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History / Topics & Posted Articles

Post by Teentitan on Sun 11 Mar 2012, 11:41

TORONTO - It’s unlikely that Don Cherry has ever heard of it, even though it’s the sort of thing that would appeal to his sense of history: rough, tough, no frills, no tears and lots of guts.

It’s the Imjin River Cup Memorial hockey tournament in Seoul, South Korea —  dubbed the most prestigious hockey tournament in all of north-east Asia, now in it’s 12th year, and which had its inspiration from Canadian soldiers in the Korean war playing hockey on the Imjin river at the front in 1952-53.

In particular, “C” and “D” companies of the 3rd Battalion Princess Pats, shared a particularly nasty position known as “The Hook” near the Imjin River, which they’d inherited from the Black Watch after a severe attack by the Chinese.

The battalion had suffered its first casualties when it was called upon to help the Black Watch in a counter-attack role to drive the Chinese off the Hook position. The two companies then took over the Hook position when the Black Watch withdrew.

I was a “D” Company platoon commander at the time, and what I remember most about the “Hook” was the ever-prevailing smell of rotting bodies, many of which were buried by shellfire in the defensive breastworks of the trenches. All were Chinese bodies, which we didn’t give much of a damn about.

As winter progressed, troops in reserve built a rink on the frozen Imjin river behind our lines. Sandbags constituted the boards. First it was the Princess Pats playing, then other Canadian unit teams. At the start there were no hockey uniforms. Players wore battle dress, no pads, no shin guards, no real equipment except skates and sticks.

But immensely popular. “To calm and divert soldiers in the war,” is how Vince Courtenay, formerly of “C” Company remembers the hockey.

Eventually, makeshift hockey uniforms were acquired. The whole division was aware of hockey games being played under the sound of artillery fire. Maj.-Gen. M.A.R. West, commanding Commonwealth Division, ceremonially dropped the puck in the regimental championship game.

At one point, officers were concerned that more injuries might occur from Imjin hockey than from enemy action. In that first game, one player’s leg was broken. As I say, Don Cherry would have loved it.

When the war ended and the troops came home, Imjin hockey was relegated to fading memories and a few nostalgic photos.

Then around 2000, the Canadian owner of Gecko’s saloon in Itaewon, a suburb of Seoul, came across an old photo of Imjin hockey but hadn’t a clue what it meant. His pal, Vince Courtenay, told him the story of Imjin River hockey in the midst of war, and the rest is history.

The owner of Geckos, Chris Damboise, an animated cartoon producer from B.C., was so intrigued that he wrote the regimental adjutant of the Patricias and got permission to wear the PPCLI crest on the uniforms of his hockey team — the Gecko Glaciers.

Other teams adopted the names of Canadian regiments. Players are a mixture of Canadian expats living and working around Seoul, and Korean athletes whom they’ve taught to play hockey. Enthusiasm exceeds the available talent.

Not belonging to any formal league, every year there’s an invitational tournament spread over six weeks starting in April for what is now known as the Imjin River Memorial Cup.

Off season, the Cup is on permanent display in Gecko’s Café in Itaewon, along with the original photo of soldiers taking time out from war to play our national game.

Interestingly, a photo of Imjin River hockey is reputed to be in one of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s offices — big hockey fan that he is. It also adorns the reception area of Sen. Yonah Martin’s office in Ottawa. Born in Korea, Sen. Martin has become something of a patron saint to Canadian Korean war veterans.

Some are hoping to put Gecko’s Café on the itinerary for reunion visits of Canadian veterans to Korea. All that’s missing is a plug by Hockey Canada’s Don Cherry — the soldiers’ friend — who’d be right at home with the Gecko Glaciers.

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Long-range sniping of astonishing merit

Post by Teentitan on Sun 25 Mar 2012, 20:54

As the war in Afghanistan winds down, a couple of records stand out that in themselves defy anything that has happened in the past — long-range sniping.

To say the war is winding down is not because the Taliban enemy has been beaten, but because the U.S. and its coalition allies have had a bellyful of fighting an enemy that gets refuge by a neighboring country (Pakistan), and keeps adding recruits and keeps coming back for more.

Technology and training have produced long-range snipers of astonishing merit.

Snipers have always commanded unusual respect in war. They are special people whose talent, or gift, was largely unknown until they went to war. Snipers are regarded by fellow soldiers as almost mystical. Yes, they are excellent shots (most combat soldiers are so-so shots), but they have extraordinary patience and have trained themselves to lie up for hours without moving, in order to get a kill-shot.
While soldiers tend to revere their own snipers, they make short work of enemy snipers they may spot or, better still, capture. Snipers are rarely taken alive.

The First World War was more a sniper’s war for our side than the Second World War. A Canadian Ojibwa, Francis “Peggy” Pegahmabow, picked off 387 Germans as a sniper in the First World War and earned a Military Medal (MM) and two Bars. A Metis, rodeo rider Henry Norwest, recorded 155 kills and a MM and Bar, before being killed by a German sniper as the war ended.
In the Second World War, when Hitler attacked Russia in 1941, Lyudmilla Pavlichenko was a 25-year old student whose doctor had recommended she take rifle practice to steady her nerves. By the war’s end, she had 309 sniper kills and had stopped counting.
On a propaganda visit to Canada, she was awarded a special sniper’s rifle made by the John Inglis company in Toronto. I interviewed her in Moscow in the mid-1960s when she was a grandmotherly babushka. She beamed happily, remembering Canada fondly, and seemed mildly embarrassed to recall her talent as a sniper.

Others who found they had the gift of shooting straight and figuring out firing angles, were Canadian air aces Billy Bishop (72 planes shot down) and Billy Barker (50 kills). Their marksmanship was better than their skill as pilots.

The top sniper in the Korean war was a Chinese — Zhang Taofang — who is said to have shot 71 Americans in 40 days, and 115 by the war’s end. Chinese propaganda being what it is, one can’t be sure of where fact and fantasy meet.
Afghanistan was a different form of sniping — long-range stuff.

Until 2002, the long-range record for a sniper kill was a 2,500-yard shot (1.42 miles) in Vietnam by Sgt. Carlos Hathcock, a U.S. Marine. Hathcock recorded 93 kills, and was known to Vietnamese as “White Feather” because of a feather he wore. The enemy placed a $30,000 bounty on him, and other Marines took to wearing a white feather to confuse enemy snipers. Hathcock remains a legend in Marine ranks.

After Vietnam, in recollecting his experiences, Hathcock mused: “I like shooting and I love hunting. But I never did enjoy killing. It’s my job. If I don’t get those bastards, then they’re gonna kill a lot of kids dressed up like Marines. That’s how I look at it.”

In Afghanistan, 2002, Cpl. Rob Furlong of the Princess Pats, knocked off a Taliban at 2,657 yards (1.5 miles). Grateful Americans awarded Furlong a Bronze Star for his record-setting shot.

Furlong’s record was shattered in 2009 by British Cpl. Craig Harrison of the Life Guards, who knocked off two Taliban operating a machine gun 2,707 yards away (1.54 miles) that was in the midst of ambushing a British Patrol.

Harrison fired seven shots before his eighth one killed the gunner. His ninth shot killed the Taliban fighter who took over. Throughout, Harrison’s spotter with binoculars directed and corrected his fire. Put another way, Harrison’s fatal shot was roughly 27 football fields distant.

