QOR Day is back for 2022 and you can find the details here:
By Charles D. McGregor
As a former member of drum and bugle bands in the 1940s and ’50s, I had done plenty of marching. From a cold wintry day leading the high school cadet band in the Santa Claus Parade, to a hot and steamy July day marching down Fifth Avenue in New York they were all memorable, in their own way.
But the one that I now remember with the most clarity took place in Appeldoorn, in Holland, on May 8th, 1995, VE-Day+50. I was there as a part of a touring group of about 20 World War Two veterans and their wives celebrating Victory in Europe Day. On this date, fifty years prior, Allied troops, mostly Canadians, had completed their liberation of Holland. This triggered the surrender by Germany of its armed forces, ending six years of war that had cost Britain and Canada more than 500,000 lives. The relatively small country of Holland had suffered 200,000 civilian deaths, many of those from starvation. Thousands more, mostly Jewish, were sent, by truck and train to Nazi concentration camps, where almost all of them – men, women, children – had died.
Canada and Holland have a special relationship resulting from actions during World War Two when Canadian Forces led the country’s liberation. This is where many members of The Queen’s Own Rifles fought their way across Holland to liberate the Dutch who had been suffering under Nazi occupation. Most of them are now dead but their part in ending the German oppression will never be forgotten.
Almost 8,000 Canadians would die in the fighting from September 1944 to April 1945. It had become urgent for the Allies to clear both banks of the River Scheldt estuary in order to open the port of Antwerp to Allied shipping, thus easing logistical burdens in their supply lines stretching hundreds of miles from Normandy eastward to the Siegfried Line. Supplies could then be delivered directly to those who needed them. Food, military vehicles and artillery, ammunition, fuel and, most important, replacement troops were needed for those fighting the ground battles. Clearance of northern and western Holland allowed food and other relief to reach millions of desperate and starving Dutch men, women and children. Its liberation triggered waves of jubilation and tears from those now free from occupation.
The celebratory 50th anniversary parade was scheduled to start at noon in Appeldoorn, a medium-sized city in central Holland. We had travelled by bus from our hotel, a few miles from there, and were dropped off at mid-morning in the stadium’s parking lot where the parade would end. We were given a firm reminder that the bus would leave to return to the hotel at 5 pm SHARP. Until then, we were on our own. Fine by me and I set off alone, walking. The city streets were decorated with Dutch and Canadian flags, miles and miles of bunting and all the other trimmings that events like this require. There were all kinds of military exhibits and many happy people on the streets. I was in for a few surprises. The uniform I was wearing and the regimental cap badge helped.
I was in the summer-weight tan uniform with The Queen’s Own Rifles shoulder flash and the Maple Leaf-shaped badge on my dress uniform wedge cap. As I headed towards a Starbucks ahead of me I noticed a throng of teenagers pretty well blocking the entranceway. They were just standing there in a group, the way teenagers do. But I wanted a coffee so I marched towards them. As I got there they made way for me and as I passed through they all clapped, in unison. I gave them a nod and a smile and continued on. They did it again when I came out, so I gave them a little wave, and said “Thank You.”
About an hour later I was walking along a side street when a man walking toward me stopped and as I got closer he stuck out his hand to shake and said “Queen’s Own Rifles.” It wasn’t a question, it was a statement. “I saw the maple leaf on your cap badge. You liberated our village in 1945. I remember you well. I was a schoolboy at the time. I was eight and my sister was 12 and one of your soldiers gave us chocolate. I asked if I could have cigarettes and he laughed and said I was too young. I told him they were for my father and he gave me a full pack of 20 Sweet Caporals. I really wanted them for myself. My father was killed by the Germans. I still have the empty pack as a remembrance of that day.” He said, “I am a school teacher now, but I always tell my students not to smoke,” and we laughed together.
