Written by Buzz Bourdon (late the RMR 1975-82)
30 November 2014, Memories from the past, thoughts about the present and future, colleagues you worked with for years, sharing both the good and bad times, good friends you knew well, all these themes swirled around in a potent cocktail of emotions on Nov. 1, as The Royal Montreal Regiment held a gala ball to kick off its centennial year.
Over the coming year, various events will pay tribute to the RMR’s 100 years of service to both sovereign and country, and the soldiers that created that history in both peace and war. The first major event was the Centennial Gala Ball, held in the RMR’s venerable armoury on St. Catherine Street in Westmount.
It attracted a sell-out crowd of 540 people. The scene was brilliant with colour, reminding observers of the past when the Montreal garrison of a dozen reserve regiments held many social events during its training year. Balls, smokers, mess dinners, ladies’ nights, guest nights, serving in the militia in the first seven decades of the 20th century meant participating in an active social life as well as training as reservists.
Things aren’t quite the same these days, but most present at the ball made an effort to add brilliance to the scene. Some men were dressed in dinner jackets and black tie while many of the serving officers and non-commissioned members wore scarlet mess kit and miniature decorations. The RMR soldiers not in mess kit wore service dress, modified by a white shirt and black bow tie for the occasion.
The armoury itself had never looked better. The cavernous parade square, usually the scene of inspections and parades, was surrounded by enormous black drapes designed to make it more intimate. Almost 50 tables were set up, each with an impressive 12 table settings. The RMR Foundation was quite generous with memorabilia as each guest received a RMR photo frame, the limited edition Canada Post commemorative envelope produced for the RMR’s centennial, a special lapel pin minted for the occasion, full-colour printed 18-page program, commemorative shot glass in which to drink the dark rum which is the RMR’s regimental drink, as well as collectible “Centennial Cups” which were given out in the messes. One third of the tables had blue table cloths, another third had yellow and the remaining third maroon. Those three colours are the RMR’s traditional colours and are featured on its Regimental ties.
High overhead, huge television screens were positioned in each of the four corners of the parade square, that holy space that has seen thousands of soldiers form up for countless parades, exercises, deployments, and ceremonies since the armoury officially opened on Dec. 28, 1925.
Many of the men present for the opening of the armoury had served in the trenches of the First World War. The bronze memorial tablet placed in the center of the armoury’s north wall was officially unveiled on 08 November 1936, and testified to their courage and endurance in the face of four years of trench warfare.
The tablet (known affectionately by all RMR’s as “The Plaque”) commemorates the 1,192 RMR soldiers who gave their lives in what was originally called the Great War. Out of 6,270 who served in the 14th Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force (RMR), 4,469 were casualties. This bronze tablet – which was the focal point for the Centennial Gala – has a receptacle in its base for a Book of Memory in which is inscribed the names of all those to whom the tablet is dedicated. Embodied in the design are the crests of the 14th Battalion (RMR), the 23rd Reserve Battalion, and the 58th Westmount Rifles – units whom the present day RMR perpetuate. A smaller plaque was affixed under the original bronze tablet after the Second World War to honour the RMR’s killed between 1939-45.
One hundred years later, some of the RMR soldiers present at the ball were wearing the General Campaign Star, with ISAF bar, awarded for service in Afghanistan over the past decade. Some of the veterans wore United Nations peacekeeping medals from the 1970s and 1980s. Others served in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. There were even a very few present who had fought in the Second World War.
As people streamed in the huge front doors of the armoury and picked up their registration envelopes, each of the three messes welcomed former and serving members. People caught up with each other. Friendships were renewed, anecdotes shared and news of children and spouses given. In some cases people hadn’t seen each other for 20 or 30 years. It was a time of remembrance of what we used to be when we were young and anything was possible.
Eventually, high over the milling throng, a trumpet sounded a call from the balcony by the Warrant Officers and Sergeants’ Mess and people started to take their seats.
When all were seated, the national anthem was sung and an impressive slide show appeared on the four huge screens, on the RMR’s history over 100 years.
