Changing of the Guard (well, at least the C.O.)

Regiment taking the parade grounds
Regiment taking the parade grounds

I was in the Queen’s Ave Armories the other day talking with Captain Vernon, an officer in the Royal Westminster Regiment. We had Farmer’s Market business to discuss as the armories are neighbours of the market and I was gauging their interest in joining the RCFM on a project. Captain Vernon was very gracious with his time and during our discussion he reminded me that the public was invited to a ceremony that Sunday, September 13th, in the Queen’s Park Arena for the Change of Command Ceremony.

Wow, that was an event I could not turn down. My father and grandfather were both in the regiment. My Dad was a Lieutenant, specializing in french horn and my grand-dad was Staff Sergeant. Near the end of his career he kept the books. The upcoming event reminded me that the position of the Regiment in the city. Annual soirees like the Officer’s Ball or the NCO’s ball were marquee events in the city’s social calendar and anyone (who was anyone) would be there. The rest of us would be left to clean up. I heard of one less formal gathering in the armories in the mid 1960’s that featured in an indoor car race, the object of which was to see who could stop their sports car closest to the 6th street wall of the armories (from the inside) with out touching it. The race ended with one car passing through the 6th st gate and down onto the street. The driver, no doubt, felt no pain until morning.

But for better or for worse, that was then and this is now. The army is a much less public institution than it used to be and the armories is no longer the kind of building the average citizen sees the inside of. While our regiment is tied to our city in a way few regiments are, it is now a world apart and the number of people who would know the name of the Commanding Officer are few.  His name is Lieutenant Colonel Doug M. Poitras, Canadian Dragoons. He is an able speaker, looks pretty snappy, is a veteran of Afghanistan and many other postings. He has a Psychology Degree and he was raised in the lower mainland. He is around 51 years old but he doesn’t look it.

The transfer of command ceremony consisted primarily of two uniformed guard elements and one cadet element marching to The Maple Leaf Forever and Colonel Bogey’s March.

Commanding Officer Returns Regimental Colours to Honour Guard.
Commanding Officer Returns Regimental Colours to Honour Guard.

Within one of the regimental guards was a group of 12 or so soldiers in desert fatigues. These men were destined to serve in Afghanistan. The regiment has sent 40 members there already (since the conflict began) and another 30ish troops are due to depart.

The pomp and ceremony was fascinating, like a window into some lost time. Many of the rituals and traditions seem to be almost sacraments, such as the transfer of the possession of the Regimental Colours. The departing commander marches the colours from the Honour Guard to an Honorary Officer with all of the deference you would expect. The incoming commander then takes possession of the colours and returns it to the Honour Guard. As the colours are the single most important regimental artifact, with all of the battle honors displayed on the flag, the affair is as solemn as the blood of fallen comrades demands.  When two officers salute on the parade grounds, both with swords drawn, the inferior officer makes an elaborate swoop down of his weapon in deference to he ranking officer. The Commanding Officer barely whispers the marching orders to the junior officer, the officer then calls for the Regimental Sergeant Major and quietly explains the orders again. After all of the officers depart, the Regimental Sergeant Major then assembles the sergeants of each guard and belts out the orders to the assembled troopers.  It is a visible and visceral display of the chain of command at work.

For the time being I have this collection of photographs from the event. I plan to post some video somewhere in short order.

One of the afternoon’s speeches that I will remember was a reference by Colonel G.W.J. Richmond (I think) to the Regiment’s relationship with the city.

I want to remind the community how fine a regiment this is…one of the few in Canada to have its regimental colours fly at City Hall. Most regiments never get that opportunity but this is your regiment…(and that is)a great testament to the connection this regiment has with your community.

Photo slideshow from the Change of Command Ceremony on September 13, 2009