I found my way to the parade route and joined the thousands who had flocked there to see the marchers and military tanks and weapons carriers, as well as to hear the many bands. At one point I was walking past a restaurant and passed a young couple sitting at the outdoor patio. The man waved me over and said “You must be a Canadian. You have a maple leaf badge. Will you join us for a drink?” By now I was ready for one, so I sat with them while he ordered for me. The waiter arrived with a bottle of Heineken and a frosted mug and already my day became a great success. So we chatted for a while until I decided to move on. We exchanged names and addresses and I thanked them both. At Christmas that year I got a card from them where they identified themselves as the ones who “bought you a ‘bear’ in Appeldoorn.” Sadly, by then I had lost their address so was unable to respond to them.
My recollection of parades, no matter the size, is that most spectators look for the saluting base on the parade route, and they congregate there. The marchers always put on their best show there. At the startup and the end, however, the crowds are usually smaller and by parade-end, those at the finish have been greatly thinned out. Not here. Not this day. I covered much of the long parade route and found it packed five or more deep in the stadium parking lot from start line to finish. Not only that, the rooftops on both sides held hundreds more everywhere I looked. Our Queen’s Own Rifles veterans were either riding on open army trucks or flatbeds while some were rolling along in wheelchairs piloted by family members. In addition to our band and bugles, there were brass bands, pipe bands, fife bands and even one accordion band, that was having difficulty being heard due to the cheers which seemed to be non-stop. It was a moving experience for me, seeing all those veterans from the Allied countries, all of whom would have been at least in their late sixties. Many would be dead by the time the year 1995 ended.
As the parade ended, I was walking back to find the bus when my name was called. I turned to see who it was and saw about half a dozen members of the regimental band sitting with beers in front of them under an umbrella in front of a bistro. Waving me over to join them was Doug Hester, a D-Day veteran who had been a bugler in the band before the war and a medic and stretcher-bearer in Normandy. Then living in Florida, he had been one of several veterans who had come to Holland with the band. Now close to 80, he was wearing the same uniform he had worn in 1939. As we chatted and laughed together it suddenly occurred to me that it must be close to five o’clock. It was actually five-thirty!
True to the warning we had been given, I found the bus had left without me. I went to the stadium office, explained I had missed my ride and asked if they could call me a taxicab. When I gave them the name of my hotel I was told that it would be expensive. I said I thought that might be the case but I had no alternative. At this, a man seated in the office said, “I’ll take you.” He stood up, took his jacket off the back of the chair and as he put it on I saw that he was a major in the Dutch Army. I thanked him for his kindness and he smiled and said “Call it professional courtesy. One soldier to another.” He was a very interesting man and we had a great conversation on the trip back to the hotel. When we arrived I thanked him again and shook his hand in gratitude and said goodbye. As he drove off I headed into the hotel, where I was in for another very nice surprise.
As I passed the registration desk I was waved over and told there was a phone message for me. It was, from my son Rob, telling me he and Dianne had another daughter, born today, on the May 8th, a sister for Catriona (Catie) That was great news and it gave me an (expensive) idea. Dinner was being served for our travel group at 7 pm and was about to begin. I checked the dining room and found only 12 seated there, with the others presumably dining out. I went back to the desk and asked to speak to the manager. When he arrived I asked if I could order four bottles of chilled champagne and champagne glasses to be brought to our tables when dinner was finished and coffee was ready to be served. No problem, he said. I then went in to join the others, apologizing for arriving late.
As the meal progressed it was apparent I wasn’t alone in thinking the afternoon’s parade had been an outstanding event. It seemed to have affected them as much as it had me. It had been something we all would remember for a long time. Finally, as the meal dishes had been removed and the coffee arrived, the manager came in, gave me a questioning look and I nodded. At that, he stood aside and in came a trolley with four bottles of champagne in coolers along with tall crystal champagne glasses. I stood up and announced that I’d like all of them to join me in a toast to the birth of my second granddaughter.
