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The Ortona Toast. Regimental Traditions

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Author Topic: The Ortona Toast. Regimental Traditions  (Read 3131 times)
Mike Blais CD
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« on: April 22, 2009, 07:48:52 pm »

Origin of the "Ortona Toast" ORTONA CROSSROADS, 1943:

"On December 21st, it was realized that it was The Regiment's Sixtieth Birthday, and Lt-Col. Spry (acting Commander of 1 Cdn lnf Bde) was invited to visit the Battalion's Command Post and drink the Health to The Regiment": this he did although the Command Post was under shell fire at the time. Capt. Mitchell prepared a punch of issue rum, sugar and water, and those who participated in the toast were Lt.-Col. Dan Spry, Major Strome Galloway, Capt Sandy Mitchell, Capt Marty Upper, Lieut Walter Roy, Capt [Padre] Rusty Wilkes, M.C., and RSM Archie McDonnell.

Strome Galloway

Just as the ceremony was concluded Capt Dick Dillon, M.C. and Lieut Buck Bowman, M.C. , reported in from two fighting patrols which they had been leading with considerable success. So was the Diamond Jubilee of The Regiment observed; not only within sight of the enemy, but engaging him the while!" (from Strome Galloway's 55 Axis, page 115; with addition of given names from Pro Patria #24, may 1975)

On 20 November 1993 in Ottawa, The Regimental Executive Committee approved a motion to toast The Regiment on Regimental Birthday observances with the same mixture as was used at the Ortona Crossroads on 21 December 1943. The Toast is to be taken in plain white china mugs, just as it was fifty years ago.

With the fiftieth anniversary of this toast approaching, it was felt it would be a fitting year to adopt the toast as a Regimental custom. There was a strong case for it. It is unique and sets us apart from others, it draws attention to the mettle of our predecessors, and it derives from one of the bloodiest battles in the Regiment's history. The Toast symbolizes the Regimental spirit of all our predecessors in the face of the enemy, it will remind us of their sacrifice and further arouses the pride we take in The Regiment.

Although the Toast goes beyond Ortona in its symbolism, one should know something about the battle from whence it came.

Background History

The "Ortona Crossroads" lay about 1.5 miles to the south west of Ortona on the north side of the infamous "Gully" and was a key Divisional objective (Code named "Cider"). Once captured entry into Ortona could be made along the Ortona-Orsogna Road. The battle to capture the heavily defended crossroads had been raging for two weeks. The RCR was launched into the battle with the mission of capturing the crossroads at 1145 hours on the 18th with the opening barrage of OPERATION ORANGE BLOSSOM.

The Regiment suffered grievous losses from German paratroops. Almost immediately the Start tine was hit by an appalling enemy mortar concentration which inflicted heavy casualties on C and D Companies. The barrage which was supposed to neutralize the enemy was horribly inaccurate and for safety's sake parts of it were cancelled or lifted 400 yards. Consequently, many German positions were untouched by the artillery and the paratroops raked the advancing Royals with deadly machine gun and mortar fire. In the words of one officer, "Never before, during either the Sicilian or Italian campaign had The Regiment run into such a death trap". Throughout the day The Regiment held its positions always under sniper and mortar fire. A renewed attack the next day, supported with tanks, was pressed home with great dash and succeeded. By 9 pm on the 19th the crossroads were secured and "the something less than 200 RCR officers and men who had survived the carnage breathed more easily." On 21 December, when the toast was given, The Regiment was still dug in on the crossroads.

After the REC, RHQ send word of the toast to all comers of the Regiment by message, detailing the "Regimentally correct" way to take the toast at a Regimental Birthday mess dinner. Those on ERE serving outside Canada who are not connected to either CDLS Washington or CDLS London may not have received word. Sorry, but it was not feasible to reach you in the time available. Now you know. All Branch Presidents of The RCR Association were informed by letter .

The Ortona mixture is mixed in the proportion of 1 oz of dark rum, 1 oz of water and 1 teaspoon of brown sugar. It is consumed from a "plain white china mug" because that is what they used at Ortona. The mugs were obtained from a half demolished farm house.

The Ortona Toast is to be used at Regimental Birthday observances only.

On all other occasions the Regiment will continue, as normal, to be toasted with port.

More can be found at the regimental site.
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1977-1RCR  Italy PL, B Coy, Mortars
                   Pioneers, Delta Coy
                   CFB London

1979-3RCR  M Coy 12C,  Sigs, Pipes&Drums
                   CFB Baden WG

1982 1RCR  Mortars 51B, Dukes, BBC (Cyp)
                   Mortars, WO-Sgts Mess,
                   CFB London

2008            President. Niagara Branch
                   The Royal Canadian Regiment

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