Stadacona Band ready to mark armistice centenary in Belgium
By Ryan Melanson,
The Stadacona Band of Maritime Forces Atlantic 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 next tasking.
The Stad Band will deploy to Belgium from November 4-11 to participate in Operation DISTINCTION 2018, the CAF mission supporting events that will commemorate 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 Lt(N) Bradley Ritson, the band’s new commanding officer as of this past August.
Members of the band will participate in a number of different ceremonies, mainly from November 9-11, 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 Grand-Place in Mons, where the largest commemorative ceremony will take place.
“That ceremony will essentially be a complete recreation of the original liberation parade,” Lt(N) Ritson said. The parade will be embellished with period materials and composed of regiments past and present from Canada, the United Kingdom, Belgium and France, and will be followed by a presentation including archival films, witness readings, and of course, music. The band will be performing 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 honour 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,” Lt(N) Ritson said.
“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 will also be a Nova Scotia connection as part of the events, with the band participating in a ceremony on November 10 in the town of Le Rœulx, where a new monument will be unveiled commemorating George Price, from Port Williams, who is recognized as the last commonwealth soldier to be killed before the fighting ended.
Following the parade on the 11th, band members will likely get a chance to take part in battlefield tours led by historians over the next few days, and some, like Lt(N) Ritson himself, may 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.”