I'm standing in front of the Legislature grounds. Around me are a hundred others, dressed in the same traditional Naval Blue Uniform. My feet are fifteen inches apart, angled out fifteen degrees from front. My rifle slopes up from my right toe to my left hand. The guard commander, his sword in its scabbard, gives us our final pep talk. Behind us, the A-Gun crew forms up and loads their saluting cannon.
Suddenly, the band finishes tuning. Our executive officer nods to the other officers, and begins marching towards the Admiral. The guard is called to attention. We bring our rifles to the slope position. We check our bayonettes in their scabbards. We are ready.
March on the HMCS Quadra Ceremony of the Flags
The XO's voice rings out over the lawns. Crisply, the guard commander replies. Aye aye, Sir. The band plays a stirring fanfare. Then there is silence. Again the guard commander speaks.
Her Majesty's Canadian Ship Quadra Ceremony of the Flag! By the right, Quick March.
As we take our first step, the A-Gun fires. The band begins playing Alford's Voice of the Guns. We advance onto the grounds. Our flags fly freely. We form up on the lawns, in front of the population of Victoria.
We halt. Even on the lawn, the sound of almost two hundred feet coming down is audible. The fifty-piece band is now in the centre of the lawn, next to the fountain. Behind them, unnoticed, the guard and colour party await our turn in the limelight. Off to either side, the two gun crews stand in silence.
The band marches to the front of the lawn in quick time. Then, facing left across the grounds, they halt. The drum major lowers his mace, then slowly raises it to the sound of a drumroll. It reaches its peak, then lowers in front of his face. Silence. A quick motion with the mace signals the bass drum to give four beats. The band troops in slow time, to the music of By Land and Sea. They reach the far side, then return. Suddenly, they break to quick time, sounding off the Quadra March, our Ship's marching tune.
The band returns to its starting position. But as the band halts, the drummers continue marching. Twenty paces away from the band, they too halt. They sound a drummer's call, ending in a salute to the Admiral. Then they march back, but the trumpets, acting as buglers march to the fore. The stirring notes of the Last Post play over the crowd, a tribute to those who have fallen in battle. Then they, too, return to the band.
Now, it is our turn. The drums again beat, and the guard splits down the centre. We come to the front on each side of the band, presenting our bayonettes to the reviewing officers before affixing them to our rifles. We arrive at the front of the parade as the gun crews load their cannons. Then, having proved their existance, we remove our bayonettes. Three volleys are fired, a tribute to the tradition of firing weapons to prove to the enemy that your fort is armed. We then re-affix the bayonettes, and salute the Colours. Ten provincial flags, three territorial flags, the Canadian flag, and the Naval Ensign troop to the music of our original anthem, The Maple Leaf Forever. As they troop, the cannons fire nineteen times in salute to the flags.
Again, we remove our bayonettes. We "rest on our arms", placing the muzzle of the weapon on our toe, with our hands on the butt. All heads are bowed, as the band plays the evening hymn. After the hymn, a moment of silence, broken when a voice calls out. Five minutes to Sunset, Sir
We bring our rifles back up and affix bayonettes. Four minutes have passed. One minute to Sunset, Sir We present arms to the flags. The bugle call of Sunset is played to band accompaniment. The National Anthem, O Canada, is played, followed by God Save the Queen. We slope arms, and the guard commander reports to the Admiral, requesting permission to march past.
Permission is granted. The guard commander resumes his post, and announces it: Her Majesty's Canadian Ship Quadra will march past in slow and quick time. Left and Right...Turn
The members of the Colour Party turn either left or right to face centre. The guard turns left and right to face away from centre. Again, the commander. Her Majesty's Canadian Ship Quadra, by the right, slow...March
The guard and colours march past, as the band plays on. As we pass centre, we salute the Admiral. The Admiral salutes the flags, which are now between the two halves of the guard. As we reach the back of the grounds, the band signals. Now, the entire Ship's Company is marching at quick time. As the band plays, one hundred fifty cadets sing Heart of Oak. We find ourselves accompanied by several members of the crowd, most of whom have ties to the Navy.
Forty-five minutes after it began, the Ceremony of the Flags has ended. Physically and emotionally exhausted, we collapse in the busses. The highlight of the Cadet year has ended. But the memories remain. Forever.
It has been seven years since I last participated in the Ceremony. I remember every detail of it.