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CONGO - ONUC/UNOC
For more details, please see a history of UNOC provided by the Canadian Forces Headquarters (CFHQ), Directorate of History, Report No. 8 titled "Canada and Peacekeeping Operations: The Congo, 1960-64".
Links to additional articles on the Congo:
If you have any additions to this page, please email Gord Jenkins (click here to email).
Following UNOC Congo photographs courtesy of National Defence Image Library, Canadian Forces Joint Imagery Centre (click on photos below to see larger image):
ENVY - This story concerns the UN representative to Katanga circa 1961, a Mr. George Ivan Smith. An Australian, he'd had an illustrious career as a radio broadcaster, war correspondent, movie director, diplomat, poet and author. When he joined the UN in 1947 he became closely associated with Dr. Ralph Bunche and, subsequently, Secretary General Trygve Lie. He was instrumental in creating the armistice ending the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict and, during the Suez Crisis, directly involved in salvage operations, assisting U.S. companies assigned the task of reopening the Canal. Arriving in the Congo at the behest of Dag Hammerskold and, during a visit to the outlying province in late 1961, he and his colleague, Sir Brian Uruquart, were captured and severely beaten up by a squad of dissident paratroopers, witnessed by U.S. senator Thomas Dodd who happened to be visiting Moise Tshombe at the time. One of the State Department aides, a Lewis Hoffacker, intervened and managed to get Mr. Smith to safety and back to Leopoldville where it was arranged to have him flown back to the UK.
The trip as far as Pisa was on one of our flights; with myself and crew on the Kano - Idris - Pisa segment. About three hours out of Kano Mr. Smith came up to the flight deck and sat between myself and the first officer in the flight engineer's seat, who was back in the bunk having his break. A beautiful dawn was slowly beginning to break in the east, creating a multi-hued desert. We watched in silence, engrossed with the magnificence of it all, wrapped up in our thoughts, when suddenly the ambassador brightened and spoke. "I envy you your jobs" he said. That was all. Nothing more. I thought about this for awhile before I realised exactly what he meant by that. Here was a man who had spent half a lifetime in the public eye, rubbing elbows with some of the most famous names on the planet. His life experiences would fill volumes - yet he never lost sight of the aesthetic values life had to offer. Ever after that whenever I felt boredom or exhaustion coming on during one of those seemingly endless long night flights I'd dwell on his remarks, just to put my life back in perspective.
Following stories and photographs courtesy of Roger Cyr.
BAWANA - I served with 426(T) Squadron for five years and one of our jobs was flying freight and personnel to our bases in Europe. In July of 1960 I flew to The Congo when the United Nations requested Canada's participation in yet another peacekeeping mission. We made our way across the Atlantic and landed in Gibraltar where we stopped for 24 hours. I took a tour of the Rock to visit the wife's relatives and managed to scald my right hand on hot liquid in the mess hall at the Royal Air Force base. We finally reached Leopoldville the capital, with stops along the way in North Africa for fuel and food. Here we were housed in an abandoned motel far from the center of town and about one hour's drive from the airport.
One of my duties was to replenish the North Star aircraft with oxygen as we prepared them for the return flight home. I scouted around the flight line and located a building where I saw a large black man sitting in an office. I thought he might know where the oxygen was stored, but how could I make him understand what I wanted? Oh well, I'd seen several Tarzan movies as a kid back in my old home town of Parrsboro, Nova Scotia so I held up my enflamed and very sore right hand Indian fashion and said Bawana, me Canada, needum oxygen, you haveum? He looked up from his work with a curious look on his face but did not speak. He doesn't understand I thought, so holding out my arms I ran around his office making a noise like an airplane and saying needum oxygen for big silver bird.
After a few minutes of making a complete fool of myself he leaned back in his chair and asked me what I wanted and what language did I speak? I speak English and some French I managed to stammer out. Well, pick the one you are most comfortable with and tell me what you want. I made my needs known to him in English and arranged for his men to deliver oxygen when we required it. As I turned to leave his office he called me back and asked me my name. I told him, and he said his name was Robert and he was from Namur, Belgium. He also told me that he had worked in Montreal for five years and had just recently returned to Leopoldville. I think Roger you have seen too many Tarzan movies as I slunk out of his office.
We became friends while I was there and every time I saw him he called me Bawana and I called him Maurice Richard, as he said that he missed the hockey games on TV. One day when I was servicing one of our aircraft he stopped to talk with me and we had our picture taken by an air force photographer. Just after I returned home the picture appeared in The Star Weekly. I always intended to send him a copy but never did. Our picture and a version of this article is also in the book SHADOWS OF WAR, FACES OF PEACE, the story of Canada's peacekeepers.
