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December 16, 2016

Christmas Stories from Deployed Operations

un-santaTo add your story please leave a comment at the bottom of this post or e-mail: branch@cmcen.ca

At this time of year, for many of us our thoughts go back to the Christmas when we were far from home and deployed on operations. We would like to receive your stories about how Christmas was celebrated by our veterans of WWII, Korean War, Afghanistan, UN operations,  Europe, northern Radar Stations, CFS Alert, on Ship at Sea and other distant locations. Just add your story below  in the comments area, and register  on CMCEN.ca/register  to keep getting news (initial post by BGen (retd) William. S. Richard, Colonel Commandant)

  1. Italian Campaign Memory Dec 1943: Mike Webber 1st Canadian Division Signals Regiment. I recall that having left Sicily to cross the Strait into mainland Italy in September 1943, we had advanced up the coast. I was working on plans for the next phase of operations as we were tasked to plan for another amphibious operation across the Adriatic into Yugoslavia(?) . We had taken control of a multi room apartment that became our Officers Mess, but there was little space since one room was dedicated to a large supply of wine and spirits for Christmas celebration.
  1. Italian Campaign Memory Dec 1943: Cpl Al Stapleton 1st Canadian Division Signals Regiment. I do not recall much about Christmas 1943; other than reflecting on my friends in the Signals Regiment who were killed in the Italian Campaign July-Dec 1943). (More than 30 members of the regiment.)
  1. Memories of Dave Hart, Signals Sgt at Dieppe. In 1939 I was stationed in Barriefield and because others had a priority for Christmas leave, I was in the barracks intending to go home with my brother Ed for New Years Eve. But that was never going to be, because Signalman Smith came down with the measles and we were quarantined in our barracks. The senior in charge was Cpl. Gibe Duke, with me as the 2IC, and my brother Eddie acting as the adjutant. We put out orders for the three weeks that permitted poker, dice and similar activities including lights out later than 10:30 PM. Sgt Major Vince Peabody (a regular force Sgt brought in from the northern communications system) came to the door of our H Hut to remonstrate with Duke about the situation. Both were big men, but it was very comical to see, that when Duke advanced out of the door, Peabody would retreat until he finally left us to our own devices. I can’t remember what we did when I was overseas in 1940, 1941,1942 although I assume we must have celebrated since I had a vast collection of big band records which we played on an old gramophone which we had resurrected from the garbage left by a British unit whose quarters we took over. I had my tech guy replace the spring which was all that was broken.

In 1943, I was on my way back to Canada to train for my Infantry Commission. We arrived in Canada and instead of receiving our usual 30 day leave, proceeded directly to Brockville where we started our training pn December 17, 1043. So much for a leave for Christmas. In 1944, I was an orderly officer in Farnham on Christmas Day and in barracks for New Years. This was the sum total of my time spent during the holidays

  1. Reflections of George Simpson (LCol in Egypt/Capt in Belgian Congo). There were similarities; in both cases of Christmas in the Belgian Congo in 1962(?) and in Egypt in 1973, We were a little over one month in location and close to Christmas, it was hot (hotter in Leo, Belgian Congo 130 f)and  loneliness was slowly but inevitably creeping in. Strange, sometimes hostile environments. Prominent difference – Shams was a tented camp near Cairo that included our two chapels. In Leo we had occupied permanent buildings constructed and designed by Belgian technology and labor. In both cases our national hosts pretty well treated us with respect, but with a few exceptions at arms length.

At Shams, Christmas Day was pretty well treated like any other work day after early morning church services. Maj John Leech attended a local Christian church service, even sang in their choir, if you were lucky our soldiers might have been able to phone patch home. Because of John some of us were later in Jan invited to celebrate a Coptic Christian Christmas.

In Leo we stood down for the day, some worshipped in the chapel we had “occupied” a month earlier. Some visited the US Embassy and were able to phone home. Our own embassy chastised us for “borrowing” a decorated Xmas tree from their embassy villa; they had earlier had the tree delivered from Lahr and it had mysteriously disappeared at the airport in Leo. In both cases Christmas was a day of prayer, individually and collectively. There were few declared agnostics but we were almost 100 percent Christians. It was a day of bonding across the rank structure and recognition once again of what it meant to be Canadian in a strange, sometimes hostile, environment. The further we get from those days, the more we realize how fortunate we were to have served together.

