A number of years ago at the annual regimental dinner in December, MWO Mark McVety CD (Ret’d) gave a talk to the newest members of the unit about where and how the regiment had passed Christmas during the long years of the First and Second World Wars.
It was a lot to take in, but the cumulative effect was to underscore that the Dileas spirit had burned bright to carry them through some bleak periods at a time of the year when they would naturally have been thinking of home and the traditional celebrations that mark this time of the year.
The story that stood out most for me that day was connected with the Christmas spent in Ortona, Italy in 1943. On Christmas Day the battalion found itself isolated and surrounded on an exposed hill well behind enemy lines. I tried to visualize the scene as the Sergeant Major painted a word picture of the relief column in the dark of Christmas night silently picking their way along a goat path that ran below the ravine ridge under the leadership of Capt. George Beal and Padre Stuart East.
When they had finally all converged on the battalion’s position, ominously later named Cemetery Hill, the CO, Lt Col Ian Johnston quipped “You forgot to bring a tank.” The next day his wish was granted when three tanks showed up to provide the support needed to prevail.
As we come to the end of the second year of COVID-19 only to be confronted with the spectre of the Omicron wave and the threat of more disruptions to our plans, I find it helpful to reflect on the ways our forebears met the challenges of their own time.
One of the recurring themes that strikes me is that great struggles are not overcome alone. We need to help one another if we are going to have a chance to succeed. More than that, we need an ‘all arms’ approach – we need to co-operate with people from all walks of life understanding that we all bring something different to the table.
The other thing that I see time and again when I study our regimental history is that a good sense of humour goes a long way. In the midst of harsh conditions and constant dangers, the 48th Highlanders have always been able to keep their spirits up and enjoy a laugh together.
I know the holidays are often hard times for people. If you find yourself struggling, please reach out to your chain of command, or to me at 416-554-2370 or the CAF Member Assistance Hotline at 1-800-268-7708 (24 hours a day, 365 days a year).
I wish you the very best of the season.
Dileas gu Brath.
Maj the Rev’d Canon Don McLean Aitchison UE
Chaplain, Trinity College School