The sniper’s rifle used by Harrison was a 15-pound Arctic Warfare Magnum L115A3 (whatever that is) with a super scope. Its retail value is estimated at $25,000. At that, his lethal shots had to be fired six feet off target, and almost two-feet to one side to allow for wind. The bullet took between three and four seconds to reach the target. So some luck was involved, with the targeted machine gunner himself being very still.

Cpl. Harrison seems quite a guy. Apparently, an earlier shot had deflected through his helmet, and on a patrol, a roadside bomb overturned his vehicle, breaking both his arms. None of this shook his confidence or disrupted his aim.

So who would be the greatest sniper of all time? It depends on one’s outlook — best shot, longest short, or most kills? Arguably, the most successful sniper in any war was a Finnish soldier, Simo Hayha, who was a sniper in Finland’s winter war of 1939-40 in -20C to -40C weather. Using open sights, Hayha killed 505 Red Army soldiers in 100 days, and in that same period, killed another 200 with a sub-machine gun.

The Soviets sent special sniper teams to get Hayha. A Russian sniper shot him in the face, blowing off his left jaw and cheekbone, but he survived to become a folk hero in his country.

A little guy at 5-foot-3, Hayha preferred open sights to telescopic sights so he didn’t have to raise his head high and might be spotted. Also, there was no risk of the telescopic sight fogging over, or being detected if there was a glint from sunlight. He stuffed snow in his mouth in case his breath vapor might pinpoint his location.

After the war Hayha became a moose hunter and dog breeder, often hunting with then-Finnish president Urho Kekkonen. Asked if he regretted killing so many people, he answered rather as Marine Carlos Hathcock would: “I did what I was told as well as I could.” It could well be the motto for all wartime snipers.

Simo Hayha died in 2002 at age 97

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A race against time to tell war stories

Post by Teentitan on Wed 28 Mar 2012, 13:14

Randy Young already has the camera rolling in the Fireside Lounge of the Royal Canadian Legion, Branch No. 88 in Maple Ridge late on a Friday, and he’s on his second interview. It’s supper time, and he still has two more interviews that evening.

But James Murphy’s story starts slowly as the memories of 70 years ago of Italy, France, Belgium and the Netherlands, gradually rise to the surface.

The two are nursing short glasses of scotch, Young also has a beer, and Murphy recalls signing up with the Canadian army in Calgary in 1941, joining the 1st Survey Regiment, an artillery group, before getting tired of the shells and explosions and switching to transport, where he spent most of the war hauling supplies by army truck.

“I tell you, a lot of the roads (in Italy), some of them a donkey wouldn’t dare go on,” he says.

Murphy was in Italy in 1943, then moved to northern Europe in February 1945, after the D-Day invasion of occupied Europe in June 6, 1944. For that, even though he and others were slogging it out a year before the Allied invasion, he was nicknamed a “D-Day Dodger.”

Young has recorded hundreds of war stories and knew he only needed to jog the mind and the memories will come flooding back.

“Can you tell me about some of the hardships you’ve seen, or the good times or bad times?” he implores.

He’s heard many stories from Canadian veterans who helped liberate the Netherlands from German occupation in 1944.

“When we first went there, people were starving. The Germans took everything from them,” he says, adding the troops often shared their rations or care packages with the starving Dutch population.

The conversation then turns to the 50th anniversary of that event.

Murphy was among the veterans who returned to Holland in 1995 and paraded through the streets to welcoming crowds.

“I felt great about it. Shook a lot of hands,” Murphy said.

Someone gave him a beer, but it disappeared just as quickly, he said.

Young, though, picks up on the emotions that surface from that memory.

“I noticed that’s really touched you. It gets to you,” he says.

Young has been through the routine before. More than 300 times – the number of interviews he’s already got on tape and stored in the Harry Watts Veterans Video Library, part of the Friends of Veterans Canada charity he founded in Ontario in April 2008.

Young’s goal is to interview as many of Canada’s 100,000 or so surviving veterans as he can.

“As long as it takes,” he says.

“When the last one’s gone, is when I’ll stop.”

Young comes from a military family and is motivated by the memory of a scout leader Harold Lapointe, who helped him as a kid growing up in a single-parent home.

It was only by chance 30 years later that he learned Lapointe was a gunner in a Halifax bomber who was shot down in Belgium, crawled under a haystack, where he found a stash of hidden booze and anesthetized himself in order to relocate his broken foot before later capture and interrogation by German troops.

“I found then that these stories needed to be saved because they made an impression in my life.”

He wants to record as many as he can. He points out in one in 12 Canadians volunteered for the Second World War.

“That’s got to say something for our country.

“What do we owe those guys and gals? We owe them the debt of remembrance.”

And those memories have to be recorded or it will show the country lacking, he added.

He’s even thrown a bit of money into the mix. The registered charity will pay $20 per hour of taped interviews under its Video a Veteran for Cash program.

After a few days in Maple Ridge, Young, from London, Ont., is off to Kelowna, but also wants to get to White Rock to hear veterans there.

Murphy tells Young that being in the army was the time of his life – and where he met his wife. She was with a group of his friends in a pub one day when he first saw Joan, from Brighton, in southern England.

Joan considers herself somewhat psychic and said when she saw Murphy it flashed on her, that was her future husband.

They had six children and returned to Alberta after the war before moving to the coast in 1957.

“My wife, she didn’t care much for Alberta, the cold winters, the long winters.

“Being from the coast in England, she loved it out here.”

It wasn’t easy street in peacetime, however.

Young found it tough to find work after he returned in November 1945, but got on with the Canadian Pacific Railway, which he hated, then soon after as a welder in Edmonton. He taught himself that skill and worked as a welder/fabricator for the next five decades.

Young senses the interview is winding down.

So what did you learn from your time in the army? he asks.

He likes to end every interview with that question.

Would he do it again?

Yes, says Murphy, although he’d probably pick his regiment more carefully.

Would you recommend it to kids today? asks Young.

“Definitely, it makes a man out of you, know how to take orders, how to behave yourself.

“I quite enjoyed the army, although we had some tough times.

“I think the boys in the infantry were the ones who had the real hard time.”

The interview is in the can and they both still have their drinks.

Young’s still got two interviews to go, but already he’s asking Murphy about his war bride wife and if she’d like to tell her story about arriving in sub-arctic Alberta.

He keeps peppering Murphy with a few final questions.

What about war in general?

“If the enemy comes into your country, if you think enough of your country, you have to fight,” Murphy says.

“You’re darned right,” Young says loudly.

“Let’s have a cheers to that one. Cheers.”

The two clink their glasses of scotch.

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'We Never Lost a Battle': Devil's Brigade honoured

Post by Teentitan on Sat 31 Mar 2012, 12:24

Their story isn't well known, but Canada's Special Forces JTF 2, the Green Berets and U.S. Navy SEALs can trace their heritage back to the first top secret commando unit called the "Devils Brigade."

During the Second World War, the idea was pitched to Lord Mountbatten and with Winston Churchill and FDR's blessing they agreed to train an elite force to fight the Nazis. It would be The Allies' "secret weapon."

Based in Helena, Montana the call went out for miners, lumberjacks, tough guys with survival skills.

All volunteers. A small unit of 1,800 men, Canadians and Americans, trained side by side in what was then considered unconventional warfare.

