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5th. Armoured Division formation sign



Cape Breton Highlanders unit sign


Cap Badge and Collar Badges of the Cape Breton Highlanders of Canada
(Credit for photographs of the badges goes to Clifford Weirmeir, with his splendid website about the Irish regiment of Canada)


the Regimental Flag of the Cape Breton Highlanders

The Cape Breton Highlanders' wartime Camp Flag

This Cape Breton Highlanders of Canada Helmet Flash Decal was worn on the left side of the MK II Helmet

Size: 1,25" x 1,25"




The Tartan of the Cape Breton Highlanders

This type of "Swinging Six" Sporran was worn by the Cape Breton Highlanders' Pipe Band.


This article appeared in the  Cape Breton Post and explains much about the ethnic background of the Cape Breton people:

Pre-war photograph of the C.B.H. pipe  band



By "E. M.A.” (J. J. MacInnis) 

The Hieland Laddie. That's a tune with the swing of the Kilt in it; there's the challenge of true men in it, aye, and the courage of stout hearts in it-a tune that is the battle song of almost all the Highland regiments, but there is no regiment that marches more proudly or with firmer step to its stirring strains than the Cape Breton Highlanders.

These men are mostly all recruits from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, the most Highland Scottish District in all Canada. It was formed in New Scotland, in the far continent beyond the Hebrides. The first settlers were the veterans of the North American Wars, old campaigners from the Fraser and Montgomery Highlanders, the heroes who fought with Wolfe at Quebec and with Murray at Montreal. After the peace of 1763 they were offered grants of land. One condition of these grants was that for every thousand acres under cultivation one reed of hemp had to be sown so as to ensure sufficient cordage for the Kings Navy. Masts were also supplied and within twenty years ships of the line were built and commissioned for service with the fleet. 

But those old Campaigners were merely the vanguard. The voyage of the "Hector" as she sailed from Lochbroom in 1773 began a new chapter. The consequences of the '45 denuded many of the straths and glens of the Highlands of their manhood. They sailed for the new world where they and their children could live in greater security. They were the men who tanned the forest primeval and from the wilderness built the many towns and villages that bear the names of Scotland’s countryside, snaking permanent for generations to conic the ties and memories of the homeland. It is with the fullest of that sentiment which still lives on, that the pipes and drums of the Cape Breton Highlanders "Pipe Band" play the slow march, the strathspey, and the jaunty reels. 

These hardy settlers experienced the difficulties and the disappointments of all pioneers in a new land; honest, forthright and self reliant men who were encouraged by their faith in the future, and their faith never failed them. They endured hardships hopefully and won through. Their descendents, whose motto is "The breed of manly men" (Siol nam Fear fearal) inherit these same qualities and from this settlement regiments of volunteers were raised whenever danger threatened. During the last great War the Town of New Waterford, in Cape Breton, sent more men to the fighting forces than any other town of equal size in the whole of the British Empire. The call for recruits found such a ready response throughout the Province that the maintenance of vital industries was in danger. Recruiting had to be stopped in the mining areas. The battle honours of the regiment are landmarks along the road to victory. 

The Colonel who so gallantly led them in those days new has the responsibility of shaping the military destiny of the Dominion. He is the Right Hon. J. L. Ralston, I1linistcr of National Defence at Ottawa. Another distinguished son of Cape Breton Island is the Hon. Angus L. MacDonald Minister of Naval Defence at Ottawa. When the period of waiting is over and when the time comes for them to face the foe, The Cape Breton Highlanders now over-seas, will remember the deeds of their fighting brothers in the last war. They will remember too that they now are "The Breed of Manly Men." 

Miners, lumbermen, farmers and fishermen, these Cape Breton Highlanders belong to a Province which produces steel for Canada's war effort from the biggest steel mill in the Dominion, and coal from mines which extend eight miles below the waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Timber from the deep forest also serves the needs of war while from the rich agricultural lands, food is exported in larger quantities than ever before.

These Highlanders mustered immediately on the outbreak of war and within a few hours they were standing guard over their native shore on the Eastern seaboard of the Atlantic. There they remained until the first Canadian armoured division was being formed for service overseas. An infantry was wanted with the special qualities of toughness for these new duties. The Cape Breton Highlanders were selected and they have the honour of being the first mechanized division.

May the Cape Breton Highlanders successfully go on as they began with the "Hieland Laddie" and to its strains they go marching on with all the confidence it inspires. It is part of their inheritance from their Gaelic forebears. And when the time comes for them to lay down their arms after victory it will be said of them that they worthily maintained the honour of being "The Breed of Manly Men" (do shiol na fear fearal). 

"Slan gun till na Gaidheal ghasda Fada is farsuin a chaídh cliu or." 



Or, as piper Dan Gillis, in remembering his time in the C.B.H., later described the ties that bound the soldiers, individuals each one, into a cohesive infantry battalion:

(from "The Breed of Manly Men", Ch.17, p. 358)

“I feel that I was very fortunate to have served with the CBH. Four years was a long time to be away from home and loved ones, but the Cape Bretoners were like family,
always there to help one another in any circumstances. The Cape Breton music, the Gaelic language, the humour – all helped to make life in general easier to contend with.”


