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Royal Canadian Dragoons mark 117th anniversary of the Battle of Leliefontein

By Celina Ip

CFB PETAWAWA – Canada’s most senior cavalry regiment, the Royal Canadian Dragoons (RCD), honoured the 117th anniversary of the Battle of Leliefontein with a grand parade.

 

The annual parade serves as a homecoming where past members reunite with their former unit, as well as remember the events during the Battle of Leliefontein in the Second Boer War, back in 1900 – and honour the Dragoons' finest hour.

On Nov. 7, 1900, the Dragoons were designated as a rearguard to cover the withdrawal of British forces who had encountered heavier-than-expected resistance from the Boers.

Heavily outnumbered and facing exhaustion, the RCD managed to secure the safe return of the bulk of the troops, and kept both accompanying artillery guns from falling into Boer hands.

As a result of the action, three members of the RCD, Lt. H.Z.C. Cockburn, Lt. R.E.W. Turner and Sgt. E.J. Holland, were awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest honour in the commonwealth military world, and it is the only time that a single unit has had three soldiers receive the honour in a single day.

Each year, around the first week of November, the armoured regiment organizes the annual Battle of Leliefontein Parade to rightfully honour the most significant day in its history.

This year’s ceremony took place on Nov. 4 at the RCD’s Worthington Parade Square and welcomed dozens of family, friends and local dignitaries who were in attendance to show their support.

“It's become a regimental tradition that every year, as close as possible to Nov. 7, we conduct this parade which is essentially a regimental homecoming and a celebration of the valour and courage that were shown that day in 1900,” said Royal Canadian Dragoons Commanding Officer Lt.-Col. Fraser Auld. “Even though this took place 117 years ago, we continue the tradition of celebrating our actions and we welcome all of the former and current regimental families to attend. We even had descendants of two of the Victoria Cross winners here with us today, so we had members of the Turner family and the Holland family.”

Once the Dragoons had marched onto the parade square, Major-General Matt Macdonald served as the Reviewing Officer to conduct the inspection of the regiment.

“The Royal Canadian Dragoons is the most dedicated, dynamic, fantastic regiment in the world. If you’re a dragoon or you’re wearing a black beret on this parade square for the first time, remember what Leliefontein is and what it can be for your future,” said Macdonald.

Following the inspection, the parade saw the presentation of the Leliefontein Awards marking the achievement in soldiering by several members of the regiment.

Former and retiring Dragoons were also honoured with a unique salute to mark their own contributions.

“We like to make sure that we recognize peoples' contributions to the regiment, contributions to the military and contributions to our family – so when they do retire, we want to give them the honour of receiving a salute from the regiment,” said Lt.-Col. Auld. “It’s one of our traditions that they mount up in our vehicles and we drive them off the parade. We have retirees that come from all over the place and return to Petawawa just for that salute, because it's a point of pride to cap off your career by being driven off the Leliefontein parade in vehicle in front of the regiment.”

Thereafter, the parade carried out the formal act of remembrance. The original 12-pounder howitzer used by Morrison's gunners at Leliefontein rolled past the formation as the sacred Guidon was trooped. Simultaneously the three Victoria Crosses received by Sgt. Holland, Lieut. Turner and Lieut. Cockburn were carried through the ranks by Capt. Leroy Aqiqi, Lieut. Phil Trimble, and Sgt. Jeremy Selway.

“We have the three Victoria Crosses here with us every time we do this parade so that the current serving soldiers can actually see the tangible results of that battle,” said Lt.-Col. Auld.

cip@postmedia.com