The 2277 Seaforth Highlanders of Canada cadet corps hosts a reenactment of the Ortona Christmas Dinner of 1943 every December. (Phil Edge)

Langley cadets honour Ortona battle with annual Christmas dinner

Remembrances and good cheer at 16th-annual reenactment of 1943 Ortona Christmas Dinner in Cloverdale

On Sunday evening, the 2277 Seaforth Highlanders of Canada Royal Canadian Army Cadet Corps held their annual reenactment of the Ortona Christmas Dinner at the Cloverdale Legion.

The cadets have hosted the dinner every December since 2001, in honour of the meal shared by the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada in Italy nearly 75 years ago.

The original dinner was held on December 25, 1943, in the bombed-out church of Santa Maria di Constantinopoli in Ortona, Italy. Members of the Seaforth Highlanders sat down for a Christmas dinner in shifts, just a few blocks away from the fighting.

The Canadian troops had met the Germans at the Moro River, just outside of Ortona, on Dec. 20. They had arrived hoping for a day of fighting, but what the Canadians did not know was that they were about to meet a line that Hitler had ordered to be held at any cost. They would see eight, bloody days of action.

Ortona was a small port town, just 500 yards wide. The streets were narrow, and the houses tall and built wall-to-wall. When the Canadians arrived, the elite German First Parachute Regiment had already dug in and booby-trapped the entire town. They were waiting for the Canadians to advance through the streets.

Instead, the Seaforth Highlanders captured Ortona building by building with a technique called “mouseholing.” The soldiers would gain access to a house from the roof and clear the building from the top floor down. They then blasted their way into the neighbouring house and moved on. In this way they were covered from the sniper fire they would have met on the streets.

War Diary – Dec 1943 by seaforth100 on Scribd

Above: December 1943 war diaries kept by members of the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada.

The Germans, realizing that the Canadians were making ground, began to collapse the buildings with the soldiers still inside. The Canadians retaliated in the same fashion, and by Christmas day, the battle was reaching the peak of its intensity.

Captain D.B. Cameron knew his men were exhausted and needed a boost to morale, so he and his men scrounged chinaware, table clothes, beer, applesauce, roast pork, chocolate and cigarettes and set about serving a Christmas dinner. An organist was found, and he played “Silent Night” on the church’s surviving organ.

Although the battle still raged just blocks away, the Canadians around the dinner table had a semblance of normality, if even for a moment.

The meal served to the cadets on Sunday evening was as close to the original meal as possible. Vegetable soup was served out of mugs before a dinner of roast pork and vegetables, followed by a dessert of Christmas pudding. Oranges and apples, candies and chocolates were set out on each table. The only real difference was the substitutions made for beer and cigarettes — diners sipped on root beer and ate candy sticks.

Cadets took turns reading about the history of the dinner, and following the meal, they led the room in a rendition of “Silent Night.”

The walls of the Legion were decorated to resemble the interior of the church, and the menu was as close as possible to the original, but the part of the evening that was perhaps the most similar to the first Ortona dinner was the mixture of camaraderie and solemnity.

In stolen moments, cadets balanced oranges on salt shakers and posed for photos, laughing, with candy canes held up as mustaches.

But they also toasted to the empty table in the corner of the room, which was dressed with a white table cloth and a single red rose, an upside-down cup and a plate that held a lemon slice and spilled salt. There would be no more toasting from that glass, just the bitter taste of losing a friend, and the salty tears of losing a loved one.

In 1943, the fighting continued after Christmas dinner and lasted until first light on December 28, when the German forces withdrew under the cover of darkness. More than 1,400 Canadian men died in the Moro River battles, of which Ortona was part.

Seventy-four years later, the Seaforth Highlanders cadet corps continues to gather each December to remember the fallen, and to enjoy the peace and good company of friends.

For more on the 2277 Seaforth Highlanders, visit www.2277rcacc.com.



editor@cloverdalereporter.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

2277 Seaforth Highlandersarmy cadetsCloverdaleCloverdale Legion

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

The food served was as close to the original dinner as possible. Roast pork, vegetables and Christmas pudding was served. The beer and cigarettes were substituted with root beer and candy sticks. (Phil Edge)

Select cadets spoke at the meal, recounting the history of the battle in Ortona, Italy. (Phil Edge)

Just Posted

Seven-year-old Aaliyah Rosa was found dead in an apartment in Langley in July. (Langley Advance Times files)
Child’s body cold, no pulse, off duty cop testifies in Langley murder trial

The seven-year-old girl’s mother faces a first-degree murder charge

Trinity Western University’s men’s hockey team will host the three-team Captains Cup, featuring the University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University and the Spartans, starting November 12th (Courtesy TWU)
Captains Cup hockey series comes to Langley

Trinity Western University to host UBC and SFU at George Preston arena

LOSC members worked out at the Aldergrove outdoor pool on Saturday, Oct. 24 (LOSC/Special to Langley Advance Times)
Swim club ‘broken-hearted’ by Langley Township pool decision

Staff report said it will cost less to reopen WC Blair instead of Walnut Grove

.
ON COOKING: Chef offers a new take on pumpkin spice

Pumpkin puree can be used to make a salad dressing

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry arrives for briefing on the COVID-19 situation, B.C. legislature, Oct. 26, 2020 (B.C. government)
B.C. records 217 more COVID-19 cases, mask use urged

Infection spike continues, 21 senior facilities affected

Los Angeles Dodgers celebrate after defeating the Tampa Bay Rays 3-1 to win the baseball World Series in Game 6 Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
L.A. Dodgers beat Rays 3-1 to win 1st World Series title since 1988

National League champs claim crown in six games

Pixabay photo
‘Horrific’ abuse of volunteers and staff by parents must stop, Chilliwack soccer club says

Parents have become abusive after being told COVID-19 rules, email says

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

People march during a climate strike in Montreal, Friday, Sept. 27, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Judge rejects 15 youths’ climate change lawsuit against Canadian government

Justice Michael Manson has granted the government’s motion to strike the plaintiffs’ claim

A woman walks through check in at WestJet at Pearson International airport during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Strong support for pre-flight COVID testing ahead of upcoming WestJet trial: YVR

Airport is partnering with UBC, which is helping choose the method of pre-flight testing

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau provides an update on the COVID pandemic during a press conference in Ottawa on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Trudeau says pandemic ‘really sucks,’ and that Christmas gatherings are up in the air

The prime minister encouraged residents to continue to follow the advice of local health authorities

The Williams Lake Indian Band is stipulating no-go zones for mushroom picking in areas burned by last summer’s wildfires. 100 Mile Free Press photo
Who controls mushroom harvesting on Indigenous lands?

‘We don’t necessarily know where the mushrooms grow, how old the stands need to be, those types of things.’

Most Read