“Three Hearty Cheers”: The HMCS Saguenay at the Vimy Pilgrimage

Today on the blog we’re doing something a little bit different. The Tri-couleur flag shown above comes from the collections of the Naval Museum of Halifax, and it has a great backstory. 

Image: French Tri-couleur flag, silk, 1936. The Naval Museum of Halifax.

Our tale begins with the organisation of the Vimy Pilgrimage in 1936 and the unveiling of Walter Allward’s long awaited National Vimy Memorial. As part of the celebrations, the Canadian military provided both a band and a Royal Guard of Honour for the newly crowned British king, Edward VIII, who would perform the only public ceremony of his short reign at Vimy Ridge. The formation of the Royal Guard was assigned to the Royal Canadian Navy, and was its first.

The crew of the HMCS Saguenay was assigned the Royal Guard, in addition to escorting the convoy of pilgrimage ships across the Atlantic Ocean from Montreal. Once arrived in France, the guard troop of 66 left for Arras, where they were based until the ceremony on 26 July. Photographs of the event show the king and dignitaries passing the guards on the walk back from the monument.

After delays to their buses caused by traffic, the commander of the Guard, Lieutenant H.F. Pullen decided to march his men and the military bands back to Arras, instead of waiting for the bus. It is here that the Naval Museum’s flag comes into play. It was likely flown in the ceremony, and one of the sailors took it down during the march. The flag was later signed by 24 members of the Royal Guard, plus a Royal Artillery gunner, and kept as a souvenir of their time at the Vimy ceremony.

The Tri- couleur was eventually donated to the museum by a grandchild of one of the original signatories, where it has been ever since. As for the Saguenay, she continued to serve with the RCN until a collision with a freighter in November 1942 during a convoy run. After repairs, the Saguenay was only fit for use as a training ship until she was broken up for salvage in 1946.

Many thanks to Naval Museum Director, Richard Sanderson, for making both the flag and the story available to us!

For more information on the Royal Guard, visit http://www.journal.forces.gc.ca/vo8/no1/reynolds-eng.asp

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