The Breed of Manly Men: The History of The Cape Breton Highlanders.
This excellent, well written and interesting book is still available ! Just click on the picture above to go to the Editor's webpage.
Quotes shown on this webpage, which were taken from the above Regimental History, will be indicated by the above picture.

Early Training

N.B.: the last mentioned person in the back row, then still called "unknown", is actually piper Gordie MacDonald, the first C.B.H. battle fatality!

Excerpt from Ch.2, Early Training p.29-37:

The CBH left Cape Breton Island in five stages. On arrival in Saint John, the rail parties were marched a mile and a half, "slipping and sliding on the icy streets", each soldier with 60 pounds on his back, from the station to the C.B.H. quarters at Barrack Green, accompanied by the unit Pipe Band.

On 26 January, the C.B.H. held its first Church Parade outside of Cape Breton. Another Church Parade on 10 February marked the "unheralded public debut" of the 25- member C.B.H. band. The Saint John Evening Times-Globe reported that "the `skirl of the pipes' attracted scores of spectators on their way to Church and comments of praise were heard from many citizens who witnessed the Parade."

That same day, the C.B.H. Pipes and Drums participated in a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation national radio programme "On Parade".
They were introduced from the Montreal studios of the C.B.C. where the program "On Parade" was being broadcast with the band of His Majesty's Canadian Grenadier Guards. The pipers played the regimental march pasts of the four highland units of the Maritime Provinces: The Cape Breton Highlanders, The North Nova Scotia Highlanders, The Prince Edward Island Highlanders, and The Pictou Highlanders, and they also played the march "Colonel Robinson"
After the broadcast the band made a recording of their tunes.

Some days later a prominent article on the first page of the second section of the Evening Times-Globe featured the headline, "No Scarcity of Pipes in Cape Breton Unit - Could Triple the Band". The sub-heading informed readers that "Eight Highlander Pipers Can Speak Gaelic as Well as English; Two Compose Marches, Strathspeys and Reels." The writer outlined the history of the C.B.H, its affiliation with The 22nd Cheshire Regiment and mentioned that the Minister of National Defence was the Honorary Colonel of the Regiment. As were others outside of Cape Breton, he was fascinated that some band members "speak Gaelic just as easily as English." The article also explained the difference between a strathspey and a reel. Singled-out for particular mention was Pipe-Major John A. (Black Jack) MacDonald, who, it was noted, had written "Colonel Chisholm's March, Miss Elizabeth MacKinnon's March, and Colonel Small's March". Also featured were Private Gordon McQuarrie, who had also written for the Pipes and a book on Scottish music, and Piper George Sutherland, who "is said to be able to perform the difficult feat of playing the practice chanter for a solid day without taking the instrument from his lips."
Shortly after lunch hour, at 1315 hours on Tuesday, 25 February, a fire broke out in the historic Exhibition Building. There were strong winds that day and in ten minutes or so the main building was entirely afire and sparks quickly ignited the drill hall, a building used for offices, and a restaurant. The whole of the Saint John Fire Department was called out and was aided by their colleagues and equipment from West Saint John.
One soldier was killed, Regimental Sergeant-Major John Toms was cut while escaping from a second storey window, and four soldiers were badly burned. All of the C.B.H. records and regimental property were destroyed.


C.B.H. pipe band at ConnaughtRanges - June1941

P.M. "Black Jack"MacDonald far left, 3 places behind him "Bull" Bill Gillis, pipe major from 1942 and next to him on the right George Sutherland,
pipe major from september 1945


The C.B.H. Pipes and Drums proved to be quite an attraction for the citizens of Saint John and the local newspapers duly reported various events and parades at which the band was hosted or featured. On 7 March, Luxon Temple Patrol held a dinner for the C.B.H. officers and the band. In honour of their guests, members of the Patrol paraded and piped the haggis and the null. Toasts to King George VI, the Armed Forces, and to the C.B.H. were pro­posed and drunk. Captain AC Ross and Pipe-Major MacDonald spoke on behalf of the unit. Privates J.J. MacMillan, Gordon MacQuarrie and Palmer displayed their respective piano, fiddle and dancing talents for their hosts.
The Barrack Green YMCA building was the scene for an amateur show early in March. Although the C.B.H. participants did not take top prize, "Private Joe McCormick ... played a pleasant guitar accompaniment to his singing of old-time songs and won third place ... Privates Timmins and Palmer brought the house down with their clappers and drumsticks duel."
Although bad weather forced the Pipes and Drums to wear battle dress instead of kilts, a parade scheduled for Tuesday, 25 March, took place as planned.
Again on 7 April, the unit band was the only one featured in a large Church Parade.


Infantrymen of The Cape Breton Highlanders dressing for a parade during their stay at the Connaught Ranges,
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, 1941.