Then a former RMR padre and Honorary Lieutenant-Colonel, Major (retired) The Reverend Dennis Dwyer, gave the traditional grace – evoking the “ghosts of the armoury”.
First organized in August, 1914, as the 14th Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force, from three Montreal militia regiments, the RMR has served its sovereign and country in both peace and war, for 100 years. That’s an enviable record by any standard, and includes 26 battle honours, two Victoria Crosses won during the First World War, and dozens of other decorations awarded in both world wars.
The dinner included speeches from the Commanding Officer, LCol Paul Langlais, and the RMR’s two honorary officers, Col Andrew Molson and LCol Colin Robinson. Colonel Charles Hamel, who commanded the RMR from 1986-89 and is the Regiment’s Senior Combatant Officer, gave the toast to Fallen & Missing Comrades while sentries from the two remaining Founding Units took post in front of the table set for the RMR’s Fallen & Missing Comrades.
A moving tribute to the RMR’s unknown soldier – featured as the Gala’s guest of honour – was made by Master-Corporal Loic Parnell, who delivered his speech in flawless French and English, alternating between the two to reflect the bilingual heritage of the RMR.
Every former commanding officer still alive was present: Rhett Lawson, T.A.M. Cauty, Jacques Girardin, George Javornik, Charles Hamel, Henry Hall, Toby Glickman, George Petrolekas, John Shone, Colin Robinson, Sean Nashrudi and the present CO, Paul Langlais.
For the RSM’s of the RMR, two were absent while the following were present: Brian Colgan, John Cozak, Vince Colgan, Gilles Bussieres, Robbin McIntyre, Georges Gohier, Grant Furholter and the present RSM, William Crawford. MWO DR Cochrane took over as RSM a week later, just prior to the Remembrance Day parade.
Among those present at the gala was Major James Anderson, who may have been the oldest RMR officer present. After serving in the Black Watch (RHR) of Canada from 1946-56, he took a commission in the RMR the following year. He commanded ‘A’ Company at one point and was also the adjutant.
He was accompanied by his youngest son, Major Dave Anderson of the regular force, who was also in the RMR for a short while. James Anderson’s two other sons also served in the RMR, the late Steve Anderson (1968-78) and Robert (1972-95). In fact, the Andersons may have the record as a family for serving in the RMR – even beating the Talarico family who were in attendance and who currently have a member in each Mess of the Regiment: Major Pino Talarico, and his sons Sergeant Mike Talarico and Corporal Nick Talarico.
After the dinner part of the gala concluded, many people retreated back to the three messes for some more companionship and esprit-de-corps. Among the RMR veterans present, with their dates/wives/husbands/partners, were Kevin Hawes, Fred Bazan, Steve and Judy Applebee, Allan Davidson, Roger ‘Sonny’ Brassard, CWO Carl David, Lech ‘Boris’ Kwasiborski, Bill Thibault, Dave Nurse, Gary Donovan, LCol Rick Garber, Jordie Yeo, Rick Guevara, Dennis Dalpe, Frank Wight, Molly Patterson, Sue Guerin, Dave Smith, Wayne Nero, Barry Watson, Peter Matvej, Ken Marr, Dave Rayner, Capt Tony Petrilli, Keith and Daria Finnie, Andy Slavin, George Kenezevic and many others.
The Canadian Grenadier Guards and the Fusiliers de Montreal, two of the RMR’s founding units, sent representatives, as did the RMR’s sister regiment, the Yorkshire Regiment who presented a commemorative gift to the RMR’s CO. The CO in turn presented each of the founding & sister regiments with a RMR pennant framed with the Canada Post commemorative envelope.
To sum up, the event was a glittering occasion the likes of which the RMR had likely not seen in 25 years, since the 75thanniversary in May, 1989. That event had included a presentation of colours parade in Westmount Park and a gala ball in a downtown hotel.
More events celebrating the centennial will be held in 2015. In May 2015, the RMR will hold a change of command parade, and their annual church parade. Sometime next summer, the unit will troop its colours in Ottawa on Parliament Hill. An all-ranks ball will be held on Aug 29, and the museum will be rededicated next Autumn.