They learned hand to hand combat, cold weather survival skills, mountain climbing and parachuting so they could sneak in behind enemy lines.

Anyone who failed, and there were many, were sent back.

Only the best of the best were chosen.

Theirs was described as a suicide mission -- to take on tasks considered missions impossible. Like blowing up nuclear power plants in Norway.

That didn't come to pass, their first battle was to take on the Germans, who had entrenched themselves on the mountain tops of Italy. Monte La Difensa … the Nazis had the high ground, could see the enemy coming. So the Devils marched enough men and supplies up the back of the mountain attacking in the dark, taking the Germans by surprise.

The Devil's Brigade would go on to liberate towns in Italy and France.

Though they lost many many men, they never lost a battle.

But it's how they got their name that is the stuff of legend. The brigade would go on nighttime raids. They would blacken their faces using burnt cork from wine bottles.

Bill Storey of Winnipeg, one of the first to join this special unit, says they captured a diary from a German captain who wrote "the Black Devils are all around us, we never know where they're going to hit or strike next."

"We were pretty damn deadly to be quite frank," says Storey.

The name, the Black Devils, stuck. Their commander, a well respected man called Col. Frederick, came up with the idea of leaving calling cards with the unit's logo -- a red spearhead with the name USA CANADA and in German beside it, the words "the worst is yet to come." It was a form of psychological warfare and it worked. The "Devils" became a feared fighting force and in just two years captured 30,000 prisoners of war.

The force was the inspiration for Hollywood movies. In 1968 William Holden and Cliff Robertson starred in "The Devil's Brigade." An amusing take where Americans and Canadians brawl, then bond as a fighting unit and the Canadians all have fake sounding Scottish accents.

And in 2009 Quentin Tarantino's "Inglorious Basterds" features an elite fighting unit commanded by actor Brad Pitt who wears the uniform and insignia of the Devil's Brigade.

At the Canadian Embassy in Washington DC there was a ceremony to honour the Devils and raise awareness about legislation before the U.S. Congress to honour the 230 survivors with one of America's highest awards, the Congressional Gold Medal. Only 144 have been given out, the first to George Washington.

The soldiers we talked to were pretty excited.

After all, their story isn't that well known and there won't be many more reunions. The men are in the 80s and 90s but sharp as tacks.

Jack Callowhill of Stoney Creek looked to his buddy Charlie Mann and said if they get the medal: "that will be our swan song, yup that will be it for us."

Read more: http://www.ctv.ca/CTVNews/NationalNews/20120301/ww2-black-devils-brigade-honoured-joy-malbon-120301/#ixzz1qiE2C0DB
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Canada remembers Vimy Ridge

Post by Teentitan on Sun 08 Apr 2012, 11:36

Some historians will tell you that Canada really defined itself as a nation 95 years ago, at Vimy Ridge in France.

Thousands of young people from across the country are overseas this weekend, getting ready for a hallowed ceremony at the Vimy Ridge memorial to honour the Canadians who mounted a daring battle there during the Great War.

On Easter Monday, April 9, 1917, at 5:30 in the morning, all four divisions of the Canadian Corps came together for the first time and stormed the seven-kilometre-wide ridge that had been long held by the Germans, dug in with machine guns. They suffered more than 10,600 casualties --3,598 of whom died -- but by April 12 they had captured it, achieving what others could not.

"The Canadians would be assaulting over an open graveyard, since previous French attacks had failed, with over 100,000 casualties," writes the Canadian War Museum on a special Vimy Ridge memorial site. "The key to victory would be a devastating artillery barrage that would not only isolate enemy trenches, but provide a moving wall of high explosives and shrapnel to force the Germans to stay in their deep dugouts and away from their machine guns."

The monument to the war dead stands at the highest point of Vimy Ridge, on Hill 145. It was the most important feature at the ridge, and was captured in a frontal bayonet charge by Canadians against machine-gun positions.

Ceremonies are also being held across Canada, including an overnight cadet vigil Sunday at the National War Memorial in Ottawa, and a special one in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island on Saturday.

"They invented something that had never been done before, called the rolling barrage -- allied guns were pounding down on Vimy Ridge, and every few minutes the Canadians would move forward," said Mike Duffy, senator for Cavendish, P.E.I. "Never again after that battle did Canadians fight under another command -- British Command, French Command, whatever, we always fought as Canadians as a unit ever since then. That's what they really mean by at that battle Canada became a country."

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N.L. soldiers proud of shared heritage with Aussie, Kiwi infantry

Post by Teentitan on Sun 22 Apr 2012, 11:38

TORONTO - They’ve been marching again in St John's, Newfoundland.

As dawn rose Saturday in thin increments of grey, a company from the 1st Battalion, Royal Newfoundland Regiment stepped out brightly from its armoury and headed to the Pleasantville cenotaph.

Wreaths were laid, prayers offered, a few quiet words spoken and then a bugler from the regimental band took his cue.

The Last Post rang out and, after two minutes of silence the notes of reveille rose to split the chilled dawn air.

There was little pomp but plenty of circumstance as these troops, representatives of the Royal Canadian Legion and the St Johns general public paid their simple annual tribute to men who died in one of the bloodiest battles of World War I - and saluted their comrades-in-arms at the other end of the world.

Wednesday is ANZAC Day, April 25. It’s the one day of the year that Australia and New Zealand stops to publicly honour the dead of all wars.

In this most remote part of Canada, they traditionally pause to remember too, albeit a few days earlier than most.

Yesterday’s commemoration was just the first in a series across Canada this week to honour the sacrifice of ANZAC troops, including wreath laying ceremonies in London Ont., Ottawa, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver.

ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps and it has a proud and direct link with the fighting men of Newfoundland.

It was born in 1915 when the first ANZACs joined their British and French counterparts in an expedition to capture the Gallipoli Peninsula, following Winston Churchill’s plan to force the way to the Black Sea for the Allied navies.

The ultimate objective was to seize Constantinople, the capital of the Ottoman Empire, a German war ally.

The ANZAC force waded ashore at Gallipoli at dawn on 25 April, 1915 meeting fierce resistance from the Ottoman Army. They immediately started to dig in - earning the tag ``diggers’’ which has been used to describe Australian and New Zealand infantry troops every since.

Aussies and Kiwis stayed together and fought the Turks with an almost reckless ferocity of purpose for eight months. They took part in battles that are forever etched in their military lore, as much a part of the collective antipodean consciousness as Vimy Ridge is to Canadians.

In one battle alone at a place called Lone Pine, the Australians lost close to 2,200 men fighting for a piece of land no bigger than a tennis court.

They won the ground and seven Victoria Crosses were earned in the process.

It’s a little known historical fact that the Newfoundland Regiment was also at Gallipoli (the Royal prefix came later).

It was the only military formation from North America to serve on those bloody Turkish shores, joining Allied troops trying to reach Constantinople.

The Newfoundlanders arrived a few months after the original landings and fought just as hard and copped just as much a battering.

Their fighting skill was so valued that they were chosen to stay and cover the eventual withdrawal of their battered Aussie and Kiwi mates, being the last regimental formation to depart.

That was then and this is now.

Major Andrew Heale of the Royal Newfoundlanders told the Toronto Sun his troops are proud to be the first every year to commemorate the ANZAC legend.

