Queen’s Own Rifles coins ‘a sacred obligation’ to their Fallen

Article / November 26, 2019 / Project number: 19-0211

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By Steven Fouchard, Army Public Affairs

Toronto, Ontario — A 20-year-old tradition of honouring 160 years of their Regimental Fallen with commemorative Coins of Remembrance is still going strong at the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada (QOR).

“Members of the Regiment are very enthusiastic and they embrace this sacred tradition as a Regimental obligation,” said Lieutenant-Colonel Frank Lamie, current Commanding Officer of the Toronto, Ontario-based Army Reserve Regiment.

The tradition began with Chief Warrant Officer (Retired) Shaun Kelly during the Regiment’s 2001 Remembrance Day ceremonies when he was serving as Regimental Sergeant-Major.

“During the two minutes of silence, the intent is that you be thinking about the soldiers who had passed before you and your Regiment or Corps,” CWO (Retd) Kelly said. “At the time I had been thinking about former senior Non-Commissioned Officers (NCOs) who had passed away recently.”

Challenge Coins: a military tradition

Coincidentally, members of the QOR’s Parachute Company had also just taken it upon themselves to produce a set of Challenge Coins.

An informal military tradition, widely believed to have originated in the United States military, Challenge Coins are intended to foster morale and esprit de corps. When challenged by other soldiers, carriers must produce a coin or buy a round of drinks on the next appropriate social occasion if they are unable to do so.

“One of the Riflemen came up to me and asked why there was no coin for the non-jumpers in the Regiment,” CWO (Retd) Kelly recalled. “So I thought about that for a while and came up with the concept that every soldier in the regiment should be carrying some type of Regimental coin.”

Canada’s oldest continually-serving infantry regiment

With the encouragement of both current senior leaders and QOR veterans, the initiative moved forward, drawing on members’ efforts to thoroughly document QOR Fallen throughout the Regiment’s 160-year history. As Canada’s oldest continually-serving infantry regiment, the QOR’s existence pre-dates Confederation.

Each Remembrance Coin honours one of the unit’s Fallen

The first Coins of Remembrance were ready to be handed out on Remembrance Day 2002. The front is an image of the QOR emblem and motto – In Pace Paratus (In Peace Prepared) – and the back is inscribed with the Fallen member’s name and the date the supreme sacrifice was made.

New members are given Coins of Remembrance selected at random, CWO (Retd) Kelly explained, which is symbolic of the equality of Soldiers and Riflemen on the battlefield, regardless of rank.

“The Officers and Senior NCOs don't get privileges. They are out there and in as much danger as the soldiers are. In battle, we all live in the same conditions.”

Successive Commanding Officers carry two significant Coins

There is an exception to the rule in that the unit’s Commanding Officer and Regimental Sergeant-Major always carry the coins, which are passed on to their respective successors. The commanding officer, in fact, carries two.  As LCol Lamie explained, however, this is not a matter of privilege.

One bears the name of Ensign Malcolm McEachern, the first QOR casualty, killed in 1866 during the Battle of Ridgeway in present-day Ontario – part of the larger fight against Irish-American insurgents known as the Fenians.

The second coin honours Major-General Malcolm Smith Mercer, who was killed June 2, 1916 in Belgium and remains the highest-ranking Canadian to be killed in action.

“Carrying both coins is a message to the Officer Corps, and particularly the Commanding Officer, that you must always embrace the obligation of leading from the front and endure the risks of the regiment’s Riflemen,” said LCol Lamie. “And it also serves as a perpetual reminder that your sacrifice and contribution to the Regiment and nation may be ultimate. That level of liability – ultimate liability – is largely unique to the profession of arms.”

Successive Sergeants-Major carry Second World War hero’s Coin

Successive QOR Regimental Sergeants-Major, meanwhile, carry the coin of Sergeant Aubrey Cosens, who was killed in February 1945 near the German hamlet of Mooshof. The Regiment had suffered heavy casualties, leaving Sgt Cosens to take command of the four other surviving members of his platoon.

He sought help from a nearby tank platoon in confronting a group of Germans occupying a farmhouse, CWO (Retd) Kelly explained.

“He actually killed 20 Germans and captured 20 Germans that day,” he added. “The unfortunate part is he was later shot by a sniper. He had a problem and he found the solution was to get help. It’s a lesson for Sergeants-Major: you have senior NCOs – men and women who are talented – and we need to call on them once in a while for help.”

Giving out Remembrance Coins each November 11 is a solemn event

LCol Lamie, who took over command of the QOR in 2017, said entrusting Coins of Remembrance to new members of the Regiment each Remembrance Day is a moving experience.

“It's a powerful moment when these men and women look you in the eye. They sincerely see this as a sacred obligation and duty not only while they’re serving, but throughout their lives.  With each Coin of Remembrance I convey, and with each name of our Fallen that I read to them before I give them their coin, my own sense of service is re-inspired.” 

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