‘The forgotten war’
BY SCOTT CARMICHAEL
Staff It’s often called Canada’s “forgotten war” – fought in a far-off land during the infancy of mass media and long before the Internet age, at a time when the world was trying to rebuild and put the death and destruction of the Second World War, less than a decade earlier, behind it.
And perhaps that moniker bears out in Glengarry as well.
Alexandria’s cenotaph bears plaques containing the names of local service personnel who lost their lives in the two World Wars, but when it comes to the Korean Conflict, a small brass plate on the monument’s south side simply states: “Korea 1950-1953.”
And Lancaster’s cenotaph, relocated, refurbished, and rededicated in 2008, makes no reference at all to the local presence on the Korean Peninsula more than six decades ago.
The Korean War began on June 25, 1950 when Communist North Korean forces launched a full-scale invasion of democratic South Korea.
The next day, the United Nations (UN) Security Council called for an immediate end to the hostilities and for North Korea to withdraw its troops from the South.
However, the North refused to do so, and the Security Council consequently called on its members to support the South by forming a multinational force to help restore peace.
The UN contingent consisted of combat forces from 17 countries, spearheaded by South Korea and the U.S., and including others such as Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, Greece, the Netherlands, and the Philippines.
During the first week of August, the Canadian government announced that it would be sending ground troops to fight with the UN contingent in Korea and created a brigade-sized Canadian Special Army Force, the infantry component of which consisted of the 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (2 PPCLI); the 2nd Battalion; the Royal Canadian Regiment (2 RCR) and the 2nd Battalion/Royal 22e Régiment (2 R 22e R), or ‘Van Doos.’
One member of the 2 PPCLI was Pte. Frank Villeneuve of Maxville, who, according to the Nov. 10, 1950 edition of was the guest of honour at a large reception at the Maxville Community Hall earlier that week.
“Pte. Villeneuve is the only representative from Maxville and district in the Special Force, and it was with heavy hearts but with much pride that his friends said au revoir and bon voyage,” recalled the front page story.
Similar to what it had done in both the First and Second World Wars, intermittently published ‘letters from the front’ written by local boys fighting in Korea.
One such missive, penned by a recent recruit of the PPCLI Special Force, Pte. James A. Deer of Alexandria, appeared on the front page of the Jan. 5, 1951 edition of the paper.
With a dateline of ‘Somewhere in the Pacific, December 10th, 1950,’ Pte. Deer, en route to the fighting in Korea, recalls some light-hearted fun with his comrades in Hawaii.
“We arrived at Pearl Harbour last week...and when we left, a group of hula dancers came down and sang and danced for us,” he wrote to his parents.
“They were rather cute. Everybody’s temperature went up 40 degrees when they started to dance. All matches were taken away from us before the girls arrived – just in case of fires starting in those (grass) skirts they wear.” The Dec. 28, 1951 issue of
stated that Pte. Deer was ex- pected home in time for Christmas but had been delayed in Seattle.
However, things worked out a little better for “a buddy and fellow Alexandrian,” Pte. Leopold O’Connor, whose Yuletide homecoming was bittersweet, as his father was seriously ill in a Montreal hospital when he was granted leave.
story provided the reader with an interesting account of the young soldier’s experiences overseas.
“Pte. O’Connor has been away from home some 13 months and though feeling fit he shows some- thing of the strain through which he has been,” it noted.
“The three days in April during which his unit was completely surrounded by Chinese and cut off from all but air-dropped supplies may have added a slightly drawn look to his features.” Those “three days” during which the 2 PPCLI, “won a Presidential citation for their firm stand and fighting return to the U.N. lines” – is a reference to the unit’s stand at Hill 677, also known as the Battle of Kapyong, fought between April 22 and 25, 1951. During the battle, roughly 700 Canadian soldiers valiantly and successfully halted the advance of more than 5,000 Chinese infantrymen between the late night of April 24 and the morning of April 25.
According to Veterans Affairs Canada, the Canadian victory was a turning point in the fighting.
“By May 1, the larger Communist offensive had come to a halt. The Korean War soon moved into a new phase as truce negotiations began in July 1951 and the front lines began to stabilize,” states the VAC web page dedicated to the Battle of Kapyong.
“For the Commonwealth (Australia, Canada, United Kingdom) contingent, the remainder of the conflict became largely a ‘war of patrols,’ with few largescale battles taking place.”
A number of other local men fought in the Korean War – often referred to as a “police action” since there was never any formal declaration of war – which ended with an armistice on July 27, 1953 and a return to the status quo of Communist North and democratic South Korea, divided by the 38th parallel, which exists to this day.
The only known local casualty of the war was Pte. Raymond Gagnier of Alexandria.
Pte. Gagnier, who moved to St. Catharines in the late 1940s where he married a local girl and was employed by a subsidiary of General Motors, suffered serious shrapnel wounds to his chest and a leg after falling on a hand grenade in June 1952. A member of the 2 RCR, he was invalided home in early 1953, but died in St. Catharines hospital that September, at the age of 23, following the last of a series of operations he’d undergone since being wounded. Approximately 26,000 Canadians fought in the Korean War. More than 1,500 were wounded and 516 were killed.
*Note: Online sources indicate that a small plaque on the Lancaster cenotaph bears the names of nine men from Glengarry who were killed during the Korean War. However, information from Veterans Affairs Canada’s Canadian Virtual War Memorial and accounts from the archives of indicate that these soldiers were all casualties of World War II. Only Raymond Gagnier’s name is listed on the Canadian Virtual War Memorial’s Book of Remembrance page for the Korean War.
Former Alexandrian Raymond Gagnier and his sister, Donella Gagnier Davidson.