[1 may] The Pipe Band turned out in full dress and played the regimental march past as well as other pipe selections. All of the visitors were generous in their praise of the "Boys from Cape Breton."
The C.B.H. mounted its first guard on Parliament Hill on Monday, 26 May in a drizzling rain, relieving a contingent from the Royal Canadian Air Force (R.C.A.F.). It was the first Nova Scotia unit to perform guard duties on the Hill. Marching from Cartier Square Drill Hall and using the route along Elgin Street still employed by the present-day Changing of the Guard units, the C.B.H. contingent of 32 soldiers in summer dress commanded by 2nd Lieutenant F.C.Small and accompanied by the Pipes and Drums marched smartly to its duties.

On Friday the 13th of June, 127 new recruits from Cape Breton joined the unit at Connaught. One of them was Ted Slaney of Glace Bay:

Once we were able to dress properly and looked presentable in uniform, we were allowed to travel on the duty run to downtown Ottawa to see the sights. On our first trip we were taken to see our unit perform the Changing of the Guard on Parliament Hill. This impressed me very much and made me proud to be a Cape Breton Highlander. Our Regimental Pipes and Drums led by Pipe-Major Black Jack MacDonald looked very sharp indeed, dressed as they were in scarlet tunics, kilt, white hair sporran, and white spats. The members of the Guard wore khaki drill uniforms consisting of short-sleeved shirts and short pants. Completing the uniform were long puttees, pith helmets, web gear including ammunition pouches, small pack, and rifles with long bayonets and scabbards. The rifles and bayonets glistened in the bright Ottawa sun. All of this was in stark contrast to the RCAF Guard, whose members wore their blue uniforms, soft hats, waist belt and carried only rifle and bayonet.

The time spent in Camp Borden had been short. After breakfast on 25 September, the tents were taken down and the C.B.H. prepared to move to Camp Debert, just outside Truro, NS. There they would make the final preparations before leaving for overseas. While the troops were waiting around to board the trains in the late afternoon and early evening, a severe dust storm blew up; at times the winds reached 50 miles per hour. Respirators provided some relief but by the time the trains were loaded, "we were in some mess", and it took hours to restore a semblance of personal cleanliness. The 25 officers and 855 soldiers were all in their quarters in Debert by 1940 hours on 28 September.

This tartan, the 42nd. or Black Watch Tartan, was and still is worn by the Cape Breton Highlanders.


Effective Saturday, 8 November, all personnel were confined to Debert. The following day a Battalion muster parade was held and the unit was informed that it would be proceeding overseas. Ted Slaney recalls that "everyone was happy to hear this news, and couldn't wait to get going."



Troop trains left for Halifax on 10 November.On arrival, the Highlanders boarded H.M.T.S. ORCADES and settled in. All shore passes were cancelled as of 0900 hours on Thursday 13 November and at 1740 hours, almost 23 years to the day after the end of the First World War, and almost 27 months after the beginning of the Second World War, The Cape Breton Highlanders proceeded overseas. Over four years would pass before the unit saw Halifax again.
As the War Diary describes it:

The gangplank was raised and the ship pulled into the stream. Darkness fell as we steamed slowly down the harbour, while troops lined the decks for a last glimpse of Canada.


On 13 November 1941, the Cape Breton highlanders began their 11 day voyage to England on the troopship S.S. Orcades.

Details on S.S.Orcades:

RMS Orcades was a British built ocean liner that served on the UK-Australia route as a Royal Mail Shipfrom 1937-1939. Orcades was requistioned by the British government as a troopship in 1939.

Torpedoed and sunk by German U-12 on 10 October 1942 with the loss of 48 lives and 1,117 survivors. The survivors were picked up by the SS Narvik a Polish steamship of 7,000 gross tons and owned by the Gdynia America Line. RMS Orcades, commanded by a Captain Fox, left Capetown on the 9th October 1942. On the 10th October at about 11:30 in the morning she was hit by 2 torpedoes, but did not sink immediately. A third torpedo missed but a fourth hit and she settled beneath the waves at about 14:00.

Early in the evening of 22 November, the ORCADES anchored in the River Mersey, off Birkenhead. The CBH marched off the ship and onto British soil at 1015 hours on Monday the 24th. They then boarded trains (much smaller than the Canadian variety, and called "toy trains" by the troops) for the ride to Maida Barracks at Aldershot, England, just southwest of London.

C.B.H. Trumpeter Merle Stagg with present C.B.H. Pipe Major, Mike Campbell -
still going strong at the Preunion before the recent 2011 C.B.H. Rebadging.

Unit Guards and Fire Picquets were mounted each evening in ceremonial fashion by the R.S.M. Private Merv Stagg had joined the C.B.H. in 1940 and became the primary unit bugler. He has played at every C.B.H. Association reunion, every Remembrance Day ceremony in North Sydney since 1946, and has been a member of the Canadian Legion since the end of the war. The Duty Bugler would play reveille, call to cookhouse for meals, 30 minutes to parade, 15 minutes to parade, Orderly Officer and Orderly Sergeant calls, call for training, call for dinner, the 1600 hours retreat and lowering of the flag, Mounting of the New Guard, First Post at 2200 hours, Last Post at 2230 hours and Lights Out at 2245 hours. Truly, the daily routine of the unit was conducted according to the sound of the bugle. Soldiers were expected to know each of the calls and not responding due to non-recognition was never a reason to escape punishment. Indeed, they were obligated to know individual notes also: three `G's was the blackout signal, ended by two `G's.
There was also a Duty Piper who played "Calls" as well. Many soldiers remember the pipes at reveille playing "Johnny Cope" and one particularly familiar tune, "A Man's A Man For All That" which summoned to Defaulters Parade those who had misbehaved.

