A year ago, I said, “Toasting ~ to the sovereign, to fallen comrades (absent friends), to victory, even to a gallant enemy ~ is common in the military … [and] … Canada has its own tradition in this regard.“
“December 21st,” I told readers, “is the anniversary of the founding of The Royal Canadian Regiment, (The RCR) the senior regiment of infantry in Canada’s small regular army. [“The” is part of the Regiment’s name and is always capitalized.] On 21 December 1943 The Royal Canadian Regiment was part of 1st Canadian Division … [and] … it had landed at Pachino, in Sicily, in July and had fought its way up to Italy and was now facing the town of Ortona and what was destined to be one of the Regiment’s fiercest battles ever. Ortona … [sometimes, still, called ‘Little Stalingrad’] … was held by tough, disciplined German paratroopers, it was going to have to be taken street by street, house by house, man by man, by the infantry, in cruel hand-to-hand fighting. The Regiment’s commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Dan Spry had been sent to command 1st Canadian Infantry Brigade and Major Strome Galloway was the Acting Commanding Officer of The Royal Canadians, as we style ourselves, some others just call us ‘The Royals.’ Colonel Spry came forward to The RCR’s positions to discuss the forthcoming attack with Major Galloway and, at Galloway’s invitation, to drink a toast to the Regiment’s diamond jubilee … while they were plotting the imminent battle they came under enemy fire but a punch made from issue rum, sugar and hot water was prepared and the toast was drunk while, still, being shelled by the enemy. Thus are traditions born.“
I told you that “The Ortona Toast is still drunk, every December 21st, by Royal Canadians, serving and retired … it’s still rum and hot water and, by tradition, it is served, in a white coffee mug or cup. Fortunately for we Royal Canadians the toast has most often been drunk in the safety and comfort of our garrison messes and clubs, in Canada or sometimes in e.g. Germany or Cyprus, but not always … on December 21st 2006, for example, Brigadier General (now general and Chief of Canada’s Defence Staff) Jon Vance, later commander of the ISAF brigade in Kandahar, and Lieutenant Colonel [now Lieutenant General] Omer Lavoie, then the Commanding Officer of the 1st Battalion of The Royal Canadian Regiment, joined the soldiers of the Regiment to repeat the Ortona Toast while in battle.“
I explained that “A regiment is a family … a big, shambling, diverse family but, in many respects, closer, more tightly knit than ‘regular’ families ~ family members who wore different cap badges (the doctor and paymaster and the Signal Corps technician and the armourer) and those who have not seen one another for a quarter or even half century remain “brothers” and “sisters” in arms … [and so, I said] … today, as I normally do, I will join my Regimental family and I will take up by mug of hot rum and respond “To The Regiment!““
That’s what I did last year. This year our toasts will be virtual but just as real. So Happy 137th Birthday fellow Royal Canadians and Happy Birthday, too to our sister regiment, the Royal Canadian Dragoons, who were formed on the same day.