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Gentlemen, the recipient.

Alas, this old saying is only partly true. Some regiments don't live on. If press reports are correct, ten of Canada's reserve infantry regiments, despite their long histories and fighting traditions, as well as 41 other units including artillery and engineers, are to be abolished or turned into administrative entities called "supplementary forces." From being potential warriors they will be turned into postal delivery, public affairs or civilian liaison units, or given other base tasks, perhaps as mobile laundry and bath units! Senior militia officers say the resulting loss of regimental spirit will be devastating to the officers and men in these regiments.

The reason for this drastic proposal is that these proud regiments are no longer "viable." Their current performance, mainly through lack of numbers, does not merit their continuing existence, being judged unfit for combat.

As one militia general put it, "Soldiers don't join the reserves, they join a regiment." It must be admitted, however, that part-time soldiering no longer attracts young men as it did before the two World Wars, whereas veterans have long since passed the age when they can continue to serve.

Slated to go is the Royal Winnipeg Rifles which first saw action in the Northwest Rebellion of 1885 and was among the leading Allied troops which landed in Normandy on D-Day in 1944. A second Winnipeg regiment, the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders of Canada is also doomed. Its record includes heroic service in the ill-fated Dieppe Raid of 1942 and in the subsequent Northwest European campaign two years later. Gone too, will be the Princess of Wales Own Regiment located in Kingston, which dates from 1863 and supplied many fighting men to specially raised battalions during WWI. The Irish Regiment of Canada in Sudbury, famous for piercing the Gothic Line during the Italian Campaign in 1944, and the Algonquins of North Bay and the Lake Superior Scottish in Thunder Bay are two more regiments whose fighting records in France and the Netherlands were second to none.

Another D-Day unit, the Royal Regina Regiment, a Prairie unit, will also disappear along with Vancouver's Seaforth Highlanders of Canada, famed for being one of the two infantry battalions which cleared Ortona of the dreaded Nazi paratroops in the most desperate street-fighting of WWII. Finally, both of Canada's east and west coasts will feel the blow when the Royal Newfoundland Regiment and Victoria's Canadian Scottish disappear. The Newfoundlanders were the only regiment in the then British Empire to be awarded the title "Royal" during the course of WWI, whereas in that same war the Canadian Scottish won four Victoria Crosses.

It is ironic that just a few months ago an organization called "Reserves 2000" began campaigning for an increased Reserve Force, pointing out that in the 1930s Canada's militia, our part-time citizen-soldiers, numbered about 60,000 when the country's population was less than 12 million. Now, with a population of around 30 million, its numbers are less than 18,000. There are many reasons for this sate of affairs. The national budget, of course, is one of them. The belief that, in this nuclear age, whatever type of battlefields there may be will not require thousands of foot soldiers, as was the case in two World Wars, and that a European war is unlikely in our time, if ever, due to the political and economic togetherness developing among that continent's nations are others. Apparently, neither our politicians nor our military leaders anticipate war with China. To some people with an eye to the future, a Sino-American war is a distinct possibility within the next 20 to 30 years, possibly sooner. China is not yet on the march, but she maintains huge military forces and may well have ambition to dominate the Pacific area on both of that ocean's coasts. This would be a situation the United States could not tolerate and inevitably Canada would be drawn into the conflict from the start, perhaps as the main land battlefield.

Whatever the world's peace or war prospects, the fact in Canada is that today's youth are not interested in the time-honoured aspects of citizen-soldiering. The glamour of the uniform and military march music, the military lifestyle with its comradeship, discipline, traditions and patriotic outlook are not things that attract them. There are too many other interests available today to fill their spare time. And many more outlets for their energies.

Those few thousand who constitute the militia regiments of today see some sort of fulfilment in belonging to a uniformed, disciplined organization. They are proud to belong to something that makes them a band of brothers, offering comradeship, leadership training, outdoor activities, a sense of full citizenship, believing that it is every citizen's duty to stand on guard to protect their country's sovereignty, or at least to take part in such a role in cooperation with the armed forces of a greater military power.

To experience all these things they have elected to belong to a regiment, preferably one with an historic battlefield record. And they become members of The Regiment -- their regiment.

Those young Canadians who now make up the ranks of the doomed regiments, be they officers or rear rank privates, will feel betrayed and are unlikely to find much to attract them in the "supplementary forces" mooted to absorb them. As one militia officer said, "They'll all quit."

And so, in many militia messes the toast, "Gentlemen the Regiment!" will never be heard again. And, as their colours are laid up in church and chapel, a little bit of Canada will be lost. As for the Regiments, we can with truth quote Ecclesiasticus: "These were honoured in their generations and were the glory of their time."
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Author:Galloway, Strome
Publication:Esprit de Corps
Date:May 1, 2000
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