The United Nations gave me a medal and all the Canada's Peacekeepers the Nobel Prize for our years of service in the name of freedom. On my 69th birthday in a plain brown box, I received a medal from Canada for the services to my country as a peacekeeper in Africa... (Roger Cyr, September 2002)
Photos of Roger Cyr in Congo - click on photos below to see larger image (courtesy of Roger Cyr):
Additional photos of Congo from Roger Cyr:
ARMED GUARD - The first week we were in the Congo it was mostly sitting around either the air port, down town at Sabena airlines building or at the Guest House Otraca. A man from Brazzaville had the contract to run the dining room at the hotel and we paid him for each meal that we had there. Usually the evening meal but there was a restaurant a short distance away that we went to three or four times a week. The food was pretty good, perhaps a little on the rare side for my liking but that was something that I had come to expect from European cuisine. The UN paid us a water allowance of 75 Belgian francs per day and we could get a liter bottle of Polar beer for half that. We had stocked up on whiskey when we stopped at the Azores and once the airlift got going we had a continuous supply. A Sgt. from air movements who lived with us animals at the motel got robbed one night and he took a shot at the person with a pistol he packed. That caused our F/O to ask for an armed guard to be posted at the Motel. Sure enough the next night a chap from Gahanna showed up and patrolled around the grounds. He was so black that tar would not make a mark on him. The second night he was there we invited him up on the balcony for a drink. Those boys have no tolerance for good Canadian whiskey Gord and he passed out and fell asleep in some bushes at the side of the steps. That ended the armed guards and we never saw one of them again. F/O Wilber was not impressed!! (Roger Cyr)
THE MUSEUM - In July 0f 1960 while serving with 426(T) Squadron we flew Canadian troops to the former Belgian Congo on a peacekeeping mission. Once established at the Leopoldville airport and before the airlift began we were able to get a day off. Someone suggested we visit Stanley Falls and perhaps the nearby jungle where we might see an elephant in the wild. Our detail commander, who was a Flying Officer, arranged for a bus to drive us to the various locations. After lunch on Sunday the bus arrived, the driver who spoke very little English but was fluent in French would act as our guide and interpreter. The F/O whose name was Wilbur only spoke English; he was also a rather subdued individual, soft spoken and reserve of manner. The direct opposite in our Squadron, was a man from Cape Breton, who was exuberant in both speech and manner. He also had the ability to turn most unsavory situations into a party. He kept up a constant conservation with the driver in Cape Breton English, quizzing him on where we might go for a good time. We visited Stanley Falls and the University, an impressive looking building just a short distance out of the city. Later we stopped for coffee at a café in the heart of Leopoldville; here we mingled with other UN troops. Shaking hands with other young men such as ourselves who wore the blue beret. An experience I will always treasure.
Wilbur approached the driver and requested we be taken to a museum before returning to our Motel. The driver smiled and we all piled on the bus with the man from Cape Breton, whose name was MacDonald bringing up the rear. Speeding through the city we soon arrived in the native quarter, a strange place for a museum as the bus ground to a stop in front of a bar. Music drifted into the street and laughter from the many patrons filled the air. MacDonald led the way in, with Wilbur lagged behind. Our guide thought Wilbur had said music, and took us to his favorite drinking establishment. The patrons made us welcome; we drank Polar beer and danced with the ladies. Wilbur did not partake of the amenities of the establishment. About the time the party got interesting two UN Swedish military police who were on patrol entered the bar and spotted our white faces among the locals. What are you Canadians doing in here one of the asked? The native quarter is off limits to all UN troops. You will leave now, the other one barked. MacDonald rushed over to the Swede and said, here buddy have a beer, it's not our fault we're here. It's his, pointing to Wilbur, he thinks this frigging' place is a museum, he wants us to study the local culture.
About two months after I arrived home, my wife who was a nurse at the local hospital in Trenton arrived home from the midnight shift and asked me if I knew a man by the name of MacDonald? Yes, I replied, he was with us in The Congo. He was killed in a car accident last night, she said. (Roger Cyr, February 1992)
THE CURE - Some of the senior army officers moved into the Guest House Otraco when they arrived in The Congo. Attached to the guesthouse were several cabins situated around the back of the building and this is where I slept the first week I was there. It was quiet back there opposed to the guesthouse which contained the dining room and chapel where many a sermon and gaiety took place well into the blackness of a jungle night. When the flights begin to arrive I gave up my cabin to a couple of the aircrew so they could get a decent rest away from the noise of the guesthouse. I moved into a private home. The Canadian Army Medical Corps arrived and their doctor was a Major. He believed that all of life's problems as well as solutions could be solved by the use of copious amounts of Canadian whiskey. I rarely saw him without a glass of the amber liquid in his hand. Now enter (LAC) MacDonald whom I have spoken of previously. Now Mac Donald's aim in life was not to allow his work in the RCAF to interfere unduly with his quest for a good time.