“When our regiment went to Gallipoli, Newfoundland wasn’t even part of Canada,” Major Heale said. “It was a Dominion of the British Empire but the men were keen to fight wherever they were called.

“We sent a full battalion of around 1,000 men who were attached to the British 29th Division at Gallipoli. We then lost around 40 soldiers in combat and to disease in three months of pitched fighting.

“After that they were taken out as the last to leave before heading to the Western Front, still with the British 29th.”

What happened next to the men from Newfoundland is a matter of historical fact. Their own suffering and pain, as well as that of the loved ones they left behind, is always chillingly recalled in the battle of Beaumont-Hamel.

Still, despite having its own fallen to mourn, the 1st Battalion of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment takes time every year to march for their Commonwealth cousins and their losses.

“We have very strong links with the Aussies and Kiwis still,” Major Heale said. “They always send men to join our parade and we have strong regimental associations with units like the Royal New South Wales Regiment in Australia.

“It’s part of our history. The name Gallipoli is on our battle honours. We are very proud of that, you know”

It’s fair to say Australians and New Zealanders are both flattered and esteemed in equal measure by virtue of that association too.

Lest we forget.


The Royal Newfoundland Regiment traces its origins to 1795, and since 1949 has been a militia or reserve unit of the Canadian Army.

During the First World War the battalion-sized regiment was the only North American unit to fight in the Gallipoli campaign of 1915.

Later in the war the regiment was virtually wiped out at Beaumont-Hamel on July 1, 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme. Since then July 1 has been marked as Memorial Day in Newfoundland and Labrador.

More than 6,000 men served overseas during World War I in the regiment, which came to be known as the Blue Puttees.

In recognition of the unit’s valour during the later battles at Ypres of 1917, King George V bestowed upon the regiment the prefix “Royal” on Sept. 28, 1917, renaming it the Royal Newfoundland Regiment.

This was the only time during WWI that this honour was given and only the third time in the history of the British Army that it has been given during a time of war, the last occasion having been 101 years earlier.

Today the regiment consists of an infantry battalion of two companies and a battalion headquarters. Its honorary colonel-in-chief is Anne, Princess Royal.

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Kapyong a great Canadian moment

Post by Teentitan on Sat 28 Apr 2012, 13:14

In the first week of April, Canada paid homage to the Battle for Vimy Ridge, fought by the Canadian Corps 95 years ago, and was the first decisive victory for the Allies in that war.

Well planned and rehearsed, it was also one of the most successful set-piece attacks in any war – capturing a hitherto impregnable position that cost the British and French 150,000 casualties in failed attacks. The unexpected victory cost Canada 3,500 killed, and made many who fought there feel “truly Canadian” for the first time in their lives. (This may surprise our Department of Citizenship and Immigration, which says there was no such thing as a “Canadian” before the Citizenship Act of 1947).

Thirty-four years after Vimy, on April 24-25, 1951, the Princess Pats in the Korean war fought what is arguably one of the outstanding defensive battles fought in that or any other war: Kapyong.

Though Kapyong isn’t even close to the scale of the Vimy Ridge battle, it was a critical in that the 2nd Battalion of the Pats was all that was preventing a massive Chinese assault across the whole Korean front, from sweeping up the Kapyong valley and re-capturing Seoul.

Everyone knew that attack was coming and that it was do or die. It may sound melodramatic, but the commanding officer of the Pats, Col. Jim Stone, let it be known that there’d be no retreat -- that his 800 troops would stop the Chinese, or be killed in the process. No retreat. No surrender.

Such a mandate tends to focus the most casual soldier.

Lt. Col. Stone was something of a legend in the army. Enlisting as a private in the Loyal Edmonton Regiment in WWII, he was a natural soldier and served in every rank up to colonel. He was chary about awarding medals, and believed soldiers did what soldiers do: Courage was their role and their duty. By the time he retired, Jim Stone had the Distinguish Service Order (DSO) and two bars – a three-time winner.

Stone had a good eye for ground, and before the attack surveyed the area and figured out he’d attack if he were the Chinese. He shifted his companies and platoons accordingly, to cover likely advances with fire.

On the other side of the mouth of the Kapyong valley was the 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment – comprising roughly 800 soldiers like the PPCLI.

The Chinese attack hit the Australians first. Heavy fighting and casualties forced the Aussies to withdraw. On the night of April 24, it was the Pats alone who held the pass – supported by American tanks and New Zealand artillery.

Without attempting to itemize that battle, parts of the Canadian defences were overrun. One platoon commander called artillery down on his own position. There was hand-to-hand fighting. Company headquarters in the rear was surrounded -- cooks and bottle washers manned machine guns in for repair, and inflicted horrendous casualties.

By dawn, the Pats were still there, the Chinese were beaten and withdrew. To the victors, taking their lead from their colonel, it was no big deal. They did what soldiers do.

Three things distinguish a great defensive battle: The enemy must be halted in their tracks; severe casualties must be inflicted on the enemy; few casualties should be endured by the defenders.

The Pats not only beat the attackers, but inflicted huge, unknown numbers of casualties, yet suffered “only” 10 killed and 23 wounded.

In war, 10 killed doesn’t sound like a big battle. But Kapyong broke the Chinese attack and is testimony to the steadiness and resolve of Canadian soldiers.

On the day the Patricias fought Kapyong, on the Korean coast, a battalion of the Gloucestershire Regiment (the Glorious Glosters) was in the process of being wiped out by the Chinese. Something like 60 of the battalion escaped, the rest being killed or taken prisoner. The CO, Lt.Col. James Carne, was awarded the Victoria Cross.

But the battalion was no more. The Pats went on to fight another day.

Not much fuss was made in Canada about Kapyong, but Australia recognizes its significance, and has ceremonies every year on the anniversary.

On ANZAC day last year, the 60th anniversary of Kapyong, an Australian docu-drama of the battle was aired. The film crew came to Canada and interviewed Hub Gray who fought at Kapyong, and interviewed me who wasn’t at Kapyong, but served with the Pats in Korea and reveres that battle.

Ironically (or maybe no so ironically), the CBC and other Canadian TV outlets weren’t interested in showing the documentary which, although stressing Australia’s role, pays tribute to Canada’s soldiers who held the line.

Lib-left, vaguely anti-military elements in Canada can’t seem to accept that historically, Canadians make exceptional soldiers. To them, soldiering is being warlike. To soldiers, it is ensuring the peace.

Looking back, Canadians in WWI didn’t lose one piece of ground that they didn’t retake within 48 hours. Nor did they lose ground in WWII, although Dieppe and the Falaise Gap cost them dear.

In a recent edition of Britain’s Spectator magazine, Daniel Hannan, Conservative Member of the European Parliament, recalls Supreme Commander of allied forces in WWII, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, remarking that “man for man, Canadians were the toughest soldiers under his command.”
In the Korean war, Canadian units lost no ground. At the end of that war, the front line had been nibbled away, but Canadians held their positions to the end. Diagrams of the battle line at the end of WWI shows banks of German divisions facing the Canadians, while Germans were thinly sited against the less battle-hardened American divisions.

For their Kapyong victory that saved Seoul, the 2nd Battalion, PPCLI was awarded the U.S. Presidential Unit Citation – a blue bar bordered by gold. At first Ottawa refused to allow the award to be worn, then reconsidered when soldiers ignore the order.