Piper Dan Gillis recalls some comical incidents involving the band:
I recall that while we were staying in tents in England, Willie Gillis was duty piper and had been out late one night at a pub and slept in the next morning. Someone rushed to his tent to awaken him and told him he was late in playing for reveille. Willie grabbed his pipes and without tuning them marched up and down the line of tents, bare naked. It was a sight beyond description and so were the sounds.
Another time, Red Gordon MacQuarrie, who was an excellent violinist as well as a piper, while we were billeted at Sheffield Park, would take his fiddle to the Sheffield Arms to play selections for the patrons and receive free drinks in return.
One night after being well rewarded for his musical contributions he strayed from the pathway through the woods on his way back to camp. He walked onto a grassy glade which was actually a swamp covered with algae under which was deep black mire. He was completely covered with it when he arrived at camp, after being rescued by some of the boys. He was no longer Red Gordon but Black Gordon instead.

Click on this photograph to watch a clip of the event
14 October, Colonel Ralston inspecting the Cape Breton Highlanders
Click on the above photograph to watch a clip of the event; at the end you will see the 5th. Div. pipe Bands.

Colonel Ralston arrived to visit his unit on 14 October. After inspecting a Guard of Honour and the Battalion, he told the Division Support Group that "The Cape Breton Highlanders will never let you down." A picture was taken of the Honorary Colonel with senior officers, the Guard of Honour and the Pipes and Drums. One of the first persons Colonel Ralston met was Pipe-Major Black Jack MacDonald with whom he had served in the 85th Battalion. On 22 March 1940, MacDonald left his job as lighthouse keeper on St. Esprit Island and joined the C.B.H. Having served with the 185th and then 85th, and married a girl from Devonshire, the first thing he did on being granted landing leave in England was to visit his father-in-law.
From 25 February until 14 April 1942, he was attached to the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of the British Army for further bagpipe instruction. In March of 1944, he was returned to Canada due to age. Immediately becoming part of the C.B.H. reserve battalion, he soldiered on for many years after the war ended.

In 1942 William (Bull) Gillis takes over as Pipe Major, (read the newspaper text further below)


(Left) This is the C.B.H. 5th. Division battle patch with the Canada title on top,
as you can see them worn on the photograph above (right). The helmet does also show a regimental decal on the left side.

Cape Breton Highlanders receive mail in Britain before moving to Italy
N.B.: The soldier on the left is wearing a brigade bar (denoting H.Q. of the Infantry Brigade of 5th. Armoured Div.)  between the Canada- and Division- patch, the other one is wearing motorcyclist's gloves.

November 21, 1941 the regiment had arrived at Liverpool on the Orcades and it would soon be boarding an American ship, The S.S. Monterey, to leave England on the way to Italy, in "Operation Timberwolf", which was the code name for the dispatch of additional Canadian troops to the Italian theatre of operations..



Map of Operation Timberwolf-locations, showing Sicily (left) and Italy (right) with Naples and the name "5 Div"

On the 23rd of October the Regiment boarded the Grace Line “Monterey” at Liverpool, all were aboard by 1730 hours all were aboard. Altogether, over 4,000 soldiers were on board: the C.B.H. (on B deck promenade, both sides of the ship), The Irish Regiment, and troops from HQ 11 C.I.B, Royal Canadian Engineers, Royal Canadian Army Service Corps, Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps, Royal Canadian Corps of Signals and advance parties from various armoured regiments. The Pipes and Drums performed on deck to large crowds, often for two hours at a time.

By the 4th of November they were passing Gibraltar. The pleasant passage which had until this time made life a round of chicken was somewhat disturbed by an incident which occurred on the evening of the 6th of November. At about a quarter after six, just after twilight, German aircraft attacked the convoy and torpedoed both a Dutch ammunition ship and the “Santa Elena”, another Grace Line ship, carrying 14th General Hospital, and a reinforcement battalion. The Dutch ship was immediately destroyed , but the “Elena” managed to stay barely afloat. The “Monterey”, under Captain Johannsen, moved as close as possible to the stricken ship, and lowered boats to pick up survivors. Men of the Cape Breton Highlanders of Canada and the Irish Regiment of Canada, who had manned Bren Gun posts on the decks during the battle with the aircraft were followed now by other men who assisted in rowing the lifeboats. All the troops of the Eleventh Bde., who were on the ship, worked ceaselessly assisting the survivors on board, lending them dry clothes, and finding them something to drink and a place to sleep. As present writer was one of the unfortunates, he can well assert that the reception accorded to the almost 1300 survivors was most admirable.

