Military Milestones

Weekly Military Milestones

A home for refugees
Military History, Military Milestones

A home for refugees

On Oct. 6, 1986, the people of Canada received the Nansen Refugee Award, the United Nations’ highest distinction for refugee aid. It was the first—and so far, only—time the award has been given to a country. Canada was recognized for its “major and sustained contribution made to the cause of refugees in their country and throughout the world over the years,” the UN said. The award was established in 1954 to recognize individuals, groups and organizations for exemplary action to help and protect refugees, displaced and stateless people. It was named for Fridtjof Nansen, the first high commissioner for refugees appointed by the League of Nations in 1921. But soon they were followed by asylum seekers from other continents. Nansen helped define what refugees are and proposed developing...
Pearson and the peacekeepers
Military History, Military Milestones

Pearson and the peacekeepers

On Sept. 29, 1988, the United Nations Peacekeeping Force was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, an event that filled many Canadians with pride. There was double cause to celebrate: the country was proud of its service personnel who had braved the world’s hotspots with the Blue Berets. And it was a Canadian who came up with the idea of UN peacekeepers. Canada had been part of the UN’s attempts to calm troubled waters since shortly after the Second World War when, lacking a permanent force, the UN began sending military observers to monitor Cold War-era tensions. Canada provided eight officers for the UN force in Kashmir, nexus of a dispute between India and Pakistan in 1948, and four in 1953 to Palestine, including the UN force commander, Major-General Eedson (Tommy) Burns. They were ...
Commemorating Indigenous veterans
Military History, Military Milestones

Commemorating Indigenous veterans

The National Aboriginal Veterans Monument in Ottawa’s Confederation Park celebrated its 20th anniversary this year. It was unveiled on June 21, 2001, on National Indigenous Peoples Day, but the pandemic pushed the 20th anniversary ceremony to Sept. 21. The event was hosted by Aboriginal Veterans Autochtones and featured a speech by Governor General Mary May Simon, the first Indigenous person to hold the position. After the world wars, the role played by Indigenous soldiers went largely overlooked. “As governor general and commander-in-chief, I thank Indigenous veterans—all veterans—as well as active military members and everyone who has sacrificed for our country. As an Indigenous person, I’m proud of all we have accomplished, and I look to the future with great hope,” said Simon. ...
Surrender at Calais
Military History, Military Milestones

Surrender at Calais

After D-Day, the First Canadian Army began the job of clearing the French coast along the English Channel. It was a hard slog. The beaches were crowded with obstacles and mines. The shore bristled with barbed wire and the whole coastline was studded with concrete bunkers and machine-gun nests. Towns and cities were fortified and equipped with heavy guns. It was known as the Atlantic Wall. The Germans had installed 42 heavy guns around Calais that constantly threatened Allied ships and five batteries capable of firing across the Channel to the Port of Dover. The Germans had flooded the land, and “prepared for a siege in order to deny the Allies the use of these valuable prizes as long as possible,” wrote Major W.H.V. Matthews, commanding officer of the Canadian Scottish Regiment. ...
Prisoners of Hong Kong
Military History, Military Milestones

Prisoners of Hong Kong

George MacDonell, of Stratford, Ont., was following in his parents’ footsteps when he enlisted in the Second World War. He was the only son of an army major and nursing sister who met while serving overseas and married after the First World War. He joined the doomed Royal Rifles of Canada which fought alongside the Winnipeg Grenadiers when the Japanese invaded Hong Kong in December 1941. Two hundred and ninety Canadians were killed and 493 wounded in three weeks of fierce fighting. “The most vital war effort of the Japanese, destroyed by young Canadians.” MacDonell was among the nearly 1,200 captured. He spent close to four years in brutal Japanese prisoner of war camps, first in Hong Kong, then in Japan, where prisoners were forced to work in atrocious conditions. Hong Kong prison...
<em>Kosmos-1383</em>
Military History, Military Milestones

Kosmos-1383

The mountainous terrain of British Columbia has been described as a graveyard of small planes. Many light aircraft downed by equipment failure, turbulence or unexpected foul weather have disappeared, crashing among the peaks and dense forests of the mountainsides and valleys. Some have never been found. On July 19, 1982, a small craft piloted by Jim Heemskerk disappeared on a flight from Dawson Creek to Dease Lake in northeastern British Columbia. After seven fruitless weeks and nearly 1,800 flying hours costing about $2 million, the Department of National Defence called off the search. The plane stalled and crashed in a heavily wooded area. But George Heemskerk, the father of the missing pilot, did not give up. On Sept. 9, he and a friend went searching aboard a Cessna 172 with...

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