Every member of today’s 2 PPCLI wears the American decoration for as long as he’s a member of that battalion. Kapyong remains a proud moment for Canada, that the country largely ignores. No surprise to soldiers.

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Military/RCMP History Posted Articles

Post by Teentitan on Fri 11 May 2012, 10:51

I was a soldier once

I liked the idea that as the commercial said; we did more by 0700

than most people did all day. I loved as range safety officer getting

shots down range by 0800.  I loved the brutality of route marches

because they set us apart from my civilian friends, as most of them

could never have hacked the pace.  I liked standing in a United

Nations observation post just before dawn in a far away land,

realizing that I and other soldiers in my unit were doing something

very special by representing Canada and the Canadian

people, undergoing physical and mental strains that many could

not or would not face to keep our country safe and ready.

I loved climbing up cargo nets in full battle order and repelling

down cliffs. I loved running the assault course. I liked the early

morning runs and the late night polishing before a parade.

I liked the smell of the quartermaster stores, an odd mixture of

gun oil, canvas preservative, leather, hemp rope and cigarette smoke. I liked the racks of rifles and sub machine guns and I loved the gun sheds

and tank hangers where the vehicles and weapons of war gleamed

dully and exuded strength and capability and the power to  “git ‘er done”   if need be. I loved the name of the equipment when I started off,

Sherman, Fabrique Nationale, Sten and Bren because they spoke to me

of the proud days when our Fathers used them successfully in

WW2.  Our #36 Grenade was the same as our grandfathers used

in WW1 for God’s sake! I also loved when the 105 mm and the M 109

gave way to the M 777 and the guns could shoot accurately over

30 kilometres. I loved it when the old lady “the duce and a half”

was finally replaced by the modern MLVW. The Centurion tank gave

way to the Leopard and within weeks our tankers showed NATO

they were the best.

     I liked our soldiers, from all parts of the land, from cities of

upper Canada , small towns of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland .

They came from the mountains and from the prairies from all walks of life. I trusted and depended on them as they trusted and depended on me

for professional competence, for comradeship, for strength and courage.

In a word we were “soldiers”, then, and forever. I liked the surge in my

heart when word was passed that a unit was deploying, and I loved

the infectious thrill of riding homeward in convoy waving at the cars

we passed and at pedestrians who I was sure looked at us with envy as

we rolled through their villages on our way back to Base. I loved waving

from the back of a truck at the kids in cars that would trail us for a

while before finally passing.    

The work was hard and dangerous; the going rough at times;

and the parting from family painful, but the companionship of

robust army laughter, the “all for one and one for all” philosophy

of the military was ever present. I once enjoyed the best 2 hours

sleep in my life laying on the ground at a rest halt while doing a

patrol. The weather was overcast but warm and a slight drizzle

did not deter my snoring, which could be heard 4 men down the line. Another 4 or 5 hours would have been nice, but there was work to be done.

I liked the fierce and dangerous activity of the Infantry Rifle Coy as

we began an advance to contact. I liked doing the recce for a

harbour where I had to hide up to 40 pieces of wheeled and

tracked equipment from the enemy.  I hated having to run ahead of

our vehicles in complete darkness and trying to be quiet as the

drivers and co-drivers tried to back vehicles and trailers into a black

hole as quickly as possible so others in line could pass and find me

and also be  properly positioned and put away. One could hear

cursing and unmeant bitching as crews stumbled in the dark to erect

cam nets and digging in for protection from an enemy attack, we cut

and poked branches holding up the nets to break the vehicle outline

so as not to be recognised. The lucky ones had a relatively small

vehicle, others, a two and a half or a 5 ton to cover that even in day

light would take an hour or more. At night it was dangerous,

demanding and extremely hard work. In the rain or freezing snow

this necessary chore was brutal.  

Watching my fellow soldiers as they took down the cam

nets, loaded fuel, ammunition and rations for yet another

long day, feeling truly exhausted and knowing it was going

to get a lot worse before it got better, actually added value

to the experience. We were soldiers and this is what it was like.

I loved the name and the history of my Regiments;

“The Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) of Canada ”

“The Royal Canadian Regiment”

“ The Royal 22 ième Régiment”

“The Royal Canadian Electrical Mechanical Engineers”

“The Royal Canadian Engineers.”

I loved the parades, the colours on parade and the

guidon presentation, the march past, the roll past, the advance

in review order and the sound of my hand slapping the stock

of my rifle during the Present Arms. I could feel the

National Anthem inside me while the band played it.

Leaf Forever”.Some liked “The Queen” or “O Canada ”. I loved

“The Maple I loved walking through our position in complete

darkness checking the welfare of my men and NCO’s and

ensuring them that they were not alone, as we stood in our

trench at first light, on stand to. I liked the weight of my

steel helmet on my head and the embrace of my webbing.

It made you feel like superman though in your heart you

surely knew you were not. I loved the weight of my rifle

or pistol and knowing I could outshoot a lot of my men.

It was an ongoing competition during range practice to

out do your friends as well as your superiors. There was pride

in self and country; and growing mastery of the soldier’s trade.

An adolescent could find adulthood. A man could find fulfilment

and an old man finds great joy. I will never forget that I was

once a soldier.  There is no higher calling. I would do it again in

a heart beat. I liked

the traditions of the Army and those who made them.

      I was a soldier once………….

Thanks to CWO (ret) Tommy Tomaso for this piece.
I do not know the name of the author but it was certainly written by someone who was in the Canadian Army Regular as we used to say.
Probably served between 1960 and 2000. Sure brings back a lot memories.
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D-Day's Legacy The Enduring Courage

Post by Teentitan on Wed 06 Jun 2012, 18:32

On the beaches of Normandy this morning, there were no blazing guns, heavily defended pillboxes, razor wire or mines. There was no enemy. There were only tears and reflections.

This is a significant day, not just for the men who landed on the coast of France on June 6, 1944, but for all of us who are old enough to understand the concept of courage in the face of oppression and endurance in the face of overwhelming odds.

D-Day was more than just a logistical adventure of mammoth proportions involving tens of thousands of troops, it was a turning point in the Second World War. It was a defining moment in history.

D-Day also followed by nearly two years what was one of the darkest days of the war, particularly for our community. At dawn on Aug. 19, 1942, Allied forces descended on the beaches of Dieppe, France, in an attempt to get a temporary foothold in Nazi-occupied Europe. What followed was one of the bloodiest battles of the Second World War.

Among the 5,000 Canadians who landed at Dieppe, there were more than 550 soldiers from the Essex Scottish Regiment. A few hours later, almost 1,000 Canadians were dead, including 121 members of the Essex Scottish.

Nearly every family in Windsor and Essex County was touched as the tragic news found its way home.

The raid on Dieppe has been described as "the biggest military blunder of the Second World War" and "a flawed strategy," but many veterans beg to differ, saying the raid taught the Allied forces important lessons for D-Day.

In fact, the Allied troops trained for months for their assault on Normandy, and their mission was as straightforward as it was challenging - to take back Europe from Germany.

Our country played a pivotal role in the D-Day invasion, and about 18,000 Canadians went ashore that first day. There were 1,074 casualties, and 359 were fatal, but the Canadians had pushed about nine kilometres inland by the day's end.