After the bottles were opened and all the glasses filled, I proposed a toast to the new baby, almost 4,000 miles away from where we were. I said “I don’t know what her name will be but I’m going to suggest to her parents that Victoria Elizabeth would be appropriate for someone born on this date. Her initials would be V.E.” That brought laughter and applause. However she was named Mary Elizabeth, which became Mary Beth for a while, but now she has settled on Mary, so that’s what it remains. But this was a very special moment for me.
I had already attended several VE-Day+50 events with members of The Queen’s Own Rifles and their families and friends. These had included a reception at la Maison du Queen’s Own Rifles on the beachfront at Bernières-sur-Mer, where the regiment landed on D-Day, as well as a service at Beny sur Mer Canadian War Cemetery. There are more than 2,000 Canadians buried there including 61 from The Queen’s Own. Another service would take place later at Groesbeck Canadian War Cemetery near Nijmegen where another 72 members of the regiment are buried, including Sgt Aubrey Cosens, VC. Sgt Cosens was awarded the Victoria Cross for outstanding bravery which cost him his life during an attack which took place across the Rhine, in Germany in March 1945.
I also visited Wageningen, the site of the surrender of Germany to Canadian General Charles Foulkes on the fifth of May 1945, officially ending the war in Holland. Here again, the town was in a festive mood, thronged with celebrating visitors. And here again, I got free beer. I was looking in the windows of a bistro and a couple were seated just inside. I saw the man get up and head outside, where he took me by the arm and said “You are Canadian?” I nodded and he pulled me inside, introduced me to his wife and told me I could have all the free drinks and food I wanted. I settled for two bottles of Heineken and something on the menu called “kroket” which is beef ragout inside a fried breaded pastry roll. Went down very well with the beer!
Other visits were made to points of interest along the route which played a major role in the movie “A Bridge Too Far” which was the bridge at Arnhem. The movie is about the planning and execution of General Montgomery’s “Operation Market Garden.” The largest airborne assault ever staged, it cost as many as 18,000 British and Americans killed, wounded, and captured in eight days of fighting. The Hotel Hartenstein in Oosterbeek, which had been commandeered by the Germans as its HQ eventually became British Second Army’s HQ as the battle for Holland continued. Now an Airborne Museum it contains historical artifacts about what happened there. It was there I saw something I have never been able to forget. It was a full-sized, white-painted door with a message written in large lettered charcoal. From the British officer commanding outnumbered and surrounded troops now fated to die or be taken prisoner it was his thanks for their continued bravery. He noted that they would soon be out of ammunition, “but we must fight until the last bullet is spent.” An emotional message to men whose war would soon end.
It was in the Canadian Military Cemetery at Groesbeck that I saw D-Day veteran Sergeant John Missons sitting under a tree in his wheelchair. I knew him and his son, also John, who was a drummer in the regimental band, as I had once been in other bands. We had become pretty good friends and I liked them both a lot. As I walked along John waved me over and said “Can you do me a favour?” I said sure I could. He said, “Aubrey Cosens is buried here and I’d like to visit his grave.” Sergeant Aubrey Cosens VC and John Missons were both in B Company and Missons remembered him well. He said “We were friends and the news he had been killed spread quickly. He was one of close to 100 killed or wounded in that fighting but he was one I knew better than the others. Some were replacements who had only been with us a few days.” Sgt Cosens was awarded the VC for his bravery Mooshof, in Germany, in February 1945, “but we didn’t find out about that until after VE-Day.”
It was as I was wheeling him back to find his son that I passed a row of 17 headstones, all of soldiers from the Lincoln and Welland Regiment, all killed on the same day. The Canadians had been tasked to clear the German occupiers from both sides of the Scheldt, resulting in many losses among both armies. The “Links and Winks” had their headquarters in St. Catharines, where I lived in the late ’40s and early ’50s. I had played drums in their band on several occasions, and as I looked at those headstones I wondered whether any of my high school friends were sons of those who died in Holland. At the Telegram, I worked with a photographer named Jim Kennedy, who had been with the regiment there and was in a Jeep which was blown into the river by a shell explosion and, as far as he knew, he said he was the only survivor of the incident. He woke up in the hospital and was soon on his way home.
