practice with James Lougheed and R.B. Bennett (future Prime Minister of Canada and Honorary Colonel of The Calgary Highlanders). He held the post of city solicitor of the City of Calgary for 20 years before leaving for Winnipeg in 1935, and in 1936 became first chairman of the Board of Governors of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, overseeing the establishment of the CBC’s national radio network. He was an advisor to both the Canadian and the British governments during the Second World War.
Training in August 1943 focused on passing troops through a concentration area, preparing for the day that Allied troops would invade the Continent of Europe. Part of Exercise HARLEQUIN, it was hoped that German air units might attempt to intervene in an amphibious feint on the French coast, to be drawn into battle as they had at Dieppe.
The Calgary Highlanders returned to Brighton on 3 October to move into winter quarters, and within ten days had been ordered to Scotland for a fifteen-day course which was “to be one of the highlights of their experience overseas.” Following a long train journey, the battalion arrived at Dorlin on the west coast for assault training, including practice in cliff scaling, night navigation, beach landings and battle drill with live ammunition. Historian Roy Farran tells us:
All the training schemes were original in design and most realistic in effect, with concealed charges exploding on the beaches and with tracer bullets cutting dotted lines overhead. Two major exercises were carried out. One, entitled “Raid,” consisted of a typical commando-type operation to obtain information on beach defences. The other, a more ambitious scheme, was a full-scale assault landing under smoke, called “Kentra.” In spite of the intensive course, there was still time for a little sight-seeing before the battalion left Scotland. The Padre and the Intelligence Officer climbed Ben Nevis and a party visited Calgary, the beautiful spot on the Island of Mull after which the City of the Foothills in Alberta is named.
The battalion returned to Sussex, and former Commanding Officer Lieutenant-Colonel J. Fred Scott visited the battalion, honoured by a march-past, inspection and officers’ mess dinner.
The month of November was highlighted by a week of night training, including night firing at Kithurst Ranges, practicing laying and retrieving landmines, and a river-crossing exercise (dubbed CROSSING) over the River Arun.
On 20 November, new billets were taken over in Kemptown, Brighton.
Practice advances to contact, assaults on unfortified positions, and the occupation of defended localities were the subject of Exercise ALWAYS, begun on 10 December. In the words of Terry Copp, “a rehearsal of the kind of attack against defended high ground that the (5th) brigade would repeatedly undertake in Normandy.” He added:
During 1943 the Canadians, like the other Allied troops in the United Kingdom, were gradually developing the artillery-based battle doctrine which built on the strengths rather than the weaknesses of the Allied armies.
The year ended with a visit by the Minister of National Defence, and the traditional Christmas Dinner. Turnover of personnel had been high during the year – many officers and 250 other ranks. Many changes had occurred in terms of equipment and organization, and the new year would bring even more changes in terms of command appointments (a new 2nd Division commander would be appointed on January 10th, and a new Brigadier on February 27th). The long wait for action, however, would stretch on for another seven months.