Veterans Affairs of Canada remembers the events as follows: "Canadians were among the first into action and, against terrible odds fought their way into Normandy from the Juno Beach landing area. The fighting continued throughout the summer of 1944. The living conditions were terrible, and the enemy was ruthless. Even so, the troops pushed forward through northern France and then into Belgium and Holland, liberating people who had suffered four hard years of Nazi occupation.

"Success on D-Day and in the battles that followed came at a price: there are more than 5,400 Canadian graves in Normandy. But their sacrifice was not in vain. The victories won there paved the way to victory on May 8, 1945."

Today, we can all join the remaining D-Day veterans and the families of those who did not return in remembering their valour and sacrifice. We also remember the courage shown by those who landed at Dieppe and set the stage for victory.

They all brought honour and respect to Canada, and they selflessly put their lives on the line in the cause of freedom.

It is a day to be proud. A day we must never forget.

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Quebecers may view veterans, military past differently

Post by Teentitan on Sat 09 Jun 2012, 10:44

Quebecers are more keenly aware than other Canadians about events honouring war veterans, but they're far less likely to participate in them or take pride in the military's role in past conflicts, a newly released survey reveals.

The public opinion research report — prepared by Phoenix Strategic Perspectives for Veterans Affairs Canada — shows a wide disparity in the attitudes of Quebec residents compared to other Canadians when it comes to remembrance and Veterans' Week.

The survey, conducted after last Remembrance Day but just released by the government, found nearly all Canadians outside Quebec — 96 per cent — think veterans should be recognized for their sacrifices, compared to 85 per cent of Quebecers who hold that opinion. And while 89 per cent of Canadians outside Quebec believe vets have made significant contributions to the nation's development, only 66 per cent of Quebecers share that view.

The survey also found 82 per cent of Canadians outside Quebec say they’re proud of the role Canada's military has played in conflicts like the First and Second World wars, the Korean War and the war in Afghanistan — compared to 66 per cent of Quebecers. The province's residents are also less knowledgeable about Canada’s military role in the conflicts, according to the poll.

Jeremy Diamond, director of the Historica-Dominion Institute, said that while participation and appreciation for veterans lags behind in Quebec, he senses an upward trend.

“When it comes to military history and remembrance, I think that we often feel that in Quebec there is still quite a sensitivity about commemorating and celebrating the military, whether it’s anniversaries or our veterans, partly to do with the conscription crisis, partly because I think Quebec sees itself more focused on honouring the veterans in Quebec, as opposed to a national recognition, or as part of a week that would affect all Canadians," Diamond said.

Differences in awareness and participation
Diamond said the Institute's Memory Project has seen increasing participation and requests in schools and communities across Quebec in recent years — in both large cities and smaller francophone communities.

The survey found that while a high number of Quebecers are aware of remembrance events (77 per cent compared to 62 per cent for all Canadians) the participation rate is significantly lower — 53 per cent compared to 79 per cent. The survey also finds Quebecers are less likely to see Veterans' Week as important, and that they are far less likely to make an effort to show appreciation to veterans (47 per cent compared to 74 per cent of other Canadians).

A subsample survey that asked Quebecers to explain the disparity found that pacifism, a preferred focus on province-specific pride issues like language and identity, and a lack of connection to military through family members were some of the reasons.

Jean-Christophe de le Rue, press secretary to Veterans Affairs Minister Steven Blaney, said the government supports commemorative events that encourage participation from Canadians across the country to ensure sacrifices are never forgotten. Events in Quebec are also designed to "pass the torch" of remembrance.

"Today, Minister Blaney joined nearly 200 students and D-Day Veterans at École secondaire de l'Aubier, in Quebec," he said Friday. "Because of this event, nearly a dozen veterans were given the opportunity to share their past experiences while serving our great country. These veterans from Quebec stood up in the defence of values ​​that matter most to Canadians: peace, freedom, democracy, and rule of law."

The national Phoenix survey polled 1,003 adult Canadians, including 352 from Quebec, between Nov. 15 and Nov. 26, 2011 and is considered accurate within plus or minus 3.3 per cent, 19 times out of 20. The subsample questionnaire surveyed 350 residents of Quebec.

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Canada's military pride: Worthington

Post by Teentitan on Sat 16 Jun 2012, 13:07

TORONTO - When Stephen Harper’s Conservatives were first elected to form a minority government in 2006, the PM adopted refurbishing, updating and praising the military as a campaign and government priority.

The DND budget rose to top $21 billion, equipment and weaponry were diverted from other roles to support the mission in Afghanistan. The returns of this unprecedented attention were that morale in the army rose, and Canada’s prestige in the world that matters, reached heights unknown since the Second World War.

Our troops exceeded expectations in Afghanistan. The competence and spirit were mindful of Canadians in the First World War, where they never lost ground they didn’t recapture within 48 hours; and the Second World War, where Gen. Dwight Eisenhower called them the toughest troops in his command.

By the time our commitment was winding down in Afghanistan (a political rather than military decision), there were many who regarded this “new” Canadian army as the “finest small army in the world.” And that includes the Israelis, who do not have the logistical problems Canada has.

During the Second World War — and certainly not in the Korean war or in post-war peacekeeping — Canadian casualties weren’t publicized or mourned to the extent that those killed in Afghanistan were — 158 dead.

Ordinary Canadians are proud of their soldiers, and the Conservative government has benefited from this national approval.

Now that Afghanistan has entered a new phase that doesn’t involve Canadian soldiers in a combat role, coupled with America’s seemingly acceptance that it cannot win in Afghanistan and is in the process of pulling out and, claiming the Afghan National Army (ANA) can now do the job, the Canadian government is once again cutting back funding for the military.

Cutting the DND budget is also a Canadian tradition.

Already it’s been announced that recruiting centres across Canada are being reduced; the TOW2 missile system that cost around $100 million three years ago, is being scrapped (thus saving $20 million, we are told); some $3.5 billion in proposed military equipment purchases has been suspended for a few years.

DND is being trimmed of some civilian employees, and something like 1,000 DND jobs are supposed to be eliminated. For those in uniform, technical and specialist pay is being reduced; maintenance and repair costs are being cut back; the number of reservists — already pathetically low at 7,500 — are to be cut by close to 30%, to 4,500 members.

Progressively, for the next three years, the DND budget is to be reduced by around $1 billion a year. (None of these cutbacks applies to the aquiring F-35 fighter aircraft, presumably because these costs won’t apply for several years).

All this (and more) is nothing to get too excited about, although it’s depressing if Canada reverts to short-changing the military that has contributed so much to its national prestige (unless you are a hopeless pacifist who views soldiers as warmongers).

Historically, the Canadian military has always made do with less, yet always has exceeds expectations and succeeds in whatever is required of it.

A recent letter in the National Post by Bob Orrick, a former executive with the Korean Veterans Association, deplores the cutbacks. He says a lesson can be learned by examining how Canada “dithered about how to fulfill Canada’s obligation under the UN Charter and assist South Korea in its most dire hour of need” when it was invaded by the North in 1950.

At the time, some five years after the end of the Second World War, Canada had already stripped the military of manpower, equipment and weapons of war.

Orrick says a lack of purpose and planning, compounded by poor equipment, led to increased casualties in Korea.

