News Local

Commander's luncheon goes back in history

By Sean Chase, The Daily Observer

Sean Chase/Daily Observer
Garrison Petawawa and 4th Canadian Division Support Group commander Col. Louis Lapointe and garrison sergeant-major Chief Warrant Officer Tom Verner (right) invited municipal and business leaders to the annual Garrison Petawawa Business Luncheon on Thursday. The luncheon marked the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Passchendaele with a traditional mess field dinner and exhibits showing the weapons and equipment used by Canadian soldiers in that pivotal engagement.

Sean Chase/Daily Observer Garrison Petawawa and 4th Canadian Division Support Group commander Col. Louis Lapointe and garrison sergeant-major Chief Warrant Officer Tom Verner (right) invited municipal and business leaders to the annual Garrison Petawawa Business Luncheon on Thursday. The luncheon marked the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Passchendaele with a traditional mess field dinner and exhibits showing the weapons and equipment used by Canadian soldiers in that pivotal engagement.

 

GARRISON PETAWAWA – The annual Garrison Petawawa Business Luncheon took its guests back in time to revisit a historic First World War battle that proved to be a turning point in that great conflict.

Garrison Petawawa and 4th Canadian Division Support Group commander Col. Louis Lapointe and garrison sergeant-major Chief Warrant Officer Tom Verner invited municipal and business leaders to this special event held at the Reichwald Mess on Thursday. Unlike past luncheons, this one marked the 1917 Battle of Passchendaele by treating folks to a traditional field mess dinner similar to what our forefathers experienced on the Western Front 100 years ago.

Served by Dreams Catering, the meal consisted of a beef stew, dried fruit, tea biscuit, coffee and tea, and trench cake. Instead of plates and polished silverware, guests ate out of metal mess tins using military issued KFS (Knife/Fork/Spoon).

It was in the late summer of 1917 that the British launched a major offensive against German forces holding Passchendaele ridge, overlooking the city of Ypres, Belgium. If the Allies could break through the German front lines in Belgium, they could advance to the coast and liberate the ports critical for resupply. However, both sides soon became bogged down in a quagmire. As the British became depleted, General Douglas Haig, commander of the British Expeditionary Force, ordered Lieutenant General Arthur Currie, the Canadian Corps' commander, to bring his four divisions to secure Passchendaele village.

“We need you, we need your experience and we need you to help us get out of this,” said Col. Lapointe as he conducted a brief history lesson of the battle who noted that, while victory came at a terrible cost, Passchendaele was a strategic milestone for the Allies. “After the battle the Germans started to decline. They couldn't reconstitute fast enough to keep up with the pace of the war.”

Coming off the battles at Vimy Ridge and Hill 70, the Canadians entered the engagement in October, capturing the ridge and Passchendaele village at a cost of 15,600 casualties. Col. Lapointe explained that there was something special about the Canadians and how they conducted military operations adding most were not career soldiers having been recruited between 1914 and 1916.

“General Currie was a business person. Most of the soldiers were loggers, farmers and they were use to the hard life of living in Canada. That made the difference,” said the commander. “We came to the battle with a different mindset.”

The innovations that the Canadians used at Vimy, namely rehearsing their assaults, detailed reconnaissance and the use of creeping artillery in front of advancing infantry, were again on display at Passchendaele. Col. Lapointe noted that many historians today hold up Passchendaele as equally important to Canada's development as a nation as Vimy Ridge was.

“Passchendaele had a huge impact in solidifying our position as a nation amongst the Allies,” he said.

Prior to the dinner, Chief Warrant Officer Verner gave a briefing on the role that the mess plays in military culture calling it a way of preserving time-honoured traditions. The formation sergeant-major, who has spent 24 of his 30 years in the military at Garrison Petawawa with the 3rd Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment and the Canadian Special Operations Regiment, said he has a special place in his heart for Petawawa.

“It's been a wonderful experience,” said Chief Warrant Officer Verner. “I lived basically my whole adult life here. I've raised my family here and I have a lot of professional and emotional investment in this community.”

SChase@postmedia.com