The Troopship Monterey


In World War II Monterey served as a fast troop carrier, often operating alone so she would not be slowed by formation navigation in a convoy. The United States Marine Corps chartered her in 1941 before the US declaration of war to carry 150 Chinese, Korean and Japanese missionaries and stranded US citizens back to San Francisco. Once home, she was quickly refitted to hold 3,500 soldiers. On 16 December 1941 she steamed to Hawaii with 3,349 fresh troops, returning with 800 casualties of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
On 22 August 1942, the ship was briefly acquired by the United States Navy for use as a troopship and assigned the name and designation USS Alameda (AP-68), the second U.S. Navy ship to bear that name. However, she was returned to the War Shipping Administration on 25 September 1942 and thus never served under that name.
War voyage:
8 October 1943 New York to Liverpool with 6,747 troops.
On to Gibraltar and Naples in convoy of 43 ships.
The voyage to Naples was her first taste of combat.
On 6 November 1943 in an action off Cape Bougaroun, Algeria, 25 aircraft attacked the convoy. Monterey shot down an enemy bomber which passed over the ship and tore away the radio mast before crashing into the ocean. In convoy, the Grace Line troopship Santa Elena was torpedoed and began to sink. Monterey rescued 1,675 using her boats and nets, taking the survivors to Naples.
On the 7th the ship anchored for a day in Philippeville Harbour, but attempts to transfer the survivors to another ship were prevented by a heavy sea. That night the “Santa Elena” was towed into the harbour, but sank a few hundred yards from safety, almost exactly 24 hours after having been torpedoed.

- It was at 0400 hours on the 10th of November 1943 that the ship finally slipped into Naples harbour and off-loading began shortly after 0800 hours, exactly two years to the day after the CBH left Halifax.

Cape Breton Highlanders disembark in Naples, November 1943

November 1943, Naples, Italy: the Cape Breton Highlanders are piped ashore by their own regimental Pipe Band
P.M. Gillis's hands are just showing on the left edge here: proof of Cape Breton traditional style left-handed piping!

The same event, but photograph taken earlier and from a different angle.
Debarking from the Monterey - Claude Denny leads, followed by Sid Tobin.


Excerpt from Ch.6, The Voyage to War, p.124-130:

After a march of some eight miles, the unit reached its assigned staging area just outside the town Afragola, about 35 miles from the Front Line. On 19 November 1943, the Battalion moved out and headed for Altamura with 108 vehicles.

On Christmas Eve night, members of all de­nominations attended Midnight Mass in Altamura and were back in the unit lines by 0130 hours. The Battalion began the Christmas dinner at 1200 hours. During the dinner, the Division Commander, Major-General Simonds and the Brigade Commander, Brigadier Kitching came by to wish the troops compliments of the season. The Pipes and Drums played a few tunes and escorted the Officers to the Sergeants' Mess and vice versa. 

The Pipes and Drums of the C.B.H and the Irish Regiment were selected to play for the daily changing of the Brigade Guard in Altamura and thrilled thousands of Italians by their musical talents and their highland dress. The soldiers also appreciated the skirl of the pipes. It reminded them of home and the Ceilidhs they had enjoyed in more peaceful times. As only the pipers and drummers had full-dress uniforms, the remainder having been destroyed in the Saint John fire, the sight of them wearing the kilt and the sporran was a highland heritage display greatly cherished.


Excerpt from Ch.7, The Valley of Death, p.138-139:

The first casualties occurred on 15 January at about 1100 hours when the observation post occupied by Lance-Corporal GH MacDonald and Private JA MacKinnon came under mortar fire. Private Steve Humeniuk watched from his slit trench as the Ger­mans ranged-in on the observation post, one round landing in back then another in front and finally the third very close to the two soldiers. Humeniuk and Private F Thomas immediately went out and dragged the wounded Private MacKinnon back to A Com­pany headquarters. Lance-Corporal MacDonald, from New Wa­terford, a member of the Intelligence section and a piper, had been killed. He was the first CBH fatal battle casualty of the Second World War. As the word spread throughout the unit, it hit each soldier with a shock. They were now really and truly at war. He died within minutes of being hit but not until he made an effort to pass information on the position of the enemy. He is buried in the Moro River Canadian War Cemetery near Ortona. It was an eerie coincidence as the first casualty suffered by the 85th Battalion in the First World War was another piper, Alex Gillis of Port Hood, who was wounded while on a work party at Vimy Ridge on 23 February 1917. Private MacKinnon was badly wounded and had one foot amputated.

+ L.Cpl. piper Gordie MacDonald
(in pre-war dress uniform)
the first C.B.H. battle fatality

Piper Dan Gillis knew MacDonald well:

He was a very good friend of mine. We shared the same slit trench and pup tent at Ortona. He often spoke of his girlfriend in Scotland whom he planned to marry when the war was over. I went to the cookhouse with him before he left for the observation post on the morning he was killed. I was on kitchen detail that day and I gave him some food rations. They were still in his greatcoat pocket when the body was found. We had a mutual agreement that should one of us not survive the war the other would keep his practice chanter as a remembrance. I still have Gordie's chanter.