He says soldiers had to use “.303 Lee-Enfield rifles that dated back to the First World War . . . (and) tin hats . . . that also dated back to the First World War.” He asks, rhetorically: “Is Ottawa planning to walk that same route in its quest to reduce Canada’s Armed Forces to a shadow of their former greatness?”

Curiously, I was a soldier in Korea, and never felt particularly deprived by being inflicted with Lee-Enfield bolt-action rifles. True, the brand was used in the First World War, and updated versions were used in The Second World War — like the “tin hats” we were ordered to wear.

A virtue of the Lee-Enfield was that it rarely jammed, and could take unconscionable abuse and still fire reliably and accurately. American carbines were automatic, but jammed and ran out of ammunition quickly.

We in front lines hated the British-style helmets. One virtue of night patrols in the valley was that you didn’t have to wear helmets.

The Chinese burp guns — sub-machineguns — fired more rapidly than our cheap, mass-produced Sten guns. But at close quarters the Sten was effective — providing you didn’t accidentally bang its butt, which caused it to fire unexpectedly into one of your own guys.

Mr. Orrick might also have mentioned the Vickers medium machinegun, which was used in the First and Second World Wars. Speaking personally, the steady chatter of the Vickers was the most reassuring sound in the world on certain occasions. It was another untempermental weapon that was reliable and accurate.

Canadian troops in Korea were better clothed for winter than the Americans, had better boots and better food. At the end it was trench warfare, and while the roughly 6,000 troops of Canada’s 25 Brigade felt abandoned by Canada, I doubt many soldiers felt over-matched or lacking in equipment or support.

When in trouble, Canada’s infantry regiments felt well supported by our tanks and especially our artillery which was uncannily accurate when needed. Like others in my battalion of the Princess Pats, I felt safest and most confident when with other Canadian units, and not dependent on Americans, Koreans, French, Turks, or even the British.

Other troops may have had more updated weapons, but we made do with what we had.

This month marks the 62nd anniversary of the start of the Korean war, and it’s not surprising that the government is once again cutting back the military to save money. Some things never change . . .

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Bomber Command vets honoured

Post by Teentitan on Tue 26 Jun 2012, 11:19

OTTAWA — As a 19-year-old mid-under gunner fighting against the Nazis with the Canadian Bomber Command, John “Jack” McLean didn’t know he had about a 50-50 chance of returning home.

“Oh I was scared, you’re darn right,” McLean, 87, said. “But being scared would come and then disappear. When you’re 19, you’re indestructible.”

McLean is one of 55,000 Canadian Bomber Command veterans being honoured with a new, special bar, created to be worn on the ribbon of the Canadian Volunteer Service Medal. On Thursday, Queen Elizabeth will unveil a new Bomber Command Memorial across from Buckingham Palace.

The Bomber Command flew at night and had few tools to help them navigate or locate targets.

McLean was part of a seven-member crew that flew the four-engine Halifax, bombing Europe between June and November 1944. As a mid-under gunner, McLean spent the flights sitting in a tiny compartment under the plane’s belly.

“The job of the air gunners is to protect the aircraft; the rest of the crew depended on us for their defence.”

Those flights weren’t just terrifying, they were cold. Under gunners weren’t inside the heated fuselage, but McLean said they were given heated socks and gloves.

McLean’s memories of the Second World War are all intact. His scariest experience was when “at least seven or eight” enemy searchlights found his plane.

“I thought that might be the last trip I’d ever make,” he said. “But the skipper put the nose down, built up speed and got out.”

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Canada's meaningful sacrifice in Korean War

Post by Teentitan on Wed 27 Jun 2012, 15:19

This week, 62 years ago, the Korean war started.
Over the years, Korea has been dubbed the “Forgotten War,” even though some 26,000 Canadians served there, along with 63 other nations which mostly provided support, while 17 countries contributed fighting soldiers.

Korea is still a misunderstood war. For a long time, Canadian politicians called it a “police action,” which is a term once preferred by the UN which foolishly tries to avoid anything that might be viewed as “warfare.”

To mark ceremonies held in South Korea, Canada’s ambassador David Chatterson (who likely wasn’t born when the war was on), reflected that most of the Canadian soldiers who joined the Korean war “were 18 or 19 years old, 60 years ago.”

He added that what “tipped the scales towards our involvement” in defending South Korea against the invasion by the North, was our support of the UN. And recognition that with the Cold War, “there were issues much bigger than Korea at play.”

While true, there were other factors involved which historians tend to overlook.

Often unmentioned is that the Korean war appealed to the generation of Canadian youths who were marginally too young for World War II. Korea was their chance to experience what other Canadians young men had endured in the war.

What tends to be forgotten today — assuming it was ever known — is that joining the army (or navy or air force) World War II was as popular as, say, dodging the draft was in the Vietnam war. One was a war of survival, the other seen as unnecessary.

In WWII we would either win against Hitler (and Hirohito), or our way of life would be forever changed. During Vietnam, oddly, roughly as many Canadians enlisted in U.S. Forces, as U.S. Draft dodgers and deserters sought sanctuary in Canada.

To the young Canadians of 1950, Korea started out as an adventure.

As one of the volunteers in that war, I harboured no animosity towards communism per se, but felt it had no business being forced on a people who didn’t want it. My naive approach was that communism may be okay for Russians, but not us.

I can’t recall any soldiers who understood the malevolent and ruthless lust of the communist ideology as practiced by Russia and China.
I think where Ambassador Chatterson misses the boat is not recognizing that as well as 18 and 19-year-olds volunteering for adventure in Korea, many WWII veterans who’d left the military, also re-joined for various reasons.

I doubt many studies have been made of wartime veterans who, in civilian life, missed the comradeship and routine of army life. Also there were many WWII veterans who found they couldn’t hack it in civilian life, or found it too mundane and monotonous. Or who had broken marriages, with wife and husband too changed for reconciliation. That sort of thing.

The mixture of veterans and rookies in the Korean war, proved more effective than many expected. In general, Canadian soldiers in the Korean war never lost an inch of ground; it became a matter of pride, when attacked, to never retreat. Witness Kapyong and Hills 355 and 187. This theme was especially prevalent in the latter days of the war when the fluidity of the first year settled down to trench warfare.

Canadians were spared the casualties inflicted on the Americans in the early stages of the war — something approaching 50,000 killed when the Chinese entered the war and routed U.S. Forces at the the Yalu river on the border of China.

What frustrated many Canadian soldiers in Korea was always being on the defensive and no one in Canada giving a damn. What was the point in a stalemate?

Subsequently, with Korea sponsoring yearly return visits of those who fought there, the now-aging 18 and 19-year-olds invariably are awed by the progress made in that ravaged country they helped save as young men. And the appreciation showered on them by Koreans too young to have known war.

It may be true that the Korean war ended in stalemate in 1953.

It’s equally true that the peace has been decisively won by the South.

Canadians who were there, now recognize that their contribution was worthwhile.


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A memorial for Bomber Command – too late for many

Post by Teentitan on Fri 29 Jun 2012, 23:01

At the end of a long, hot, draining day, there was a tray of cold beer for the Canadian veterans of Bomber Command, and they fell on it like – well, like men who’d been waiting in the sun a long time without a beer. But then they’d been waiting much longer, for something much more important.

It had not been a particularly happy wait, either, and many of the 42 veterans arriving at Canada House in London’s Trafalgar Square muttered that it had come too late. Too many of their comrades were no longer around to celebrate what felt like a much-delayed vindication.