When my trip ended, we flew back to Canada from Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, changing planes at Heathrow. We were due back sometime in the late afternoon, as I recall. Rob had offered to meet me there but a storm developed which diverted our aircraft to Ottawa. We were told we’d have to wait there until the storm, which was centred over north Toronto, had cleared. Also, we were not allowed off the aircraft because we were at Uplands Airport, which had no customs or immigration personnel. What I didn’t know was that Rob had brought Catie to the airport. The delay went on for several hours and I felt badly for both Rob and Catie, because she was only four years old at the time, and sitting and waiting is not what little girls want to do. However, we eventually got into Toronto Airport and my trip to celebrate VE-Day+50 was done. I was certainly happy to see Rob and Catie, who had waited a very long time for me to get back on Canadian soil.
POSTSCRIPT (1) Holland vs The Netherlands: While the use of the name “Holland” has now been officially replaced by “The Netherlands,” World War Two veterans of The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada, who paid a steep price for their efforts in liberating the country, always spoke of it as Holland. And what’s good for the veterans is good enough for me in these memoirs. Although the names were once used interchangeably, the Dutch government has decided the name Holland will now be dropped and The Netherlands will replace it in reference to the country. The difference between the Netherlands and Holland is that the Netherlands is the term for the country as a whole (12 provinces). Holland refers to North Holland and South Holland the two largest provinces.
POSTSCRIPT (2) A three-year stay in Canada. Following the German occupation of Holland, the Dutch Royal family was invited to Canada, where they lived as guests of Canadians until their homeland was liberated. Princess Margriet was born in exile while her family lived in Ottawa. The maternity ward of Ottawa Civic Hospital in which the princess was born, was temporarily declared to be extraterritorial by the Canadian government, thereby allowing her citizenship to be solely influenced by her mother’s Dutch citizenship. To commemorate the birth, the Canadian Parliament flew the Dutch flag over Peace Tower, which became the only time a foreign flag has flown over the Canadian Parliament Building. Princess Margriet was baptized in St Andrew’s Church, Ottawa, on 29 June 1943. Her godparents included President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Dutch Merchant Navy, in honour of the role played by the latter during the Second World War. It was not until August 1945, after Holland’s liberation, that the princess, her parents and two sisters arrived home to a wild welcome from their citizens who had suffered so badly during the war years.
In 1945, the Dutch Royal family sent 100,000 tulip bulbs to Ottawa in gratitude for Canadians having sheltered the future Queen Juliana and her family during the preceding three years of Nazi occupation of their country. The Gift of Tulips became a yearly tradition. Every year, the Dutch Royal Family and the people of Holland each send 10,000 bulbs to Ottawa. These are planted in beds at the Ottawa Hospital in tribute to the birth of Princess Margriet. This gift gave rise to Ottawa’s annual Canadian Tulip Festival, held in May. Perhaps the world’s largest tulip festival, it displays over one million tulips and has an attendance of over 650,000 visitors. Large displays of tulips are planted throughout the city, with many thousands planted along the Rideau Canal alone. Princess Margriet continues to make regular visits to Canada, continuing strong ties between Canada and the Dutch.
QOR Auction will be held on April 25th in the Officers’ Mess at Moss Park Armoury, in support of the Regimental Museum and the soldiers’ trip to D-Day+75 in June 2019.
Below is a link to the catalogue of items – some really interesting pieces!
Hope to see you there – remember to register in advance!
The morning of 2 June 1866 was hot and humid as the volunteers of the Queen’s Own and 13th Battalion marched down main street of Ridgeway, Ontario towards battle with the invading Fenian Army. 150 years later, Saturday 4 June 2016 was just as hot and humid but for the volunteers of the Queen’s Own Museum and Archives the biggest enemy was trying to assemble the army tentage as they set-up their display at the Crystal Ridge Arena in Ridgeway. The museum volunteers had been preparing since early spring when it was decided that the museum would participate in the commemoration event of the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Ridgeway.
