It’s fair to say that no matter where you turn in the Canadian Armed Forces, you inevitably come across Queen Elizabeth.
It was (and in some cases will continue to be, for the foreseeable future) almost everywhere within the military.
From portraits, prefixes and designations to oaths and honours, the military footprint of the Commonwealth’s longest-reigning monarch will not fade quickly. Altering these royal honors for a post-Elizabeth army requires a whole host of changes.
Some of these changes will be easy and automatic, while others will be more complicated and could take years to set up, the lieutenant colonel said. Carl Gautier. He directs the Directorate of Honors and Recognition at the Department of National Defence.
While most Canadians wonder when King Charles’ face will grace the $20 note, the military mourns the loss of the late monarch’s personal interest in units and individual soldiers – the quiet gestures and words of encouragement she has offered over the years.
The Queen was Colonel-in-Chief – the ceremonial head – of 16 different military units in this country. This is an extraordinary number considering the relatively small size of the Canadian armed forces.
Members of these regiments make up the Canadian military contingent — 95 soldiers, sailors and crew — who will be present at his funeral in London on Monday.
“She represents who we are”
“We always raise a toast to the Queen,” said the cap. Raquel Bitton, a member of the Canadian Grenadier Guards based in Montreal and part of the contingent attending the funeral.
“We have her picture in our regiment as we walk into our mess. You know, it’s all about the Queen. So I mean, she represents who we are. It’s part of who we are and something we’re very proud.”
Bitton said the Queen’s passing is “a great loss” because of what has been achieved during her reign. She said it was “truly an honour” to be present at his funeral.
Gauthier said the Queen has been godmother to some Canadian regiments for more than 70 years, from when she was still a princess.
She was, he said, very active behind the scenes.
“The Queen was basically meeting with the command team of each regiment,” Gauthier said.
“Even if she didn’t visit Canada, they could go and have an audience at Buckingham Palace or somewhere else.”
These visits, he said, tend to be short and focused.
“The Queen would like to know what is going on with the unit,” he said. “Do they deploy people in operations? Were there any casualties? Do significant changes occur with the units?
Whenever the Queen was in Canada, tour operators always made time for her to spend with the military. During the war in Afghanistan, she met privately with some families of the dead.
All of these gestures deeply touched members of the tight-knit military community, Gauthier said.
From now on, each unit will have to decide who, among the royal family, they wish to have to represent them.
King Charles III holds a handful of ceremonial posts in the Canadian Army. Gauthier, who was an aide to the then Prince of Wales when he visited Canada in 2009, said the new monarch had also displayed a personal touch.
During a meeting in Montreal with the family of a soldier killed in Afghanistan who was a reservist of the Royal Highland Regiment of Canada (the Black Watch), the deceased soldier’s mother — touched by Charles’s words — asked if she could hug him.
Without hesitation, Charles abandoned protocol – which says not to touch him – and kissed the grieving woman, said Gauthier, who was present for the private encounter.
On another occasion, Gauthier recounts, Charles sent a bottle of scotch to a wounded soldier.
“They don’t just want to be a name on letterhead”
“I know the [former] The Prince of Wales asked me when I was [aide] to ensure that the [commanding officers] write to him, he said. He wanted to know. They don’t want to be just a name on the letterhead…they want to be involved, they want to be informed.”
The Queen was patron of a number of regiments across the Commonwealth and finding new ones within the Royal Family will take years, Gauthier said.
Similarly, the Queen’s image or badge adorns many of Canada’s military medals, including those for heroism. They will also need to be changed.
“It will take some time for the king to approve any effigy and any new cipher, so that we can modify the designs and make metals,” Gauthier said. “In the meantime, we will continue to issue Her Majesty’s medals until a new badge is available.”
Other aspects of the Queen’s presence in military life are more easily altered. The designation of Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS), as opposed to Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship, was pretty much automatic. The same applies to the modification of the oath of allegiance that members of the army take upon enlistment.
Colin Robertson, a veteran diplomat and foreign affairs commentator, said the outpouring of sadness over the Queen’s passing was an interesting moment. He highlighted how Canadian governments in the 1960s and 1970s attempted to put a more independent imprint on the military, moving Canada away from its British colonial roots with the amalgamation of branches into the Canadian Forces (later the Canadian Armed Forces) .
“I think there was a feeling that the Queen represented the British connection, in the sense of empire and colonialism… some governments felt that was not the case, that was not where it was. found Canada,” Robertson said.
The feeling at the time, he said, was that “Canada was an independent nation and our constitutional monarchy was a system of government, but the emphasis was on the Constitution and less on the monarchy.”
The Air Force and Navy lost their ‘royal’ designations during this period, only to regain them under Stephen Harper’s Conservative government.