The vindication was this: Earlier in the day, the Queen had unveiled a memorial to the 125,000 men and women of the Royal Air Force’s Bomber Command, almost half of whom didn’t survive their late-night raids over Germany and occupied Europe during the Second World War. Some 50,000 of those fliers were Canadian, and 10,000 of them were lost; many more came from New Zealand and Australia, Poland and Czechoslovakia.

For decades, they lived without a memorial to their efforts, and you can still hear grinding of teeth over the fact that Winston Churchill failed to mention Bomber Command in his victory speech. Simply, the Allies were too embarrassed by the trail of flattened and charred German cities, and the number of dead civilians, to acknowledge the contribution of the men who’d flown and navigated the planes – and dropped their bombs when they were told to. As British veteran Harry Irons, rear gunner, told the BBC this week, “It was a kick in the teeth, the way we was completely forgotten.”

There was a similar mood at Canada House, as the 42 veterans and their carers settled down for lunch (and those well-deserved beers). “It was a wonderful ceremony, beautiful,” said Jack Watts, 91, a squadron leader who flew more than 100 missions and was shot down twice. “It’s just sad as hell that it came this late, and there are so few of us now to see it.”

He was 19 when he enlisted (the average age of the “bomber boys” was 22), and not much older than that when he had to ditch in the mine-filled North Atlantic and wait 12 hours for a minesweeper to pull him out of his rescue raft. The second time he was shot down, he landed in the slightly warmer Mediterranean.

Mr. Watts was cheered by the large crowd that gathered to watch the Bomber Command memorial being unveiled in Green Park: “I don’t think at home we would have had the same reaction,” he said. “I’m not sure people at home are so warm to remembering.”

This seems to contradict the current government’s attempts to valorize military efforts, especially those of the “greatest generation.” Indeed, Veterans Affairs Minister Steven Blaney was on hand to announce a new medal for Canadian Bomber Command vets, but Mr. Watts, listening to the minister’s speech, just shrugged: “How many people are left to wear it? It’s kind of … well, it’s just too political.”

You think of other veterans coming back from war to the cold shoulder of public opinion – soldiers from Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam. But the servicemen of the Second World War were meant to be lionized, blameless – weren’t they?

“I’ve been accused of being a murderer, of killing innocent women and children,” said Ed Carter-Edwards, 89. Like many of his colleagues, he mentions The Valour and the Horror, the 1992 CBC-NFB documentary, which cast doubt on some of Bomber Command’s practices, particularly at the end of the war, involving civilian populations. Mr. Carter-Edwards clearly feels he was mauled twice: once when he was shot down over Occupied France, beaten by the Gestapo and taken to Buchenwald concentration camp, and a second time, much later, at home. (In a truly bizarre twist, he and 167 other imprisoned airmen were busted out of Buchenwald by the Luftwaffe, only a few days before they were scheduled to hang.) On his chest sits a row of medals, and he raises the last one: the French Légion d’honneur. “This one is revered in France, but in Canada it doesn’t mean anything.”

The next day, just three days before Canada Day, the veterans will go back to look at the new memorial, which features a bronze sculpture of seven airmen, each nine feet tall. The roof is Canadian, made from melted bits of a Halifax bomber shot down in 1944. The inscription on the outside honours all the dead of the skies, airman and civilian alike. And Mr. Carter-Edwards may well be thinking about how often, as a 21-year-old wireless air gunner, he would wake up in his barracks to find another empty bed.
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U.S. recovers bodies of WW2 airmen from Quebec waters

Post by Teentitan on Sun 29 Jul 2012, 11:28

UNDATED, - The wind was fierce and the waves were surging on Josephine Vibert's wedding day, 70 years ago in Longue-Pointe-de-Mingan, a small fishing village on Quebec's north shore.

In 1942, the village became the site of an emergency airstrip on the U.S. military's so-called "Crimson Route," a strategic air corridor to Europe through Maine and Newfoundland.

Late in the afternoon on Nov. 2, 1942, not long before the wedding reception, Vibert and most of the village stopped to watch a U.S. Army seaplane taxi from the harbour.

But the plane — a PBY Catalina — struggled to clear the water. Vibert recalls the towering waves of the Gulf lashing at the cockpit during its second take-off attempt.

"I counted five waves, but there may have been more," she says from her home, still in Longue-Pointe-de-Mingan. "After the last one, water started entering their plane."

The town's fishermen braved the frothing waters to find four crew members clinging to the fuselage.

Just moments after the survivors were hauled aboard the local fishing boats, the plane, along with the five remaining crew members, slipped beneath waves, never to be seen again.

That is until 2009, when underground divers from Parks Canada found the barnacled, upside-down fuselage of the Catalina some 40 meters below the surface.

"We worked from shore until we hit the plane," said Marc-Andre Bernier, the chief underwater archeologist for Parks Canada.

"When we actually saw that the fuselage was in one piece, we immediately stopped operations and contacted the American authorities."

With the prospect of the remains of American soldiers inside, Canadian officials contacted a joint civilian-military unit in the U.S. that specializes in the identification of citizens lost in war.

Earlier this month the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) dispatched a 50-person team to investigate the site. They arrived on a 78-meter salvage ship, the USNS Grapple. Their 30-day mission is close to wrapping up.

Divers have already found what appear to be the remains of the missing airmen, which will be sent to a DNA lab for identification.

But they have also found a trove of artifacts so perfectly preserved they might have been taken from a time warp.

From the floor of the Gulf, divers managed to find a Listerine bottle intact, complete with air bubbles and something resembling its original scent.

They also discovered film negatives, aviator glasses and, perhaps most remarkably, paper believed to be from the crew's log.

Bernier says a number of conditions combined to keep so many of the objects in good condition, including near-freezing waters and a depth which allows for little oxygen and light to reach the wreckage.

"To find, intact, a plane from the Second World War underwater is already something remarkable," he told reporters who visited the Grapple last week.

"It's an oasis, an underwater receptacle because lots of organisms have attached themselves to the plane."

He added that finding the personal artifacts of the airmen was "like diving back into time."

For the moment, there are no plans to raise the fuselage itself. JPAC's mandate is limited to recovering items associated with the individual airmen who went down with the plane.

"To be able to do this and bring some closure to families is pretty rewarding," said Stefan Claesson, a forensic archaeologist aboard the Grapple.

"As long as we find one remain it's a success for us. And in this case we have a significant number of remains to bring back home, so that's very exciting."

The salvage mission off the coast of Longue-Pointe-de-Mingan has created a stir among the village's older residents — some of whom, like Vibert, still vividly remember that November day in 1942.

Up until then, Vibert says, the war had been a largely positive experience for the residents of Longue-Pointe-de-Mingan.

"Everyone had a job, everyone was happy," she said during a phone interview with The Canadian Press. "We only had one paved road then, and the American soldiers would parade down it."

Since the Grapple arrived in early July, she has kept a close eye on its movements from the shore.

Two of her brothers disappeared during a plane trip over Gulf waters during the 1950s, their bodies never found. Because of that, she says she understands the desire to bring closure to the families of the missing airmen.

"Every night I drive down to the shore and I give them (the Grapple's crew) a little signal with the lights of my car," she said.

-With files from Paul Chiasson in Longue-Pointe-de-Mingan.

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