It was agreed upon that despite the risk, we would take one of our most important artifacts; the tunic belonging to Ensign Malcolm McEachren who fell in the battle that day and would become the first soldier to die in battle from the regiment. The tunic would be the centre piece of the display.
The volunteers also produced a set of pop-up signs and posters describing the battle and the part the Queen’s Own played in it.
At the last minute it was determined that the Snider Enfield rifle that was carried by Rifleman John Mewburn during the battle until he was shot would also be available to be put on display thanks to a generous and trusting owner. The rifle was taken back to the University of Toronto by his student comrades after he fell in battle. It was held by the school for many years but it is said it was sold-off after a fire in the late 1890’s.
The day turned out to be a complete success; almost 500 people visited the display, the weather was perfect, the volunteers were able to to tell the story of the regiment and its soldiers, and all the artifacts were returned safely to the museum and their owners.
On Thursday March 31, we were pleased to host the launch of the “From Vimy to Juno” travelling exhibit and education program. The exhibit was created by the Juno Beach Centre in partnership with the Vimy Foundation and with funding support from the Department of Canadian Heritage.
Thanks to the Liberty Entertainment Group, operators of Casa Loma, the reception was held in the beautiful Casa Loma library with about 150 people present through the evening.
The formal remarks phase of the event was MC’d by Juno Beach Centre Executive Director Jenna Zuschlag Misener and included remarks by Jeremy Diamond, Executive Director of the Vimy Foundation; Major Shawn Stewart, Deputy Commanding Officer of The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada; and the Juno Beach Centre Association President Mr Don Cooper. The formal portion of the evening was concluded by the Honorable Kent Hehr, Minister of Veterans Affairs who spoke and formally announced the Government of Canada’s support of this project.
We were also pleased to have three regimental skirmishers present and a brass quintet from the Regimental Band which performed throughout the evening.
A contingent of re-enactors from both WWI and WWII also provided excellent displays and contributed to the exhibit atmosphere with their period dress.
Thanks also to our museum volunteers who helped through the evening.
At the end of the night the exhibit was moved to the Austin Room on the third floor and accessible from our Museum area where it will remain until April 17 when it will then move on to its next location.
The exhibit includes a major educational component and JBC has worked with Lisa Kaplan at Casa Loma on how this can be effectively used by visiting school groups over the coming weeks.
You can see more photos of this event on our Flickr site.
We were very pleased to once again have the Regimental Band and Bugles perform on Saturday November 7th, as part of the QOR Day at Casa Loma 2015.
Check out these videos of their performance (taken by Corporal Justin Dreimanis):
7 November 2015 QOR Day at Casa Loma performance #1
7 November 2015 QOR Day at Casa Loma performance #2
7 November 2015 QOR Day at Casa Loma performance #3
7 November 2015 QOR Day at Casa Loma performance #4
7 November 2015 QOR Day at Casa Loma performance #5
7 November 2015 QOR Day at Casa Loma performance #6
7 November 2015 QOR Day at Casa Loma performance #7
7 November 2015 QOR Day at Casa Loma performance #8
Be sure to join us on Saturday November 8th for our 2014 Queen’s Own Rifles Day at Casa Loma!
See our event page for more information.
Just a reminder about our First World War Symposium is being help on Sunday September 28th, hosted jointly with the 15th Battalion Memorial Project (48th Highlanders).
We have several well known and highly respected military authors presenting and we encourage you to purchase your tickets as soon as possible so that we can finalize plans for the day!
You can find all the details here:
https://qormuseum.org/2014/08/12/first-world-war-symposium/ or click on the information at the right side of this page under Museum Events.
Please also share this link with anyone you know who might be interested in attending.
Here is a visual of what a Rifleman would have looked like on D-Day.
Field Service Marching Order with respirator slung. Gas cape rolled on Belt. Veil camouflage around neck. Shell dressing under netting of helmet. Emergency rations in hip pocket.
