Wednesday, June 22, 2011

I love a parade.

Today, Steve and I attended a change-of-command ceremony. Now, for some people, that would be a definition of torture, but I, for one, enjoy military pageantry. I love the ritual, the regimented choreography, the small rites that could almost go unnoticed but have deep meaning. For those of you unschooled in the mysteries of military, I will share some of the pomp and ceremony* of this particular occasion.

First, the entire thing takes place on a parade square, which looks to you and me like a big parking lot without painted lines (can you imagine the chaos of such a parking lot?). Ranged along one side of this square are seats and bleachers facing in toward the square. This is where the guests sit.

A picture would really help, wouldn't it?

The tan lines and circles are service members. This parade was a "joint" event, so there were service members from the air, land and sea elements of the Canadian Forces. Each set of three bars in my diagram is a squadron of approximately 50 "souls" (as one commander called them). The circles out in front are the squadron commanders. In the centre, each flag is carried by a soldier, sailor or airman or airwoman. The reviewing officer stands on the raised daïs (the red square).

After the guests were seated, the troops marched in, in exquisitely orderly fashion - sharp uniforms, snappy steps, arms swinging to shoulder height, rifles resting on shoulders. The Sergeants Major tucked their pace sticks under their arms and watched that all was correct. Then the officers marched on, swords tilted at a precise angle. (In real battles, they don't make the officers fight with swords. *phew*)

Then we stood as the parade commander "marched on" the flags, calling the flag-bearers to take their places. In this case, the Canadian flag held the position of honour on the right as you face the reviewing officer, and the Canadian Forces flag was at left.

We remained standing as the (remaining) guests of honour arrived, their sedans driving right onto the parade square and dropping them off in front of the daïs. I don't remember ever seeing this before, but Steve says it is quite typical. This took place in several waves. [Note: wear comfortable shoes as there is a good deal of standing, even if you are in the audience.]

Then there was a lot of marching and saluting, stomping of feet, raising of hilts of swords to chins, saluting, speech-ifying, and so forth. There were a couple of amusing parts:
  • After the squadrons and officers marched onto the parade square, they "dressed the line" by holding out their arms and skiddering their feet until they were each precisely one armslength apart from the other. It made a fun shuffling sound.
  • The flags are treated as guests of honour, for what they represent. If you pass before them - or if they are carried before you - you salute (if in uniform) or stand at attention.
  • Standing on parade is hard work! One officer on today's parade suddenly fell straight backwards, hitting his head - completely unconscious. Another soldier buckled and clung to his rifle to keep from hitting the dirt. In both cases, medics came quickly to take them to medical care. Steve explained that there are tricks to keep the blood circulating.
  • At one point the parade commander had the troops and officers remove their hats and give three cheers to the out-going commander. It was one of the more serious "hip-hip-hoorahs" I've ever heard, done in perfect synchrony.

Now, I want you to notice the tents. The reason for the tents is to shelter the dignitaries from inclement weather, such as we had this morning. Here's a bigger view of a tent much like the one used today.

For today's event, they rolled up the sides and ends. The senior officers and their spouses (including Steve and I) sat in the first row, just under the rolled-up panels.

Now. Notice those white "windows" in the panels? In our case, those were screens. As the rain fell today, it ran down the pitched roof of the tent and then pooled until it dripped through the screen - right where Steve and I were sitting. It was pretty humorous as the sudden stream of water poured down, but gave us much sympathy for those men and women standing stoically on the parade square - and for those men and women who have endured - and do endure - much, much worse.

So it rained on my parade, but it wasn't such a bad thing, really.

*Note that I said "pomp and ceremony," not "pomp and circumstance." Pomp and ceremony is what we experience on formal occasions such as weddings and parades. The expression "pomp and circumstance" comes from Shakespeare, and "circumstance" refers to the exact opposite of ceremony: the drudgery, the muck, and the misery. (See Wikipedia)


  1. Thank you so much for your comment today. not very many people know what I'm talking about. It's nice to hear from people who have been through it too. Hopefully I survive. ;)

  2. I hope the fact you colored your square red and refered to it as "red square" was just a coincidence... You know, soviet red square?


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