God rest ye merry, gentlemen, and safe too
A few weeks ago an Army.ca member reminded us of Christmas at Ortona in 1943 with this extract from the Seaforth Highlanders’ War Diary, December 25th 1943: http://forums.army.ca/forums/index.php/topic,54149.msg491248.html#msg491248
“The setting for the dinner was complete, long rows of tables with white tablecloths, and a bottle of beer per man, candies, cigarettes, nuts, oranges and apples and chocolate bars providing the extras. The C.O., Lt.-Col. S. W. Thomson, laid on that the Companies would eat in relays... as each company finished their dinner, they would go forward and relieve the next company... The menu... soup, pork with apple sauce, cauliflower, mixed vegetables, mashed potatoes, gravy, Christmas pudding and mince pie... From 1100 hours to 1900 hours, when the last man of the battalion reluctantly left the table to return to the grim realities of the day, there was an atmosphere of cheer and good fellowship in the church. A true Christmas spirit. The impossible had happened. No one had looked for a celebration this day. December 25th was to be another day of hardship, discomfort, fear and danger, another day of war. The expression on the faces of the dirty bearded men as they entered the building was a reward that those responsible are never likely to forget… During the dinner the Signal Officer... played the church organ and with the aid of the improvised choir, organized by the padre, carols rang out throughout the church."
Not every soldier could partake. On Christmas 1943 the 1st Canadian Division was facing a tough, brave, determined foe: German paratroopers. Ruxted notes that the same is true today. Many Canadian Forces members will sit down to a cheerful Christmas dinner, replete with military traditions involving the officers and senior non-commissioned officers serving the troops. Others will, probably, eat hard rations from a tin; cooked over a small stove, as they keep a watchful eye out for an equally tough, brave and determined enemy.
Canadian sailors, soldiers and aviators are accustomed to keeping Christmas far from home and loved ones – often with one hand on Christmas dinner and the other on a weapon. Since Ortona our Canadian Forces have kept Christmas in Korea and the Middle East, and in Africa and Asia, too. This Christmas Canadian warships patrol the Persian Gulf and Canadian coastal waters; Canadian Forces aircraft guard our country, transport supplies to and casualties from Afghanistan and stand by for search and rescue tasks at home; Canadian soldiers serve in combat and support functions in the High Arctic, Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Central Asia.
Ruxted is reminded of the old English carol: ‘God rest ye merry, gentlemen.’ Ruxted hopes that at Christmas 2006 Canadian sailors, soldiers and aviators will ‘rest’ merry – if only for moments - but, above all, alert, ready and safe.
A very Merry Christmas to our comrades in arms and their families from the Ruxted Group.