  1.  Hong Kong Story December 1941 from Alfred Lai (Toronto). I know of one very dark and sad Christmas operation. It has little direct Signals connection (but the RCCS had done extremely well overall under the circumstance and was commended by the Comd RSig in theatre. It was Christmas Day 75 years ago. The enemy forces had landed a few days prior (18th Dec) on the north shore of the Hong Kong Island. In the ensued fighting, the Canadian Army C Force Commander BGen Lawson was killed at Wang Ngai Chon Gap (19th Dec). After losing this Vital Ground despite numerous spirited but ultimately unsuccessful counter attacks, the defenders were cut in half. The West Brigade was progressive pushed back towards Stanley peninsular on the South side of Hong Kong Island. As fighting continued, the enemy had pushed into Stanley village, which is situated at the narrowest point of the peninsular. A company of the Royal Rifle of Canada with various remnants from other units formed a combat team (a term not yet used in those day), including my processors of the Hong Kong Volunteers Defence Corps (HKVDC), mounted a counter attack on the morning of Christmas Day. Stanley village was recaptured briefly but could not be held due to enemy pressure and lack of ammo and water. Enemy advance continued, eventually the Governor of Hong Kong saw no point in further resistance and order a surrender. It came to effect at 1500 local 25th Dec., 1941. The garrison went into captivities and years of privation. Sir Winston Churchill, who never lost for words, said the defenders of Hong Kong  had earned “The Lasting Honour”. This is their Christmas story.
  1. Christmas In Rabah (Israeli Ocupied Sinai) December 1973: Capt Bill Richard. The Rabah Signals Troop was part of the Canadian Contingent from the 1 Canadian Signal Regiment deployed in mid-November1973 to Egypt-Israel, (UNEF II) just a week after the end of the Yom Kippur War. The Rabah Signal Troop (40 pers?) were the only Canadians on the Israeli side of the DMZ which was east of the Suez Canal (in the northern part of the Sinai Desert). The Troop was co-located with an Irish battalion who were also part of the UN brigade deployed on the edge of the DMZ. We were all in tents near an abandoned railway station ( Rabah). By Christmas we had been on hard rations (RP4?) for over 5 weeks. Crossing the Suez Canal and DMZ into Israli occupied Sinai was a challenge. Therefore our supply line from the 1000 person Canadian contingent in Cairo (Shams Camp) was difficult. We arranged for a duty det to travel 2 hours east to El Arish for resupply and purchase fresh ration supplements. With Christmas approaching, I requested additional hard rations with a Christmas supplement and a padre for a church service. No padres were available, but the HQ sent me a RCN Ship Captain’s guide for church service at sea. On Christmas Eve our first visitors, since we had deployed, arrived from Cairo. Major Bill Cowperthwaite ( my CO) and Major Mel MacLeod brought the greatest Christmas gift of all – a ‘flying kitchen’ with two navy cooks, several turkeys and beer. On Christmas Day, Troop WO Rusty O’Toole and Sgt Bill Fallows organized the troop to parade in full uniform with medals, as we walked 1 KM across the desert outside our camp to the nearest group of palm trees to conduct the Christmas service. A Canadian Flag was flown between two palm trees and we sang carols. It was lonely without family and no way to call home, but this was a most memorable Christmas in the desert with a clear star-lite night that made the sand look like snow. All this was with a wonderful camaraderie of signallers.
  1. Signaller Hugh Patterson (WWII Veteran). Hugh remembers first arriving at #1 C.S.R.U (Canadian Signal Reinforcement Unit) in Cove Hampshire England. It was just in time for Christmas dinner (1942) which consisted of some roast mutton in a mess tin with a half pint of English bitters. Hugh Patterson landed with the 2nd Div Sigs on Juno Beach in Normandy, one of 24 Riders of the Dispatch Platoon. He saw service through Holland, the Sheldt, The Bulge and into Germany. He is the last of the original 7 Dispatch Riders of 2nd Div Sigs who survived the War. (from Ken Lloyd HLCol 32 Signal Regt). In 1945 (?) RC Sigs established a Cairn at the Cove location of #1 CSRU that contained a capsule listing all the Signallers who passed through the unit in WWII. In 1998, Major Paul Rutherford arranged for the relocation of the Cairn to Royal Signals School, Blandford – England to a prominent spot on the edge of the parade square next to the Royal Signals memorial. (WSR)
  1. Don Pruner (WWII and Korea Veteran). In WWII I sailed from Halifax in late November or early December of 1944. the ship was full of RAF types who had completed their training in Canada on the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. On arrival at Liverpool, the RAF guys had priority for debarking so that they could be home for Christmas. The poor Canadians before debarking had to stay on board and clean up the ship from stem to stern and from the keel up to the funnels. By Christmas Day, I was in a reinforcement depot near Godalming or Milford. I don’t remember the Christmas dinner on British Army wartime rations, so I guess it wasn’t memorable. By Christmas of 1945, I was a student at the Canadian Army Khaki College just outside London. Five or six of us went on leave to Dublin (you couldn’t go to Eire during the war because they were neutral) for Christmas and to Edinburgh for New Years. On Christmas Eve in Dublin, we went into the very fancy dining room at the Gresham Hotel, had a fabulous Christmas meal, signed the bill with a bogus room number and made a run for it. We thought that we had pulled something off but I am sure that some anonymous well wisher had signalled the waiter and paid the bill.
    In the Korean War, I sailed from Seattle in late November or early December 1951. By Christmas Day I was at the British Commonwealth reinforcement depot in Kure, Japan. I don’t remember anything particularly special about the Christmas celebrations but I would guess that we had a good time. What I do remember is that our first child was born on Christmas Day 1951 so I didn’t get to see him until he was almost a year old. By Christmas 1952, my year in Korea was over and I was back in Canada.
  1. B.J. (Buzz) Bennett ( Korea Veteran) Christmas 1952. I was in Korea but since I had not yet seen the light and transferred to Signals, was still in RCEME, and since I had not yet taken command of the Brigade LAD, was still in the Workshop. I went to Midnight Mass which was a few miles away in a Quonset hut at the Ordnance Field Park. Quite well attended mostly by soldiers, but with some Koreans, and a couple of dogs (unusual, not just for the obvious reason but also because they had not yet become the main course at someone’s dinner). On Christmas, priests are allowed to celebrate three masses so midnight mass (quite normal) was followed by a second with a Korean choir. I did not stay for the third. At noon the officers gathered up the Sr NCOs and served the men their dinner which was quite good since we were on US Army rations. The rest of the day was normal.

