Every year on December 21
- "To my dear friends, to all present, and to all those who departed, and in honour of 123 years service for the county. To The Regiment: Pro Patria!"
- ― Col Jon Vance, former CO of 2RCR, leading the Ortona Toast in Afghanistan, 2006 [src]
The Ortona Toast is a regimental observance which the The Royal Canadian Regiment celebrates on its Regimental Birthday every year on December 21. The Ortona Toast is observed every year to remember the sacrifices of the regiment's past members, as well as to establish an esprit de corps among current members. The drink is made with the same mixture of ingredients as used by the regiment during the Italian Campaign of World War II, at the Ortona Crossroads on December 21, 1943. The toast was officially recognized on November 20, 1993, when the Regimental Executive Committee approved a motion for the toast to be observed on the Regimental Birthday.
Ortona Crossroads, World War II
- "On December 21st, it was realized that it was The Regiment's Sixtieth Birthday, and Lt-Col. Spry […] 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."
- ― Strome Galloway, commenting on the first Ortona Toast [src]
The Ortona Toast's inception was during the Italian Campaign of the Second World War. The Royal Canadian Regiment's birthday happened to fall during the Battle of Ortona, which was one of the bloodiest engagements in Italy involving Canadian soldiers during the war. However, before Allied forces could advance on Ortona, the strategic crossroads just south of the city had to be taken. Even though the battle to take the heavily fortified crossroads had already lasted two weeks, the ultimate task to complete the mission was assigned to the soldiers of The Royal Canadian Regiment.
The Ortona Crossroads was positioned approximately two kilometres to the southwest of Ortona and had been designated code name "Cider" for the operation — once the crossroads had been captured, then entry into Ortona could be made along the Ortona-Orsogna road. On December 18, with the crossroads' battle having already raged for two weeks, the RCR was sent into the fray with orders to capture the crossroads, beginning at 1145 hours with the opening barrage of Operation ORANGE BLOSSOM, an artillery operation whose mission was to cover the advancing troops. Despite the Allied bombardment of the German lines, the Regiment suffered substantial losses from German paratroopers, or fallschirmjäger in German, who were entrenched in well dug-in positions. Due to a miscalculation in the Allied artillery barrages, many German positions were left untouched by the Allied fire and the defending fallschirmjäger were able to rake the advancing Royal Canadians with machine gun and mortar fire. Despite the setbacks experienced that day, the Royal Canadian Regiment's remaining soldiers were able to hold the positions they had taken, though they remained under constant German sniper and mortar fire. The following day, December 19, saw the RCR renew their attack against the fallschirmjäger, this time supported by Allied tanks, and the regiment was able to make substantial advances throughout the day. By the late evening of the 19th, the remaining RCR soldiers had managed to secure the crossroads. The battle for the Ortona Crossroads cost the RCR two officers killed, thirty-two other ranks killed, and four officers and seventy-four other ranks missing or wounded — it was under these conditions on December 21, with the Battle for Ortona well underway, and while the Regiment was still dug in on the crossroads and taking enemy fire, that the first Ortona Toast was celebrated in honour of The Royal Canadian Regiment's birthday and those members lost in combat.
Known participants in the first Ortona Toast at the crossroads were LCol Daniel Charles Spry, Maj Strome Galloway, Capt Richard Dillon, Capt Hollingsworth, Capt Sandy Mitchell, Capt Marty Upper, Lt Walter Roy, Lt Buck Bowman, Padre Rusty Wilkes and RSM Archie McDonnell. Because no other form of cup was available at the time, several plain white china mugs which had been obtained from a nearby, half-demolished farm house were used by those present to perform the toast.
Regimental Executive Committee, 1993
- "[…] the Toast to The Regiment on the Regimental Birthday be performed not with port wine, but with the same field expedient served at Ortona Crossroads; a mixture of rum, water and sugar consumed from a white china mug."
- ― The motion to officially observe the Ortona Toast, as put forth by Regimental Adjutant, Kent Boughton [src]
On November 20, 1993 the Regimental Adjutant, Captain Kent Boughton appeared in Ottawa, Ontario before the Regimental Executive Committee of The Royal Canadian Regiment. His proposal to the committee was for the Ortona Toast to be officially recognized as a regimental observance of the RCR. Using the original toast at the Ortona Crossroads in December 1943 as a basis, including the circumstances surrounding it, Capt Boughton argued that it would be appropriate that the Ortona Toast be adopted as the Regimental Toast on the upcoming 110th anniversary of The Royal Canadian Regiment, and, coincidentally, the 50th Anniversary of the original Ortona Toast.
