The Seaforth Highlanders Pipes and Drums were tasked and deployed to support Operation Sicily 2013, which took part from the 24 July to 1 August 2013. The Operation was designed to mark the 70th Anniversary of Operation Husky - the Invasion of Sicily. Operation Husky was developed by Steve Gregory and Canada Company as a civilian enterprise with participation by the Canadian Forces. There were 60 members from all elements of the Canadian Armed Forces, including 15 members of the Seaforth Regimental Pipes and Drums, to take part in the events of the celebrations under the command of LCol JP Zunic, 1st Canadian Division.
The bulk of our time in Sicily was spent parading and performing at the various monuments in the small villages where Canadian soldiers had fought and died. Almost all the villages are situated on the top of steep hills with deep valleys in between and wide unencumbered views from the hilltops where the enemy waited. When you read the historical accounts of the battles and compare it to the actual terrain - and consider having to advance up the steep slopes, over mine-filled roads, and through the valleys while under fire from the enemy - it is a very humbling experience.
Most of the events included a march into the town square in scorching heat for a commemorative ceremony for those killed in action. The sound of the Pipes and Drums echoing off the walls of the narrow streets was truly awe inspiring. Major General Ferron (Comd 1st Div) commented that the sound was incredibly effective and stirring. For each event the mayor and officials were involved for speeches and the march while local townsfolk welcomed us with their applause. We were all treated to Sicilian hospitality in the various towns with wonderful meals and refreshments.
We were able to see and visit first hand places where Canadian soldiers fought, like Enna, Catenanuova, Leonforte, Regalbuto, Adrano, and Assoro. It is difficult not to feel connected to our history when standing in Agira where after five days of fighting, and at heavy cost of blood, the city was finally taken by our Canadian troops. Reminders of the war still exist there today with the bunkers and gum emplacements seen in the Sicilian countryside.
We attend a Remembrance Ceremony at the Agira Canadian War Cemetery where there are 490 Commonwealth soldiers buried. The sound of the Last Post on the trumpet and the Lament "Flowers of the Forest" on the pipes was a stirring tribute to the 562 casualties who fell in Sicily -- 61 of whom were Seaforth Highlanders. As part of the ceremony a solemn roll call was made in honour of those who fell.
Pipe Major Edmond Esson made history with the first recording by CBC reporter Peter Stursberg July 30, 1943 of the retreat performance in the town square in Agira. PMaj Esson told me that he was told, "Too bad you don't have your instruments with you," and he said, "We do, we put them on the boat with us!" Today a picture of that performance now hangs in our band room.
It was a highlight for P/Sgt WO Kennedy when he realized, "I brought Ed Esson's pipes back to Sicily and played in that same square he played 70 years ago. The feeling is unbelievable."
When I was a cadet with the Seaforth Pipes and Drums, I had a dream to take a band back to Agira to recreate that piece of history; it was a great honour to march the Pipes and Drums into that square in Agira just like Ed Esson did 70 years ago. We were able to share experience with many older citizens who remembered that first concert of the Pipes and Drums. To march on the same street playing the same version of "Caber Feidh" from 1943, with the bells from the Church of Sant' Antonio ringing and a recorded Peter Stursberg again announcing the Seaforth Pipes and Drums was an honour that will not be forgotten.
Seaforth Highlanders of Canada