CALGARY (660 NEWS) – As uniformed officers parade at the Cenotaph at Memorial Park, a major with the Calgary Highlanders is looking back on the team’s role in World War I.
Under-equipped, under-trained, and thrown into combat: the unit that would later become the Highlanders overcame all odds. The “fighting tenth’s” battle was an impossible one–soldiers were deployed to Saint Julien, where the Germans were using a new kind of weapon.
“It was the first time that poison gas was used against soldiers in war. So the Germans had unleashed poison gas on the French and the French had either died or withdrawn. And the first task for the Allies was to counter-attack and to go push the Germans out of that area,” explained Major Kent Griffiths of the Calgary Highlanders.
Griffiths also curates the Calgary Highlanders’ Regimental Museum and archives at the Military Museums.
“At the time they didn’t even have helmets. They had soft-peaked caps. They had no gas masks and they were told that if they were to urinate into a sock or a handkerchief and hold it over their mouths, there was a chemical in the urine that could counteract the chlorine in the gas and it would protect them from dying.”
And so the team launched its counter-attack.
“The Germans were so thrown off balance because they didn’t expect anyone to have this type of attitude. The Canadians pushed the Germans back.”
The three units involved in the attack were praised by many, says Griffiths, including the Allied Supreme commander Marshal Ferdinand Foch who remarked that it was the “greatest act of the war”.
They were then given brass oak leaf with the letters “CH” on it for Calgary Highlanders. The unit still wears the pin to this day.
And year and years after the battle, Griffiths says it’s imperative people still reflect on the horrors of war.
“The cost of war is the cost of our lives and lives of other people,” he said.
“If we don’t [set a day aside to remember] we are destined to forget and we are destined to repeat that.”