Other Army service Christmas dates that stick in my memory: 1957 – In hospital in Edmonton with a broken leg from a parachuting accident; 1961 – on a Cunard liner crossing the North Atlantic; 1962 – in Quetta, Pakistan which, being 99.something percent Muslim, was not overrun with Xmas tree lots. Our bearer did find one which bore striking similarities to Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree, but served the purpose.

One other occurrence right in Kingston while I was CO, 1 Cdn Sig Regt (either 1967 or 1968). On Christmas Day I was called by the Base Duty Officer with a request for a field kitchen to go to some penal institution outside of Kingston that had lost power, and prepare dinner for the inmates. My response (in fairly definite terms) was that I was not about to pull my frequently-away, law-abiding soldiers from their families on Christmas Day to cook for a collection of non-law-abiding people.

  1. Sgt Bill Dyke, Foreman of Signals, CFS Alert, 1966. Christmas day was spent in the Ham Shack helping to handle phone patches to families in the South. This was are our only voice communications to our families. There was a constant line at the door all day. Fortunately, the conditions were good and we were able to work our way across the country throughout the day.
  1. CFS Alert 1976, Major (Retd) W.W. Dyke, MMM, CD. My Christmas story begins on 11 November, 1976. As we were gathering in the gym to hold a Remembrance Day ceremony, the Chief Engineer came up to me and quietly said, “we have a problem, Sir”. The fresh water intake at the lake had frozen and the water flow up the hill had stopped. The entire water line had frozen from the lake to the holding tank in the engineering building. The monitoring system had also failed and no warning of the “no water flow” was given. This meant that we were continuing to use water from the holding tank but it was not being replaced.

The majority of the buildings were the old wood structures and fire was always our major concern. Second concern was water supply to the kitchen. Without adequate water supply we were in a serious condition.Very quickly a new pump was installed at the lake. We then started to haul water using clean oil tanks mounted on trucks to fill the holding tank. To conserve water, it was necessary to restrict showers and wasteful water habits.

The engineers supervised the dismantling of the pipeline, the frozen sections were brought to the fire hall and thawed using Herman Nelson heaters. Volunteers from off-duty shifts assisted the engineers.Once thawed, the pipeline was rebuilt, but unfortunately many sections had broken. There were not sufficient new sections of pipe to replace the damaged ones. Therefore, it was necessary to continue hauling water on a 24/7 basis. Once we were able to refill the holding tank, it was possible to gradually lift the restrictions on water use.

While our work continued, the Construction Engineering office at Trenton was attempting to determine a fix for the pipeline. They decided that due to the weather, the dark conditions and the lack of adequate replacements, a rebuild would not be possible until the Spring of 1977. Additional men came in from Trenton to assist with the water haulage.During all this time, the station continued to meet it’s operational responsibilities. The Christmas and New Years celebrations went on as scheduled and the water hauling continued. All station members contributed their off-duty time to assist the engineers.