Also present at the meeting that day were Colonels Strome Galloway and Richard Dillon, two of the original participants in the first toast in 1943. Col Galloway appeared before the Committee was allowed to present a first-hand account of the Battle for the Ortona Crossroads, as well as the circumstances surrounding the initial toast. Following Col Galloway's recounting of the battle, a motion was put forth by Capt Boughton, and which was seconded by Col Dillon, that instead of using port wine, the Toast to The Royal Canadian Regiment on its Regimental Birthday be performed with the same mixture of ingredients which were used at the Ortona Crossroads in December of 1943 and served in plain white china mugs to all members present. The motion was carried forth by the Regimental Executive Committee, and it was thus that the Ortona Toast was recognized as the official Regimental Toast for the Regimental Birthday.
Kandahar Province, Afghanistan
- "To my knowledge, this is the first time since the original Ortona Toast in 1943 that it has been done in combat."
- ― LCol Lavoie, taking part in the Ortona Toast, Afghanistan 2006 [src]
In December 2006 the 1st Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment's battle group had been steadily securing the Panjwaii District of the Kandahar Province of Afghanistan for almost three straight months. Operation MEDUSA, whose aim was to establish Afghan government control over areas of the Kandahar Province, had been the beginning of this three month campaign. Due to the operational requirements which were placed upon the regiment, it was realized in November that the majority of the 1RCR soldiers would be deployed to forward operating bases when the Regimental Birthday of December 21 came around. As such, LCol Lavoie, Commanding Officer of Task Force 3-06, began to requisition the necessary ingredients — mainly rum and brown sugar — so that all RCR soldiers deployed in theatre who could, would be able to celebrate the Regiment's 123rd birthday with the Ortona Toast.
LCol. Lavoie, accompanied by Col Jon Vance, who was a former commanding officer of the 2nd Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment, set out on December 21, 2006, to tour the forward operating bases in order to share the Ortona Toast with the RCR soldiers stationed at them. Making their way to several of the forward bases, LCol Lavoie and Col Vance's last stop was the forward operating base Ma'Sum Ghar — the location was significant in the fact that Ma'Sum Ghar was the staging point for the September 3rd, 2006 crossing of the river for Operation MEDUSA which saw Charles Company, 1RCR lose four soldiers in the taking of the village Pashmul. There they met with the soldiers of C Company who were then participating in Operation BAAZ TSUKA, the aim of which was to disrupt Taliban operations by either killing hard line insurgent leaders or forcing them to leave the Panjwaii and Zhari districts. Following an explanation of the history of the toast by LCol Lavoie, Col Vance was invited, as the senior Royal Canadian on the ground, to give the Ortona Toast. Back at Kandahar Airfield, at Task Force 3-06's headquarters, LCol Elms led those Royal Canadians who were stationed at the airfield in the Ortona Toast, briefly explaining the history of the toast before raising their mugs to the regiment.
Two years later in 2008, The Royal Canadian Regiment was again ordered to Afghanistan, this time under the banner of the 3rd Battalion and Task Force 3-08. In December of that year, from the 17th – 24th, Major General (Ret'd) Walter M. Holmes, Colonel of the Regiment, travelled from Canada to the Kandahar Province to visit with the soldiers of Task Force 3-08. During this time, MGen Holmes led the various Royal Canadian companies in celebrating the Regiment's 125th Birthday with the Ortona Toast.
Ingredients and standing orders
As in 1943 at the Ortona Crossroads, each serving is made with one ounce of dark rum, one ounce of water and one teaspoon of brown sugar, and is drunk from plain white china mugs. The Ortona Toast symbolizes the regimental spirit of the RCR's predecessors in the face of the enemy and reminds the regiment of those member's sacrifices. The Ortona Toast is drunk only at Regimental Birthday events, since at other times the regiment may be toasted with port or any other available drink.
The Ortona Toast is observed every year on the Regimental Birthday of The Royal Canadian Regiment — December 21. The regiment's standing orders describe the procedure for the birthday's mess dinner, which contains the Ortona Toast. As per the standing orders, the plain white china mugs are to form part of the normal table setting, to be placed next to the port glass at each table setting. Following the Loyal Toast, and any other toasts to any foreign heads of state which may occur using port, decanters containing the Ortona Toast mixture are placed on the gathered tables and passed to each member in the same fashion as was the port; only a small portion from a table's decanter is to be poured into the mug (roughly 2 ounces or less). The Ortona mixture is then used to toast the regiment by the senior serving member present.
For regimental gatherings that are not a part of the mess dinner, but which still observe the Regiment's Birthday, the procedure laid down in the regiment's standing orders may be adjusted to suit the birthday observances as required. The Ortona Toast as described in the regiment's standing orders is to be used at Regimental Birthday observances only. On all other occasions or anniversaries which The Royal Canadian Regiment may observe which call for a regimental toast, the gathered members will, as normal, celebrate that toast with port.
Notes and references
- "Ortona Toast" from The Connecting File
- Task Force 3-08 website – "Colonel of the Regiment and Colonel Commandant visit Battle Group soldiers"; URL accessed March 12, 2009.
- 4RCR.com – "History of the 4th Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment"; URL accessed March 12, 2009.
- "Commander says Baaz Tsuka offensive a success" on CTV.ca; URL accessed March 14, 2009.