It was master corporal Aaron Pidzamecky’s first deployment abroad, and it was to lay a wreath at the grave of a fallen Hamilton soldier in England.
Seventy years ago on Oct. 29, Sergeant John Rennie of Hamilton died trying to save his fellow soldiers. The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada soldier jumped atop a grenade that was accidentally activated during a training exercise in Sussex, England.
He was 23, the same age Pidzamecky is now.
'Even though it’s not a line of battle death... all Hamiltonians and Canadians would appreciate the story of [John] Rennie.' - Argyll's pipe master Scott Balinson
“Thinking that the age I’m at now, he was making the decision selflessly to lay down his life for his fellow soldiers,” said the Mohawk College business student reached over the phone after the ceremony in England. “It’s really amazing to think about the immense courage that takes and the split-second decision he had to make and how he was able to do that.”
Pidzamecky was one of four members of the Argyll regiment selected to travel from Hamilton to the Brookwood Military Cemetery in Sussex to commemorate the 70th anniversary of Rennie’s death. The trip was the regiment's first ceremonial visit to recognize Rennie's selfless heroism.
Along with Pidzamecky was the regiment’s pipe master Scott Balinson, a staff sergeant with Hamilton Police.
“It was an emotional moment,” said Balinson, who played the bagpipes during the wreath laying ceremony. “In [Sussex], we have a gorgeous blue sky, it’s warm... the cemetery is immaculately maintained.”
Rennie was an acting sergeant with the regiment at the time and was stationed in Niagara-on-the-Lake, British Columbia and Jamaica before travelling to the UK for training.
The soldiers were preparing for the D-Day invasion when Rennie was killed. He was posthumously awarded the George Cross, an award equal in stature to the Victoria Cross.
“Before we started [the wreath ceremony], we had a chance to read the George Cross citation on his marker,” Pidzamecky said. “It talked about the man who lays down his life for another. It was a very poignant moment.”
Having just laid the wreath and listening to Balinson’s bagpipes, he had a moment to reflect.
“The entire setting in the cemetery is very tranquil and it lends itself well to introspection about leadership in the military,” he said.
The four regiment members will stay in England until Friday, and are expecting to tour the war museum and House of Parliament before they leave, Balinson said.
But he won’t soon forget the reason for his visit to England.
“An incredible generation of young men and women in World War I and II made sacrifices for years to address some very sad challenges that war presents,” he said. “In this case, even though it’s not a line of battle death... all Hamiltonians and Canadians would appreciate the story of [John] Rennie.”