When I handed over command of CFS Alert to Major Bill Berry in January, 1977, the trucks were still hauling water. Such continued for many months.It is my understanding, that the new pipeline is actually two pipelines, so to prevent any recurrence of frozen lines.Our ability to work through the situation was mainly due to the extra work provided by all station members. BRAVO ZULU to them all.

It was my privilege to have had command of CFS Alert at that time.

  1. Rwanda Christmas 1994 (Operation Lance: Canadian Contingent Commander LCol Mike Hanrahan CO). I had to dig through of my field message pads to try and remember the detail of Christmas in Rwanda 1994. The UNAMIR contingent was preparing to return to Canada at the end of Jan as well as receive the FLSG (Forward Logistic Support Group of 85 personnel who were our Canadian replacements). The first thing I recall about the Christmas period was we send a plane load of soldiers home before Christmas; thinning out. The criteria for getting on the flight were those with children under 6 years old. Everyone agreed with the policy that those with young families got priority on this flight. Some of the soldiers were not happy going home early but an order was an order.

My field mission pad says: Church parade Christmas Eve, visit to the orphanages morning of 25th, regimental parade (CO’s Christmas message), mens’ Christmas dinner, Christmas party in messes. Padre Melanson had his biggest congregation on Christmas Eve. He was in his glory.

On Christmas morning, many different groups departed the stadium to distribute the donated clothes and toys to the various orphanages as well as the practical stuff (pots, buckets, mops, etc.) bought in Nairobi with the donated funds. Everyone was excited to see the children faces when we produced the toys!

The RSM, CWO Denis Leburn, and I went to Ruhango Orphanage which was about an hour drive from Kilgali. The children were excited to see us because each time there was a visit something was improved in the orphanage. This time boxes of clothes were open. As a shirt or pair of pants came out of the box, its size was determined and then the mass of children was scanned to find a child who could fit into it. Slowly the group of kids were dressed in hockey sweaters, blue jeans, shoes, skirts, etc. They were truly excited at their new clothes. After they were all dressed out came the toys. The children did not understand most of the “Toys”. They had never seen a teddy bear or a doll before! The soccer balls were understood, which got a lot running around, yelling and screaming. I will never forget a little 3-4 year old girl holding ta teddy bear feeling the fur and pulling at the eyes and nose! (We handed out the donations collected by our wives in Kingston ; 50 tons and the money around 50K which were flown to Nairobi. There were also orphanages at the Canadian Soeurs du Bon Pasteur Convent and at Butare The RRB site on top of Mount Karongi set up a medical clinic which saw up to 30 patients a day)

On return to the stadium, there was a lot of activity in the kitchen. The Officers/Sr NCO’s were getting the men’s Christmas dinner ready. The RSM gathered everyone in the main hall of the stadium entrance where the contingent and squadrons command elements wished everyone a merry Christmas and thanked everyone for working so hard over the previous 5 months. Everyone filed into the dining hall for dinner. The dinner was served to the soldiers versus everyone having their own plate and walking up through the steam tables in the kitchen trailers.

After dinner, the messes were open and everyone relaxed. The phone lines back to Canada were booked solid all day (we had phone booths and a 20 minute limit per person). I know I was in bed by 2100 hrs. because the RSM and I had our morning run at 0445hrs around the stadium track! Shall we say a typical Christmas on operations! Michael Hanrahan

Extract from “ 90 Years and Counting” (C&E Branch History – WSR):

On the Home Front…Commencing 26 August 1994 a clothing drive was begun by the “Spouses and Friends of the Regiment”. The drive was in support of an orphanage in Ruhango near Kigali, Rwanda which had been adopted by soldiers of 1st Canadian Division Headquarters and Signal Regiment serving in Rwanda as part of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Rwanda, UNAMIR, a multinational force dispatched to provide humanitarian aid to Rwandan refugees following the 1994 civil war. The intent was to re-establish the orphanage as a viable working entity able to function once UNAMIR withdrew. The “Spouses and Friends” organization was originally formed to support the soldiers but quickly realigned itself as the “home front” for the orphanage support effort. Much of the effort was coordinated by the Home Station Adjutant staff, Capt S.M. Grant and Corporal L.A. Watson. They coordinated the collection and shipment of 15 metric tonnes of clothing and material to Rwanda. Before the project ended in January 1995 the contingent, with the assistance of the “home front”, had provided aid to 6000 Rwandan children. WSRcropped-cmcen24_hq

