Troops bound for Afghanistan got an unexpected send-off this fall as they made a short stop in the eastern Ontario town of Tweed while en route between Canadian Forces Base Petawawa and Trenton where they caught their flight overseas.
Legionnaires, schoolchildren, veterans and members of the community, 55 kilometres east of Trenton, greeted several busloads of soldiers that arrived at the local Tim Hortons franchise and Tweed Branch between Sept. 8 and Oct. 8.
“It all started innocently enough but ended with fanfare reserved for royalty,” said District F Public Relations Chairman Mary Ann Goheen. Tweed Branch was challenged by Jimmie Clark Branch in Northbrook, 30 kilometres away, to match their contribution to the RCL Troop Morale Fund.
“Tweed Branch President Pat Thomas addressed Legionnaires attending a District F seminar in Belleville explaining what was about to happen and asked for donations so that every soldier could be provided with a certificate for a coffee and doughnut. There was a sense of urgency and a positive feeling of support,” said Goheen.
Donations came in from other Legion branches, churches, the Tweed Lions and Kiwanis clubs, Bell Canada and local politicians. More that $4,000 was raised.
With the help of Jack Vance, a retired lieutenant-general and former vice-chief of Defence staff, a schedule of troop buses was obtained. The bulk of the deployment force was from 3 Royal Canadian Regiment but the battle group contains elements of Royal Canadian Dragoons, 2 Royal Canadian Horse Artillery, 2 Canadian Engineer Regiment as well as administrative, medical and logistic support from 2 Service Battalion.
The troop buses often take a comfort break at the local Tim Hortons owned by Tom and Donna Moore located on Highway 37 just south of Highway 7.
The local Chamber of Commerce asked businesses to display the Maple Leaf flag. Some of the greeting party would meet the buses at the Tim Hortons where the troops were given gift certificates. After that the bus would drive downtown and stop in front of the branch where the regimental colours were deposited. Local schoolchildren and citizens were lining the streets.
“By the time we got going, 2,500 troops in total passed through Tweed and we met about 1,850 of them,” said Thomas. “When we met the first bus, the troops couldn’t believe it and were calling back to the base on their cell phones telling family and friends about us.”
St. Carthagh Catholic School sent two classes accompanied by teachers to meet the troops at the coffee shop. Students from S.H. Connor Public and Tweed Hungerford Senior schools met the troops outside the branch. Each student was wearing red and carried a Canadian flag. They gave the troops posters, letters and poems they had written to cheer them on their journey.
High school teachers Laurie Richardson and Michelle Vader said the event was a chance to teach students that “real people go off to war.”
Many of the troops who visited e-mailed back their appreciation of the event. Corporal Paul Rodgers said the greeting lifted the spirits of the troops who had left their families in Petawawa two hours earlier. “We just got off the bus feeling sad because we just left our families and girlfriends. To see all the children here cheers us up.
Thomas noted one sad event during the period: “We missed one day, Wednesday, Sept. 10, when three buses were detoured due to a repatriation ceremony in Trenton. Petawawa had sent 25 troops to the ceremony and then realized the three buses with troops (heading for Afghanistan) would be passing those troops returned from the (repatriation) ceremony. It was decided to detour the buses but they did not tell us. The schoolchildren had waited for two hours outside the Legion but, of course, no buses came.”
It was another lesson to the schoolchildren that real people sometimes don’t make it home from war.