Dan Gillis had joined the Army in June 1941 at St. George's Parish Hall in Sydney, and joined the C.B.H. in Camp Borden after a short stay in Aldershot. Just before moving overseas, he volun­teered for the Signals Platoon and stayed there until the summer of 1943.

At that time four of the pipers were being retired to a holding unit because of their age so the band needed some new recruits for their pipe section. I was asked to join the band and Archie MacKay was assigned to teach me. I loved Scottish music and was associated with it all my life. My grandfather, my dad, his six brothers and one sister all played the violin, so it was an enjoyable challenge for me. Learning to play the pipes served me well in later years, for when I went to live in Antigonish I was able to organize the Antigonish Legion Pipe Band for which I was Pipe Sergeant for many years. I also helped to organize the Legion Junior Pipe Band which won many awards in Canada, USA and Europe. Two of my sons were pipers with the band. Only three of the 14 pipers who served with the C.B.H. overseas are still living; Archie MacKay and Willie Gillis are the other two.

newspaper photo: C.B.H. pipe band in Italy

The C.B.H. Pipes and Drums on the march through an Italian town in 1944.
In the front rank, left to right Pipe Major Bill Gillis, John Archie MacDonell, John MacMillan. In the second rank. the Cooper brothers (Gordon and Malcolm) centred by Dan Gillis.
Archie MacKay and George Sutherland are in the third rank and Drummers Judson and Clarence Hunt are visible at far right.
Do observe the "left handed" reversed hand position of PipeMajor Gillis.

On 2 April, the Pipes and Drums honoured those who had fallen in battle by the playing of "Lord Lovat's Lament." The band was kept busy playing at other functions such as the closing inspection of the N.C.O. School at GUGLIANESI.

General Leese, the Army Commander, visited on 8 May, listened to the combined Pipes and Drums of the CBH and The Irish Regiment, watched each company conduct its training and then shook hands with and spoke to each of the officers

On the 11th (of May), Douglas How, a war correspondent who had been a C.B.H. officer in England, visited his old platoon. That same day the Pipe Band were warned to be ready to play retreat at 2000 hours. Normally all ranks wear slacks in the evening as protection against malaria-carrying mosquitoes. Pipe-Major Billy Gillis approached the Adjutant, Captain R.T.Bonnell and asked for permission to dress the band in kilts. Being very malaria conscious, he promised that the band would take every precaution against mosquitoes, even if it came to applying anti-mosquito ointment from the knees up. Isn't it terrible to be a Highlander?

Excerpt from
Ch.9, The Crossing of the Melfa, p.190:

The engineers were unable to put a bridge across the LIRI and an attempt made to deliver rations by putting a loaded jeep on the raft failed and all cargo went to the bottom where it stayed until recovered the next day. CAMS George MacAulay re­calls:

 I guess it would be about the last week in May 1944 that we crossed the LIRI River. My job was to help Captain Frizzell lead a convoy of jeeps carrying meals to forward troops. We came to the river just upstream from a Bailey bridge under construction and under shell fire. I searched out the sergeant and two men resting from their duties as crew of the craft which would take us across. I asked for his help and he refused, pleading exhaustion. I ordered him to help us and he still refused. I then got him to explain what we had to do to operate the craft.
The craft consisted of two planks lashed across two canvas boats. The planks had sideboards to prevent derailment of the jeep. Upstream from the craft a rope stretched between two banks. From a wheel on this crossing rope two ropes led to the bows of the boats. When these ropes were of unequal length, so as to point the boats at an angle to the current, the current carried the craft across the river.
That was the theory. Before we got to mid-stream, we sank. There were perhaps six or seven
of us on board. Among the others were a cook named Blackie, C.Q.M.S.Dave Bellefontaine and Pipe-Major Gillis, acting as CQMS for Battalion Headquarters. Blackie was washed downstream. Luckily, he did not pass into the enemy lines. The Pipe-Major fell off on the upstream side and would have been carried away under the Jeep had he not gotten a death grip on it. It is correct to refer to it as a death grip, for he kept shouting, "Get me out of here, I can't swim!"

Excerpt from Ch.10, A New Beginning, p.209:

The unit Padre, Father Alex D MacDonald, arranged for some of the C.B.H. soldiers to take part in a general audience with Pope Plus XII on 10 June. Sergeant Tom Kuchurean was one of those who participated in the audience. He remembers "the Pope greeting and addressing the assemblage in various languages, and blessing us and any religious articles we had as he was borne on his throne to and from the room." Another participant was Piper Dan Gillis. When the audience was over, Gillis decided to take a stroll through the streets of Rome. At the end the first block, he met his brother Richard who had been through the Sicilian and Italian campaigns with 2nd Field Regiment RCA. "It was quite a reunion as it was only one chance in a million that I would run into him."

 The Pipes and Drums continued to be active and spent one week at AVELLINO entertaining patients at the 1st Canadian General Hospital and also playing for those at the Reinforcement Unit. In the middle of the week, the Band returned for a short time to play at the Corps sports meet.


