Aldergrove army cadets relive a ‘soldiers Christmas dinner’

Aldergrove’s 1922 Royal Canadian Army troop finishes a landmark year

Aldergrove’s 1922 Royal Canadian Army Cadets hosted their end-of-year mess dinner, paying homage to their corresponding army regimen and its troops both past and present.

One of them, Royal Westminster Regiment Lt.-Col. Chuck MacKinnon, sat at the head table along with seven other officials Thursday evening.

Mess dinners originated more than a century ago, and have carried on through the Second World War, MacKinnon explained.

“This dinner itself is a soldier’s Christmas dinner,” MacKinnon elaborated.

Vancouver’s infantry regiment the Seaforth Highlanders, “on an assault in a town called Ortona during their Italian campaign [in 1943] stood outside the church where soldiers inside ate their Christmas dinner.”

“The fighting was still going on so soldiers had to rotate in shifts to get fed. For some of them… it was the last time,” MacKinnon said.

Fallen soldiers were memorialized by an empty table – off on its own – with a single red rose and slice of lemon on a bread plate, reminding the room of such a bitter fate.

READ MORE: Aldergrove cadets march on BC Place at half-time for veterans

Though most who attended last Thursday’s dinner were suited in dress uniforms or clothes – including police from Vancouver, and Abbotsford – there was a mother and son who stood out from the crowd.

Natasha Baldwin was convinced to attend the dinner by her youngest son, Nikki, who falls a year short of qualifying for the program.

“He really wanted to come,” Mom said, “He can’t wait until he’s a cadet.”

For Baldwin’s older son Steven, 15, the cadets has made him “calm,” something his mother thought might never be possible.

Diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) Steven was once a child who never kept still.

Through the program, the cadet has cultivated an inner sense of responsibility.

Mother of Sgt. Emily Long has seen numerous changes in her daughter, one being that she is more “down to earth” after excelling in the cadet program.

“I have seen a change in how I treat people, because of cadets. I value myself more and expect to be treated with more respect,” Long wrote in a letter to help inspire new members to stay in the program.

The 15-year-old also admits she is no longer reluctant to engage in sports because of cadets.

Long received an ANAVETS (Army, Navy, Air Force Veterans) Medal of Merit this summer during training camp in Vernon.

RELATED: Aldergrove cadets awarded high honour at training camp

At the mess dinner, Long was recognized with a certificate of recognition from the Royal Westminster Regiment Association for all that she’s accomplished this year.

Ret’d. Captain Bob Chessel presented Long the award, saying Long “has achieved excellence in everything, especially physical fitness.”

Long was one of two 1922 corps cadets recognized with the ANAVETS medal, which is “unheard of” touted MacKinnon. The second cadet was Chief Warrant Officer (CWO) Oliver Cole.

Cole acted as president of the Mess Committee (PMC) for the dinner and led cadets, guests, and their families through the formalities of the traditional dinner.

Commanding Officer (CO) of the 1922 regiment Simon Turner, who has overseen development of youth in the program, was one of the last to say a few words.

“It’s been very challenging to say the least,” Turner explained about his time as CO, which nears its end after a three-year service term.

“Every challenge and every task you undertake has made you stronger,” Turner said to the cadets.

“Many of you used to be little 12-year-old cadets, very shy and timid.”

Turner admonished, “Now, all of you have the potential to be a leader.”

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Cadet Steven Baldwin, 15, enjoyed a traditional turkey dinner at Aldergrove’s 1922 regiment mess dinner. (Sarah Grochowski photo)

Sgt. Emily Long (left) was recognized for excelling in the cadet program by Ret’d. Captain Bob Chessel of the Royal Westminster Regiment. (Sarah Grochowski photo)

An honoured head table consisted of representatives of the Royal Westminster Regiment, cadet league, parents sponsoring committee, veterans, and two young cadets. (Sarah Grochowski photo)

Natasha Baldwin was convinced to attend the dinner by her youngest son, Nikki, who falls a year short of qualifying for the cadets program. (Sarah Grochowski photo)

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