Canada Day 2012
9th July 2012 by Andrew Needs, Ottawa | No Comments
This week I have turned my Canada Day blog over to Sarah, who together with New Zealand Army Exchange Officer, Major Esther Harrop MNZM, represented New Zealand at the annual commemoration of the Battles of the Somme and Beaumont Hamel, also on 1 July.
1 July is a day of celebration for all Canadians. In Ottawa especially, it’s the one day of the year when Canadians really let loose and show their true colours – red and white as it so happens . The fireworks are always impressive, and no less so this year. Happy 145th birthday Canada!
But as I learned this year, 1 July is also a solemn day in the military history of at least one province of this country. On this day in 1916 - the opening day of the Battle of the Somme – the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, at that time serving as one of the four battalions of the British 29th Division’s 88th Brigade and before the “Royal”, went “over the top”. Of the 801 men who started out, just 68 were able to make roll call the next day; a casualty rate of over 90%. At the time, the population of Newfoundland and Labrador was just a quarter of a million. In total nearly 1,500 Newfoundlanders and Labradoreans were killed and 2,300 wounded in the First World War. One can only imagine the terrible loss these communities suffered as a result.
The Royal Newfoundland Regiment is one of the oldest in Canada and the only North American regiment that fought at Gallipoli with the Australia New Zealand Army Corps (ANZACs). So when we were asked to participate in a wreath laying to commemorate the 96th Anniversary of the Battles of the Somme and Beaumont-Hamel and the brave men that lost their lives that day, we were very honoured to do so. It was a moving ceremony, with participation from the young descendants of men who fought in the battle. The Australian and British High Commissions were also represented.
New Zealand-Canada defence co-operation continues to this day. Our two armed forces have worked alongside each other in a number of international security operations, including in Timor-Lesté, Bosnia and Afghanistan. We also have a three year reciprocal exchange programme which sees a New Zealand Army officer appointed to a high level technical role within the Canadian Army. The exchange in its current form began in 2001 after New Zealand had awarded the contract to produce 105 Light Armoured Vehicles (LAV) vehicles to a Canadian company. The exchange was established as a means to allow the New Zealand Army to learn from the Canadian roll-out of the equipment through into full service and deployment on operations. As members of the LAV User Nation Group, the New Zealand and Canadian armies also share information on equipment capability, modifications, life cycle cost reduction, publications, and ultimately save time and money through collaboration and joint problem solving.
Major Esther Harrop MNZM (pictured here with Colonel Howard G. Coombs, CD, the Commander of 33 Canadian Brigade Group) is our current exchange officer, and we were pleased she was available to represent the New Zealand Armed Forces at the commemoration. Major Harrop – or ‘Esther’ to civilians like me – is responsible for managing the Canadian fleet of Wheel LAV (including 651 LAV III, 400 Gen 2 LAVs and 60 Armoured Patrol Vehicles) with a budget of over $100 million CAD. A big job!
I had to add this last photo as, like many, I can never resist a good animal photo. The dog is, of course, a Newfoundland, a breed known for its strength, calm disposition, and loyalty. Furthermore, as I was informed by the veterans at the commemoration, there is at least one war hero among their ranks. During the Battle of Hong Kong in World War II, “Sergeant” Gander, a Newfoundland dog, saved the lives of several wounded Canadian soldiers by picking up a hand grenade thrown at them and rushing back toward its source. The People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals awarded Gander the Dickin Medal (the animal version of the Victoria Cross) in 2000, the first such award since 1949.