As a young person growing up on a farm in rural Manitoba, the military was far from being on the horizon for David Atwell. After graduating from high school at the age of seventeen, he came to the city, took full time studies and took on three part-time jobs to make ends meet and pay tuition. Realizing what a daunting task this was and how he was being pulled in so many directions, he felt he needed a better plan. He thought he would have to consolidate his work efforts by trying to get one job that paid well. Well, one day as he was checking the classified section of the Winnipeg Free Press he found an ad which ended up sending the young country boy to an address that turned out to be the MacGregor Armoury, home of the Fort Garry Horse Regiment.
“I remember this young man showing up wearing cowboy boots,” says the now Lieutenant Colonel Barb McManus (Gillis). She was the recruiting officer who saw potential in the young lad and helped him go through the process. She asked him if he wanted to be an officer or a soldier. He said “What is the difference?” Based on the fact that an officer was guaranteed work during the year part-time and 12 weeks of full-time pay at a better rate, David quickly decided to become an officer. Anyone can see that 12 weeks versus 6 weeks of summer work is better and the pay difference was substantially more as well. Without realizing what he was getting into, this young, tall, strapping country boy joined the reserves.
He became an Officer Cadet and went off to Gagetown for two summers of training. He became a Lieutenant. He had married in 1984 and the couple moved off to the Okanagan where David joined the British Columbia Dragoons (BCDs). He was involved with a variety of exercises in Vernon and in Wainwright, Alberta with big events such as RendezVous. He went on FallEx in Germany and held other interesting positions. Eventually, he ended up in full time service calls out, serving in British Columbia Headquarters in Vancouver, Army Headquarters in St. Hubert, Québec, National Defence Headquarters in Ottawa and Land Forces Western Area Headquarters in Edmonton. He held various accountable positions where he continued to raise in rank through to Captain and Major.
He and his family returned to their home town when their son was quite young so to re-establish a consistent upbringing and sense of community of family and friends that a place like Winnipeg brings. David Atwell worked full-time as an IT Manager for the Manitoba Telephone System and worked with the reserves on a part-time basis. He returned proudly to the Fort Garry Horse where he worked as Second in Command to Kelly Woiden who is now Brigadier General Woiden. David became Lieutenant Colonel in 2001 until 2005 and again for a second time, in 2009 until the present. During the gap years, he worked at Brigade Headquarters, was President of the Fort Garry Horse Association and Aide-de-Camp to Lieutenant Governor John Harvard and Lenore Berscheid while still working full-time for MTS.
From his first tour of duty as the commanding officer, Lt. Col. David Atwell helped to make a number of projects come to fruition that had been started by his predecessor. He helped establish two ceremonial monuments that now stand in France. Both monuments recognize the Lord Stratchona’s Horse in Moreuil and the Fort Garry Horse who fought in Cambrai. Flowerdew won the Victoria Cross in Moreuil and Harcus Strachan won the Victoria Cross in Cambrai. Two beautiful monuments now stand near these cities.
As well, Lieutenant Colonel Atwell helped bring back some special stones from Calgary. The Calgary base was in the process of closing down and so these special stones were temporarily moved to Edmonton and then finally into Winnipeg. Why are these stones so special? These stones are from Mount Worthington where Lieutenant Colonel Martin died. At the time of Lieutenant Colonel Martin’s death, he was the commanding officer of the regular Fort Garry Horse Regiment. Meanwhile, Mount Worthington is named after the man who is considered to be the father of the Canadian Armoured Corps. So, in honour of Lieutenant Colonel Martin, the special stones were brought and paced in a park beside the McGregor Armoury. Martin Park features these Mount Worthington stones, a Sherman tank and a Lynx reconnaissance vehicle.
Another major contribution that Lieutenant Colonel David Atwell has accomplished was to restore the numbers of the Fort Garry Horse. Due to a number of factors including sending soldiers to Afghanistan, the number of parading members was down to about 95 members when he took over. Now, they have about 170 members. This is an excellent accomplishment. What is even more extraordinary is that these numbers of soldiers will now be split into two.