A.V. Battle dress will be worn, patches, (Canada & QOR), sewn on, when other collected.
The A.V. Battle dress will be worn for a minimum of 48 hrs, as soon as possible. If any effects on body are noticed, they will be reported immediately.
Here are some Pre Invasion photos from our Archives:
To see the War Diaries for Pre and Invasion visit the link below
MCpl Graham Humphrey
For Immediate Release
Tuesday, November 5, 2013
Casa Loma hosts ‘The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada’ Day
in honour of Remembrance Day
Saturday November 9, 2013 – 10:00 am-5:00 pm
Canada (originally named 2nd Battalion, Volunteer Militia Rifles of Canada) was formed on April 26, 1860. Predating the Confederation of Canada and the country’s oldest continuously-serving infantry regiment, The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada (QORoC) saw action at Ridgeway, South Africa, the Somme, Vimy, Passchendaele and Normandy among other battles. The Reserve unit was re-designated as The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada on 11 February 1971 and remains an active Toronto militia unit today with the task of providing a fully trained parachute company when required. While once comprised almost exclusively of those with British heritage, today its soldiers reflect the wide ethnic diversity of our city.
The day’s activities will feature guided tours of the museum’s exhibits, an opportunity to chat with soldiers who saw service in Afghanistan and Bosnia, photo opportunities with soldiers in 19th Century uniforms, displays and demonstrations of modern day military equipment, activities for children and youth and, commencing in the afternoon, The Queen’s Own Rifles Regimental Band and Bugles will perform in the Great Hall.
“We’re excited to show the evolution of The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada from its formation in 1860 to the regiment of today – both what’s different in terms of equipment and training, and what traditions still exist,” says museum curator and retired Major John Stephens.
Special guest speakers will be at Casa Loma throughout the day including Canadian author, filmmaker and investigative historian Peter Vronsky (Ridgeway: The American Fenian Invasion and the 1866 Battle That Made Canada) who will discuss the QORoC participation in the 1866 Battle of Ridgeway; The Western Front Association member Bob Richardson who will talk about researching your First World War army ancestors; and teacher, historian and author Eric McGeer (Words of Valediction and Remembrance: Canadian Epitaphs of the Second World War) who will talk about 3rd Battalion epitaphs of the First World War.
Soldiers and cadets with ID or in uniform, and veterans in an association blazer will be offered complimentary admission to Casa Loma on Saturday, November 9, as well as on Sunday, November 10. For program details and admission prices to Casa Loma, please visit: www.casalomo.org
For more information about The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada activities at Casa Loma on Saturday, November 9th, please visit: https://qormuseum.org/events/november-9-2013/
Why The Queen’s Own Rifles Museum is located at Casa Loma
Casa Loma was the former estate of Major General Sir Henry Pellatt, CVO (January 6, 1859 – March 8, 1939) a prominent Toronto financier, industrialist and military man. Travels in Europe gave him the love for fine art and architecture that would spur his vision of Casa Loma, his “house on the hill,” which took three years and $3.5 million to build in the early 1900s. This romantic side was uniquely juxtaposed by his other lifelong passion: his involvement with The Queen’s Own Rifles. Sir Henry, who joined The Queen’s Own Rifles as a rifleman in 1876, was knighted in 1905 for his military service with The Regiment, upon which he spent many hundreds of thousands of dollars. The Regiment’s band was often engaged to entertain guests at the castle.
In 1910, at his own expense, to mark The Regiment’s 50th anniversary, Sir Henry took the entire 600 man regiment – including its horses – to England for military exercises from 13 August to 3 October. The museum, filled with memorabilia relating to the Regiment, dating as far back as the date of its formation in 1860 and its involvement in every military action undertaken by Canada since then, attracts thousands of visitors from around the world each year. For more information about Casa Loma, please visit: www.casaloma.org
Dorit Leo Major (Ret) John Stephens, CD
Media Relations The Queen’s Own Rifles
Casa Loma Regimental Museum Curator