By Ryan Melanson
December 5, 2018 – The Stadacona Band of the Royal Canadian Navy is often called on to represent Canada at special events and commemorations at home and abroad, but few have carried the importance that comes with the band’s most recent tasking.
The Stadacona Band deployed to France and Belgium from November 4 to 11, 2018 to participate in Operation DISTINCTION 2018, the CAF mission supporting events commemorating the 100-year anniversary of the Armistice and the end of the First World War.
“We’ve done anniversaries and commemorations related to the wars before, but because Canada played such a big role in the finish of this war, and the value that brought to the entire world, I expect this to be even more meaningful for all of us,” said Lieutenant Bradley Ritson RCN, the band’s new commanding officer as of this past August.
Members of the band participated in a number of different ceremonies, mainly from November 9 to 11, 2018 beginning in Quiévrain near the French border, where Canadian troops first entered Belgium during what’s now known as Canada’s Hundred Days, and ending at the Hundred Days, and ending at the Grand-Place in Mons, where the largest commemorative ceremony took place.
“That ceremony will essentially be a complete recreation of the original liberation parade,” Ritson said. The parade was embellished with period materials and composed of regiments past and present from Canada, the United Kingdom, Belgium and France, and was followed by a presentation including archival films, witness readings, and of course, music. The band performed a special piece in collaboration with the combined pipes and drums, featuring members of the Nova Scotia Highlanders and Black Watch bands, written by a local musician in Mons in honor of those who participated in the liberation, titled 1918: Returning Home to the Sound of the Bagpipes.
“The last time the band was in Mons was 1976, and our bands and Canadians in general are always well received in Belgium, so I’m sure that will be the case once again,” Ritson added.
“To march into a square surrounded by people who are welcoming you and excited to see you there is one of the greatest feelings we get in this job.”
There was also a Nova Scotia connection as part of the events, with the band participating in a ceremony on November 10, 2018 in the town of Le Roeulx, where a new monument was unveiled commemorating George Price, from Port Williams, who is recognized as the last Commonwealth soldier to be killed before the fighting ended.
During the deployment, band members had a chance to take part in battlefield tours led by historians over the next few days, and some, like Ritson himself, could seek out the burial places or other connections to relatives who were lost in the war.
Ahead of his first major overseas trip with the band, the new CO said he couldn’t be more confident. His musicians have been out practicing drill and fine tuning the musical pieces ahead of the deployment, and they’ll stop in Ottawa for more training with other members of the Canadian contingent before flying to Europe.
“I think it’s going to be a very moving and emotional event. We’re all excited to take part. I’m extremely proud of the work they’ve put in and I’ll be proud, as always, to stand in front of them when we get over there.”