For those who love a man, or woman, in uniform, the Army Ball was the place to be on Saturday night as Canada’s military came dressed in their finest for the black-tie gala held at the Hilton Lac-Leamy.
More than 950 people attended the spectacular evening, hosted by Lt.-Gen. Jean-Marc Lanthier and Chief Warrant Officer Stuart Hartnell.
The ball — chaired by Lt.-Col. (retired) Fran Chilton-Mackay — was rich with military pomp and circumstance, from the Governor General’s Foot Guards to the Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa to the action-packed war period re-enactments.
After dinner, which featured a main course of beef tenderloin and apple-stuffed saddle of rabbit, there was dancing to live music and a performance by Dr. Fraser Rubens, who moonlights as a tenor vocalist when he's not busy saving lives as a cardiac surgeon at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute.
The evening focused on the 75th anniversaries of the D-Day landings on the beaches in Normandy, France and the army’s Corps of Royal Canadian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers.
“As we look to the future we must also remember our past and the sacrifices the soldiers before us have made,” Lanthier, commander of the Canadian Army, said on stage. “We owe it to them to learn from their example.”
The crowd gave an enthusiastic welcome to a pair of Second World War veterans who were among the roughly 14,500 Canadians who took part in the D-Day landings on June 6, 1944, and the subsequent campaign to capture Nazi-occupied Normandy. The nonagenarians live at the Perley and Rideau Veterans’ Health Centre in Ottawa.
Private Bud Hannam, who'd been part of the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps, wiped his eyes with a tissue as the crowd gave him a standing ovation. His heroic involvement in the Allied invasion of Normandy included his coming to the aid of two French sisters, ages 13 and 15, both of whom were wounded after being caught in an open field under German fire. The younger sister was beyond saving and died in his arms. There’s a plaque dedicated to him in the small French village of Basly.
Gunner Jack Commerford made a memorable entrance by running up the aisle with the help of his walker. He had to stop, but only because his jaunty gait caused his bar of medals to fall from his suit jacket.
Last year, Commerford, a retired major and lawyer, parachute jumped from a plane to celebrate his 94th birthday and the 74th anniversary of D-Day.
A third D-Day veteran, corporal John Denzil Sparks, who's turning 100 this year, had to cancel last minute.
Nearly 150,000 Allied troops landed in the invasion area on D-Day, including 14,000 Canadian soldiers at Juno Beach. The Royal Canadian Navy contributed 110 ships and 10,000 sailors and the R.C.A.F. contributed 15 fighters and fighter bomber squadrons to the assault.
“This extensive preparation ensured that Canadians troops were prepared to succeed for this incredibly critical landing,” said Lanthier before quoting a lieutenant from the New Brunswick North Shore Regiment, who said: “We had no idea what we were getting into but we were ready for anything. We considered ourselves the best”.
Said Lanthier: “This has remained unchanged. The quality of the training that the Canadian soldiers undertake every day is second to none.”
By the end of the Battle of Normandy, the Allies had suffered 209,000 casualties, including more than 18,700 Canadians. More than 5,000 Canadian soldiers died.
There was a special VIP reception held earlier in the evening that saw the army’s top brass and their spouses greet arriving guests, alongside Ottawa businessman Paul Hindo and his wife, Alison. Hindo is honorary colonel of the Canadian Army and executive chairman of Cyber Defence Corporation.
Among the dignitaries spotted were Supreme Court of Canada Chief Justice Richard Wagner; Lieutenant Governor of Ontario Elizabeth Dowdeswell; Lt.-Gen. (retired) Andrew Leslie, who’s now the Liberal MP for the Ottawa riding of Orléans. As well, guests included RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki, National Defence deputy minister Jody Thomas and retired general Rick Hillier, among others.
Also seen was Bryan Brulotte, CEO and chairman of MaxSys Staffing and Consulting and honorary colonel of the Governor General’s Foot Guards.