The first time Lieutenant Colonel Atwell was the CO, he was ordered to start an Engineering Unit as the province had not had one in a very long time. So, he did as he was ordered and started the process. It has now grown sufficiently to the point where the Unit will be split from not only Reconnaissance but also to an Engineering Unit. It will be officially known as 31 Engineer Squadron. They are about 70 members strong and they will be officially stood up at the parade scheduled for the Manitoba Legislature on Saturday, April 14, 2012.
This weekend is full of activities that the Lieutenant Colonel Atwell has been a part of for some time both with the military, as part of the association, as part of the book project committee and part of the coordinating planning committee for the 100th anniversary. Plans are coming together. There will be a Meet and Greet Friday evening. Saturday, there will be two parades with present members, past members or old comrades, current cadets and ghost squadron. There will be a five mounted horse troop that will commence the parade. From the “Freedom of the City” parade at City Hall, the Fort Garry Horse will be on the move down Main Street to Portage Avenue to the Legislature. Another very important parade will occur there with the new Engineering Unit being recognized. Later that evening, there will be a big cavalry gala dinner and dance at the Fort Garry Hotel. This is a black-tie event with formal mess kit or the equivalent for men and women. Sunday, there will be a final chance for the Fort Garry family to say good-bye to each other at a brunch at the McGregor Armouries.
Lieutenant Colonel David Atwell says that he has had an excellent experience with the 30 years of his military history. He has met and worked with truly remarkable people and for that he is truly honoured and humble.
He knew the FGH was like a family that cared because of what happened back in 1992 when he came back to be with his dying father from his military job in Edmonton. No one from the Fort Garry Horse Regiment had been informed that he was back and no one knew that he would be soon burying is father. At the funeral, a number of the Fort Garry Horse members showed up on their own to support to Dave when his father had passed on to the other side. By that point in time, David Atwell had been away from Winnipeg and the FGH for over 10 years. They did not forget him. He was touched by the way the Fort Garry Horse Regimental family took the time to be part of his family and help him during a difficult time. He will never forget that.
This sentiment is echoed by people like Lieutenant Colonel Barb McManus who says “Once a Garry, always a Garry.” Most people who have served with the regiment find that there is a connection and a feeling of camaraderie that pervades the atmosphere and intent beyond being just a military establishment. There is something very special happening here in a unit that lives by its creed and motto – “Facta Non Verba” which simply means in Latin – “Deeds not Words.”
It is with people who command and lead by example, like Lieutenant Colonel David Atwell who gets things done. Gord Askew says that David is the “Engine that drives this thing” and Larry Lajeunesse and Mike McNorgan recognize how much and how hard David Atwell works. Lieutenant Colonel David Atwell has taken to heart the motto of “Facta non Verba” and lives by it. If he can see a way to make it happen, he makes it happen with the help of a lot of people. It is difficult to mention all these people by name and they include among so many of them, people such as Colonel Gary Solar, Lieutenant Colonel Rod Klinck, Lieutenant Colonel Larry Lajeunesse, Lieutenant Colonel David Stones, Honourary Colonel Andrew Paterson, Honourary Lieutanant-Colonel Brian Hastings, Chief Warrant Officer Gord Crossley, Major Mike McNorgan, Regimental Sergeant Major Roger Coutu, Major Dave Kolton and the list goes on. There are literally hundreds of more people who have been crucial to the Fort Garry Horse. This does not even include all the wonderful people who have already passed on in life. David said that one of his fondest memories was going over to the D-Day beaches with the veterans as they would open right up and tell you what had happened when otherwise they had stayed silent about the atrocities of war and what they had been through. On the actual battlefields, the veterans gladly told their stories. It is with honour that David has visited World War I and War II locations of battles in Europe. As an avid historian, this brings home stories from the past and comes alive for him.
Many of these kinds of stories are to be found in the 100 year history book that the Fort Garry Horse has been working on for over eight years. Mike McNorgan and Gord Crossley have finalized the book writings and it is to be released today. The title of the book bears their motto , “Facta Non Verba” and again that is how the regimental members learn to live their lives and that is the way Lieutenant Colonel David Atwell lives his military and civilian lives too. He is a leader of the pack.