Excerpt from Ch.12, Coriano Ridge p.257

Two of those killed in action were Privates William McLaren and James H Marston, both of B Company. They had been taken on strength on 11 September. Two days later they were dead. Another, Private Joseph A Rogers of C Company had been with the C.B.H. for only a week. One of the wounded officers was Lieutenant E Schrieber of B Company, highly regarded by all the company NCOs and described by them as "a good little officer"; one of the highest compliments that could be paid to a platoon commander.

The unit Pipes and Drums were waiting for them when they reached Battalion HQ and played them from the field to the tune of "Highland Laddie". The War Diary records that "everyone's spirits rose when the good old pipes were heard once more."

One of the clearest memories of those who were there that day is that of the pipes and the shivers of emotion caused by hearing their distinctive sound. Piper Dan Gillis' brother was in A Company and took part in the assaults on Hill 120 and CORIANO Ridge:

 At CORIANO Ridge we knew that there were many casualties and the band was asked to play as the survivors were coming back. It was a very difficult feeling to be piping and watch as they came by to see if your brother would be with them. The tears ran down my face as I saw him waving to us as he marched past. I know that tears were in many eyes that day to see these battle weary men show such a new sense of spirit and pride when they heard the sound of the pipes.

Sergeant Karl MacKenzie, a staunch Scot who supported the C.B.H. with his heavy machine-guns as a member of the Princess Louise Fusiliers of Halifax, said he watched the C.B.H. file down from the ridge, and when the pipes and drums struck up, he was so overcome with emotion that he broke down and cried.

Fifty years later, Bob Kipping, who had been in the Mortar Platoon at CORIANO, was part of the official Canadian delegation visiting the Italian battlefields. While the landscape had changed much in the intervening five decades, he found other memories. He notes:

I couldn't recognize any of the features on the ground that we fought over, but on visiting CORIANO Ridge Cemetery, I recognized the names of many friends and comrades on the gravestones in the beautifully kept cemetery.
The memories of 50 years all flooded back and it was an emotional occasion for us all, especially when the piper played the Lament.

Shortly after the battle of CORIANO Ridge, a long article extolling the C.B.H. performance appeared in The Maple Leaf, called  "Cape Breton Lads Crack Ridge Line" and starts with:

"Highland Unit, Prominent in Coriano Fracas, Overcomes Rough Opposition to Push Huns From Hills South of Rimini
By Sergeant Howard Rutsey Staff Writer, The Maple Leaf

With the Canadians on the Adriatic -They were dog-tired, dirty, battle-worn but mighty proud. No guardsmen stepped with smarter tread than these Cape Breton Highlanders as their kilted band piped them out of battle the night of September 14."

Excerpt from Ch.13, Crossing The Lamone p.266:

Later that day, the CO told company commanders that they really must work on improving the dress and deportment of their soldiers.
Other administrative activities which took place during this quiet period included a C.B.H. and 6 Battalion Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders massed Pipes and Drums concert in the SAN
town square.

The New Embroidered C.B.H.Title - an economy version, printed on canvas, was also made.

On the 21st, all ranks were issued "the new battalion flash which has gold lettering on a crimson background and reads 'The Cape Breton Highlanders Canada'. These patches, along with the silver and red service chevrons brings the C.B.H. to the fore among conspicuous units in this town." The previous flash was a rather simple rectangular one with "C.B.H." on it. There had also been a flash with "Cape Breton Highlanders" on it which was "slipped-on" the shirt, tunic, etc. shoulder strap.

(The canvas printed titles were authorized in November of 1942, came into widespread use in 1943, and were to be phased out in the spring of 1945. It appears that printed titles were often issued during the repatriation process in the summer of 1945.)

The Pre-war C.B.H. shoulder strap slip-on

Excerpt from Ch.13, Crossing The Lamone p.268:

Even though B Company and the Pipes and Drums were in RIMINI attending a briefing on the progress of the war, the unit was ordered to move back into the Line and relieve 4PLDG the night of the 4th.

Excerpt from Ch.13, Crossing The Lamone p.270:

[19 October] The normal rest area program of training and rec­reation was put into effect and included 48 hours leave in RICCIONE, concerts given by the Pipes and Drums, range work and a communications Exercise SUDS.

November 1, 1943 Article from The Halifax Herald

The description of this newspaper clipping is below here.

Excerpt from Ch.13, Crossing The Lamone p.275:

One of Doug How's regular dispatches from Italy, dated 1 November, commented on the tradition of the CBH Pipes and Drums under Pipe-Major Bill Gillis of piping the troops out of the Line. Three extracts from that article are of particular interest as they recount anecdotes not normally found in the unit War Diary or other official reports:

It can be reported to Pipe-Major J.A.(Blackjack) MacDonald back in Sydney, NS, that The Cape Breton Highlanders' pipe band he commanded for so long is playing with a pride and ability that has given it a definite place within the division of which the battalion is a part.

Pipe-Major William Gillis of Inverness, N.S., and his kilted band of nine pipers and seven drummers recently played along an Italian road while two Canadian battalions moved up into the Line and three, including their own and a New Zealand unit, moved out. Soldiers who came out tired, dirty, slouching, marched with a new and sudden smartness as the pipes swung into the regimental march past "Highland Laddie" and others of the Scottish tunes.