0 Comments on “Christmas Stories from Deployed Operations

Sgt Bill Dyke, Rad Tech, 1963
December 20, 2016 at 6:52 PM

Christmas 1963 Kingston Military Hospital, (KMH)
Upon return from the Congo, all personnel were required to go to the nearest military hospital for a few days to ensure that they were “healthy”.. The procedure was not well planned as we were first allowed to go home and then go to the hospital two days later.
I checked into KMH and with checklist papers in hand wandered the halls getting the necessary checks. A medical WO stopped me and said, “where the hell have you been?”.
He had noticed my yellow eyes and knew I wasn’t well.
I was hustled into an isolation room and the WO retraced my steps through KMH.
It turned out that I had infectious hepatitis.
I spent the next six weeks, alone, in an isolation room. The hospital sent most of the patients home if possible over Christmas. I had to remain in isolation and on Christmas Day, my wife visited but was not allowed further than the room door.

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wsr12015
December 20, 2016 at 7:51 PM

14. WWII Christmas 1944 – CWO (retd) Jack Tennant
Now on to Christmas in past times.. In 1944 I was a radio Op with Bn HQ the Regt de Mais .The Regt was in an offensive posture some miles from Nijmegen Holland
Up rolled a Army Mobile Bath unit. The lads took advantage of this facility to scrub off the dust collected in Normandy. An issue of clean clothing was made (no pajamas!). Despite the German shells coming down in the region there were no casualties.
Shortly thereafter I was transferred to Regt HQ 12 FdRegt RCA. On Christmas day a dinner was served with turkey and all the trimmings and including a bottle of beer.. somewhat better than compo tea, hardtack and bully beef. The padre gave blessing and the lads went back to the guns. Throughout the day the German air force made many sorties over allied air bases. Quite a spectacle.
Here ends my memories.

15. CFS Inuvik Christmas 1972 – Col (retd) Nigel VanLoan
My memories of Christmas in Inuvik are headed by an event during the DND-sponsored “Northern show tour” of Dec 1972. The show, performed in Inuvik at our downtown theatre, was of good quality: many performers did reasonably well, albeit most were not “headliners” in the civilized South. The show was headed up by a Canadian personality who had achieved some success on CBC TV over the years. In fact, he had been long enough “on the scene” that I had met him when, at age 18, I had helped out a friend in ushering a live show in Toronto in which this entertainer was a supporting player. I had thought then that he had a quite high opinion of himself and therefore did worry a little that he might somehow overstep in our little Northern community.
Following the show, we all moved to the appropriate messes and clubs of the Station: the Senior NCO’s Mess was the logical spot for the entertainers to be hosted (although a number of them also happily visited the Junior Ranks Club). It didn’t take long for our “player” to note that one of the better looking women in the room was seated, apparently lonely, at the bar and he decided to make a move on her. The reason she was alone was that her husband, the Station SWO of the time, was busy ensuring that all the guests were being warmly welcomed and hosted somewhere in one or other of the clubs. He returned just as the “player” made a particularly explicit and inappropriate proposal. He was brought up short not only by her also explicit refusal but also by the looming shadow of her very tall and muscular husband. With the aid of some of my senior NCO’s we were able to stave off a homicide and quickly escort the brazen guy out of harm’s way and back to his hotel. Merry Christmas to all

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Suzanne Grant
December 22, 2016 at 12:21 AM

Thank you all for sharing your meaningful stories. They are my best gift this Christmas for certain. Thanks to all of you who serve, who are the good guys and who make me ever proud to be Canadian.

Happy Christmas

Suzanne

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Signalman Bill Dyke, RCD Sigs Tp, Germany,1957
December 23, 2016 at 3:49 PM

One final story takes me back to Germany 1957 with the Sigs Tp, Royal Canadian Dragoons.
We arrived in Oct ’57 , the first time as a complete Armoured Regt at Fort Beausejour, Iserlohn.
With the exception of Capt Ramsey Withers and Sgt Harry Knowles, the majority of the Signals Troop were single, young, recent graduates of the Apprentice program. Some of us may have had a year’s experience with the Signals Regt at Camp Borden. For the majority, it was our first Christmas away from family. The barracks were austere, and lonely, especially when they played Christmas music throughout the buildings. The Regt held the traditional pre-Christmas dinners and parties for all ranks.
On Christmas Day, the single members, Signals and RCDs, were all taken in by the Cdn military families who had just moved into the PMQs at Hemer. I don’t recall any single soldier being left alone in barracks on the day.

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