The armoury will again greet visitors and soldiers in October 2015 for an open house and meet ‘n’ greet. Next year’s Remembrance Day parade will be held on Sunday 08 November 2015.
NOTES: The original 1,097 men of the 14th came from the 1st Regiment, Canadian Grenadier Guards, the 3rd Regiment, Victoria Rifles of Canada and the 65th Regiment, Carabiniers de Mont-Royal (CMR). In what was a radical concept for that time, two companies of soldiers from the CMR, now the Fusiliers Mont-Royal, joined the Anglophones of the Guards and the Vics to form a single infantry battalion.
Although the new battalion had been numbered ‘14th’ in Valcartier, where the First Contingent organized itself before shipping out to Britain, the military soon started calling it ‘Royal Montreal Regiment.’ The title immediately caught on and was featured in the middle of its brand new cap badge issued in November 1914. However, it should be noted that official approval for the ‘Royal’ prefix only arrived after the war.
Originally commanded by LCol Frank Meighen of the Canadian Grenadier Guards, the 14th Battalion (RMR) arrived in France in February, 1915 and fought in almost all of the battles of the Canadian Corps over the next 3.5 years. The Regiment’s original medical officer, Capt Francis Scrimger, was awarded the Victoria Cross, as was Capt George Burdon McKean. The latter had also won the Military Medal and the Military Cross.
Another RMR officer who was connected to the regiment for almost his entire life was MGen Charles Basil Price, known as ‘the father of the RMR.’ After joining the Victoria Rifles in 1905 – he later became an officer – Price relinquished his commission when he joined the 14th to become the RMR’s first Regimental Sergeant-Major. But he shortly gave that up too so that J.M. Stephenson, an experienced British army senior NCO could take the job.
The following spring, Price was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for gallantry in battle and received his commission back. Appointed a member of the Distinguished Service Order in 1918, he finished the war as a major, commanded the RMR twice in the 1920s and was promoted to Major-General during the Second World War, commanding a Division. Afterwards, he served as the RMR’s Honorary Colonel from 1943-57, as well as the President of the Dominion Command, the Royal Canadian Legion. He died on Feb. 15, 1975, full of years and honours and truly the “Father of the RMR.”
Space does not permit listing every soldier who served gallantly over the past 100 years, but three more RMR soldiers deserve a brief mention. LCol Dick Worrall served in the British army before emigrating and joining the U.S. army. When war was declared on Aug. 4, 1914, he “escaped” to Montreal and joined the 14th(RMR). After being commissioned after the gas attacks in Ypres, he rose steadily through the ranks to eventually command the RMR – bringing them home in April 1919. He died of pneumonia in March, 1920, shortly after demobilization – less than 30-years old. His spectacular war record included two DSOs and two Military Crosses, plus two Mentioned in Dispatches.
Just over ten years after joining the RMR in 1925, Tom Lewis was appointed RSM in 1937. When the RMR was mobilized in September, 1939 again as part of the first Canadian contingent for war, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant. Four years later, he was the commanding officer. He was killed in action on Oct. 17, 1944, as an acting brigade commander. He was posthumously awarded the DSO soon afterwards
General Price’s and LCol Lewis’s portraits hang in both the Officers’ and Sergeants’ Messes. To date, they are the only two of thousands who were both, at different times, of course, the Regimental Sergeant-Major and Commanding Officer. The latter’s wife used to attend officers’ mess events until the 1970s, mess lore has it.
James Mitchell, LCol Lewis’s direct contemporary, joined the RMR in March, 1927. He was a sergeant the following year and a CSM by 1934. Known to all as an immaculate and fierce soldier, he was appointed RSM in 1939 to replace Lewis when the RMR mobilized for war. He held the job until 1944. On June 7, 1945, the day he was demobilized, he promptly rejoined the RMR as a private.
Five months later he was back in the Sergeant’s Mess and soon afterwards, was reappointed as RSM, a position he held until 1950. For his exemplary service in both peace and war, Mitchell was made a member of the Order of the British Empire.