The army is coming, the army is coming! And (as usual in Canada) that's a very good thing. On Oct. 26, at 1 p.m., the City of Chilliwack will be granting the ancient privilege of "The Freedom of the City" (FOC) to three different military units, including the Royal Westminster Regiment. In Roman times, and through much of European history, the FOC was given by local governments only to military units who had earned the trust of local citizens. Failing to secure the FOC meant soldiers often had to camp outside the city limits, and for sure they weren't allowed to bear arms! The FOC is still considered a high honour today, and truly represents an understanding and mutual respect between military and civilian authorities
In the Canadian context, our military serves all Canadians in several important roles. Certainly in their stereotypical role, preparing to defend the country means they train endlessly to be combat ready. After all, by the time the bullets are flying or a threat materializes, it's a little late to think about readying the troops. In Chilliwack, however, we're more likely to see the military in its other, equally important role: aid to the civil authority. Helping civilians in time of disaster is another honoured tradition.
The Royal Westminster Regiment (affectionately known as the 'Westies') are active throughout The County, which stretches from New Westminster to Boston Bar. They have a storied history in Chilliwack and the valley. A company of The Regiment was stationed in Chilliwack as far back as 1910, and in the Great Flood of '48 Westies played a prominent role in helping save lives, property and land in the Lower Mainland. That kind of aid, where the military is called upon to form the backbone or nerve centre for the massive mobilization necessary to combat a large-scale disaster-think of Calgary's recent flood efforts as an example-is another reason why our Armed Forces are held in such high regard by Canadians.
Because this is the year The Royal Westminster Regiment celebrates 150 years of service 'Pro Rege et Patria" (the Regimental motto means 'for King and Country'), the unit is being honoured within the communities they live, work and serve in. Certainly, the Westies are proud of their traditional military role (they have served with distinction in every war Canada has been involved in, including sending 140 troops to serve in Afghanistan). They speak with reverence about the men and women from the unit who have received citations, awards and decorations for bravery throughout their history. And so they should. We all stand in awe when we read about the deeds of these recipients, including the two Westies who received the highest decoration-the Victoria Cross.
The Westies are also proud of their actions and the people here and now, within the County itself.
They're proud of the cadets who train and learn leadership and citizenship all over the valley. Their strength is the reservists who hold down full-time civilian jobs but still complete the training to qualify for military duty and promotion. Always there is effort to support the regimental family-both active and veteran members-as well as those who preserve the traditions and historical artifacts in their museum and in their association.
The Westies have long been associated with Chilliwack and the Fraser Valley, and it's easy enough to look back on 150 years of service to see examples. The recent decision to (re)establish them as one of the anchor military units at the Armoury in Chilliwack will cement that relationship even further. The motion from city council, instituting the Freedom of the City, gives the regiment the right to parade with "drums beating, colours flying, and bayonets fixed". It is another fine honour bestowed on the Westies, and the city knows that if ever they need their help, for whatever reason, they can count on The Royal Westminster Regiment to do its part.
The public is urged to come out and watch the ceremony at the Old City Hall, Oct. 26, at 1 p.m. Don't be surprised when the soldiers march past with bayonets fixed. These men and women are simply being acknowledged as some of Canada's finest people, who serve their country and their community with distinction.
Former MP Chuck Strahl is the Honorary L. Col. of The Royal Westminster Regiment.
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