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True North: From Ice Hockey to Ukraine with the Royal 22nd Regiment of Canada

The move from one job to the next was made far more exciting this year with the need to up sticks from Tidworth and move to the self-styled `true North`, Canada. As part of an exchange programme, I swapped places with my Canadian counterpart, Capt Jon Leforte and took over as as company 2IC within the light role battalion of the Royal 22nd Regiment (R22R). The ``Vandoos``, as they are known are based in Quebec City, Quebec, the Francophone province on the eastern side of the country. The Regiment was formed in 1914 to represent the thousands of Franco-Canadians who wished to serve in a French speaking unit.

Arriving in September, we were able to make the most of the last few weeks of the lovely summer temperatures, but Winter was coming…. the first thing that my new OC told me on arrival was that winter in Quebec “makes North of the Wall look like a brisk Fall day”. It was hard to believe as we walked around with no jackets in mid-September, temperatures still at a lovely 25 degrees. I was soon to find out how quickly a summer landscape could turn to a winter wonderland.

Winter was coming….

While preparations for Armistice Day were well underway, on the 8th of November the snow started to fall. And fall. The world disappeared under 2 feet of powdery snow and the temperature dropped to well into the minus double digits. Despite the cold snow, Armistice day in Canada was an incredibly emotive event – especially given the 100 year anniversary of 2019’s.

Winter having truly begun, Quebec transforms itself into a land of Winter Olympians. Company PT turns from running and tabbing to snowshoeing and cross country and Alpine skiing with every soldier seeming to have been born with the ability to move across the snow effortlessly. With the winter sports season in full swing the stage was set for my initiation into battalion hockey. On the final day before Christmas leave the Officers’ and Sgts’ messes compete in a (supposedly) friendly match watched by the rest of the battalion which also kick starts the beginning of the inter Unit round robin.

Despite fully understanding the importance of the bragging rights for this game, I was not prepared for this to mean 6 weeks of 0630 Monday morning training sessions building up to it - including trials. Unsurprisingly, I spent most of those training sessions like Bambi, but after a month of one on one skating lessons with no less than the CO himself, I showed slow signs of improvement. Needless to say I was not picked for the big game but I was permitted to take to the ice from the bench in a warm up match against the 2nd Battalion. To play in an actual game was an amazingly enjoyable experience although I suspect the opposition went easy on “l’Officier Brittanique”. We won a tightly contested match in front of a home crowd 6-5.

Oddly I have not been picked since.

With the Battalion returning from Christmas leave, the focus has now turned to the upcoming deployment to the Ukraine in April. I am due to deploy as 2IC of the Combined Arms Training Group based in Lviv in the west of Ukraine. Although the Canadian Army shares many similarities with ourselves, it will be a great to experience and work alongside them and see the difference in an operational environment.

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