This practice has become standard with the regiment but nowhere did it have more effect and more feeling than when the men came out of the Line after the tough, costly attack on CORIANO Ridge.

Excerpt from Ch.13, Crossing The Lamone p.276-277:

HQ 11 C.I.B. issued an instruction on 5 November which directed each unit to supply one N.C.O. and 14 soldiers as a Ceremonial Guard in the town square. The C.B.H. Pipes and Drums would play the unit Guard on and off parade and would also play for the Guards of units without a band. The unit Duty Officer was re­sponsible for inspecting the Guard to ensure a proper turn out.

The C.B.H. provided the Guard on seven occasions in November and the band played an additional six times. Roving patrols and Picquets were also to be supplied by each unit. Remembrance Day was marked by a ceremony in each company area. A piper played the lament before and after the two-minutes' silence.

Excerpt from Ch.13, Crossing The Lamone p.289:

The first C.B.H. Christmas spent in the Front Line was relatively uneventful for the Canadians but not for some Germans who were spotted on the dyke in front of the C.B.H. position. Artillery fire quickly disposed of them. Again, from Private MacNeil: "during Christmas the enemy seldom fired at us. We could hear them sing Christmas carols and the occasional 'Canadesi Swine' mixed in with their songs. Our 3-inch mortars hammered them almost continuously." On Christmas Night:

The CO decided to visit some of the companies, so at 2230, he, the IO, and RSM and the Provost Sergeant, with the two pipers, set out in two jeeps for D Company. It was on this trip, after they had debussed and were nearing one of D Company's positions that a sentry challenged them. Either the party were making too much noise or the sentry didn't holler loud enough. At any rate, he wasn't heard, and the second time he challenged with a burst from his Tommy-gun, and from all reports, the scrambling for cover was the fastest ever took place. The situation was well in hand in a very short time, however, and the CO and his party proceeded on their patrol.


Excerpt from Ch.13, Crossing The Lamone p.290-291:

Lieutenant Roy remembers Christmas Eve as follows:

All in all it was a very nice dinner with the bagpipes playing and everyone quite cheery and happy toasting a merrier Christmas back home next year.

On Boxing Day, the Pipes and Drums played Reveille in the Front Line for the first time.
Major M.F. MacLachlan received word that his two wounds and three years of overseas service meant that he could return to Canada for a six-month tour of duty. He imme­diately left the battalion area.
On the 27th, the unit was relieved by The Lanark and Renfrew Scottish.
When the forward companies had moved back to the rear of battalion headquarters, they found the Pipe Band there to entertain them.
By 2100 hours, all ranks were in RAVENNA some ten miles to the rear.

Excerpt from Ch.14, Bonifica And North-West Europe p.303:

Near the end of the month, C.S.M. D.D. Bellefontaine, M.M., and Private J.J. MacMillan of the Pipe Band attended a dinner at Corps Headquarters held in honour of Lieutenant-General McCreery, the Army Commander.

Major-General Hoffmeister visited the battalion on January the 26th and stayed for three hours.
Some of the events set-out in the War Diary for this visit were:

0915 to 0930 hours.......... Visit Pipe Band Practising.

1145 to 1200 hours.......... Officers Mess (Pipe Band).

"He left well pleased. Everything he inspected was in perfect shape, so there was little cause for complaint."

In Italy: (back) (?) Currie, Neil Gillis, Bob Kipping, Sgt. Keeping, (front) Frank Musgrave, Roscoe Nicholson, Tom Kucherean.

Excerpt from Ch.14, Bonifica And North-West Europe p.304:

"The Cape Breton Highlanders FROLICS OF 1945" stage show was conducted on 1 February in the MORCIANO town theatre, and was attended by the Brigade commander and a large audience. Part of the program, published by Lance-Corporal FE Musgrave, was as follows:
1. Regimental March Past by Pipe Band

4. Piping by Archie Allan MacKay
10. Eightsome Reel - Pipe Band

Excerpt from Ch.14, Bonifica And North-West Europe p.305

The battalion area was cleaned up on the 14th. Reveille the next morning was at 0500 hours, and the battalion moved off three hours later. At that time, the soldiers were told that they were participating in Exercise GOLDFLAKE. The C.B.H. movement order of 12 February was a short one, but was heavy on security.
One of the security requirements for instance was:
All mail will be strictly censored and no reference to move will be made. No Maple Leafs or cigarette boxes will be thrown from vehicles, but will be collected at all staging areas and burned under coy arrangements. Hat badges, flashes, patches, Canada’s, Canadian Volunteer Service Medal ribbons, service chevrons, and vehicle markings exclusive of 62's will be removed.

Excerpt from Ch.14, Bonifica And North-West Europe p.307:

By the 17th, the Highlanders were in "a small wood between PISA and LEGHORN, called Harrod's No.2 Camp" with the rest of the division. Word was passed that "we were definitely leaving the country and everyone seemed happy about it." At 1430 hours on the 19th, A Company plus some others left the unit area to the skirl of the pipes. Three pipers were included with A Company so that the soldiers would have familiar music on disembarkation.




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