One evening shortly after the Doctor's arrival - the good doctor moved the glass from his right hand to his left and with his nicotine stained right digit pointed it at MacDonald and began lecturing him on the diseases that were present in the jungle. Diseases he emphasized that we had little or no knowledge of (AIDS perhaps). A lively discussion took place between MacDonald and the doctor with the outcome being they both got pissy eyed drunk and passed out on their chairs before 9:30PM. End of story? They were both diminutive in stature and at opposite ends of the rank structure but struck up a friendship and a bond almost immediately. My God there were a lot of interesting people in the military then. The entertainment was all around us and we never knew it. I told you what happened to MacDonald but I have often wondered what ever become of the doctor?
A COUPLE MORE - By the second week in Congo we started to receive Canadian UN troops. I believe they were signals. The Officers stayed at The Guest House Otraco but I forget just where the enlisted ranks stayed. We had a flight arriving at 10:00 and by this time we had the use of a couple of VW Mini busses and at 07:00 we all piled in and drove to the airport. We would have breakfast at the air terminal and when we saw the North Star in the circuit would go out and park it and welcome another load of peacekeepers. Since I had to replenish the O2 system and this had to be done with no power on the A/C or it being refueled I would drive the aircrew back to the Motel and have lunch there. I would return by 13:00 and top up the O2.
I had no clue as to the army ranks and did not know one from the other. I was not completely clueless, as when one saw the brass some of them wore I just knew they were higher than a corporal. Anyhow I would come into the dining room and sit at a table where sometimes a couple or more army types were already sitting and having lunch.
By 1960 I had been with air transport since 1955 and we had a system to move our personal mail around the country. I won't go into it here but I took a letter out of my shirt pocket and when my dinner was being served started to read the letter from my wife who was staying at her parents home in Brantford. Another long story as to why she was there and not Trenton. Now one of the army blokes asked me where and how I had got a letter from home since he was there to set up the army postal corps. He got very upset when I told him the method we had been using for as long as I had been with transport command. We are supposed to deliver the military's mail he said rather snarly I might add. Where in the hell were you and the postal Corps when I was working along the 55 parallel building the radar sites in the Canadian arctic I replied? What radar sites he asked. I guess you did not have the security clearance to know I replied. I always made sure to have a letter in my pocket whenever I saw him. He did not like us enlisted chaps sitting and having dinner with the army officers so we made damn sure to always sit with them. They were also peeved that the air force had ground transportation and they did not. Many a time I drove a couple of them to the Sabena world airline building on my way back to the airport. I have often thought that was the reason they tolerated me sitting with them during lunch and sometimes dinner. (Roger Cyr, 2010)
THE SWEDES - were in The Congo when I was there and if I recall they were flown in from ElArish as guards around the city. They were the guys who threw us out of the native quarter the first Sunday we were there. I think we made 18 initial flights bringing in the Canadian Army and when we finished that we flew home. I have no clue as to how they got around the country after that. Katanga was in a snit and some UN troops went there to quite things down ---------- but the civil war broke out and mercenaries started to arrive and it was not a safe place to be.I think now that the RCAF was extremely fortunate that we did not loose people as we were unarmed and for the most part had no protection around our air planes or where we lived. If you could get to talk to someone who was with the C-119's possibly in 1961 as I had a friend at Downsview who was in the Congo after I came home. For some reason I lean towards the Swedes who provided the air lifts within the Congo and the RCAF and USAF looked after getting the equipment there initially.
LAWRENCE OF THE CONGO - The man with the "freshly laundered" coveralls was my room mate during my Congo tour. What I recall about him is when we stopped in Lajes on the way over he dropped a bottle of his whiskey on the tarmac and smashed it. He went ballistic and there was no damn way the A/C was leaving until he went back and got a replacement. When we had a room in a private home there was a beetle the shape of a potato bug but 10 times it size. When we got up in the morning they would be running for cover and with his big clodhopper boots would jump on them with a resounding crunch. One made it's way back to Canada aboard a North Star and we found out they were harmless. I think they are extinct now because of Lawrence. You just gotta know that we called him "Laurence of The Congo." (Roger Cyr, 2010)
THE PARROT - At six AM the jungle woke up and all the creatures that called this part of Africa faced another day of uncertainly. A cold chill shot up my spine as my feet hit the cold marble floor and I knocked my boots together a couple of times to dislodge any overnight tenants that may have taken up residence in their warmth overnight. I pulled them on and cursed that last drink I had before turning in five hours earlier. As I stood up the room spun around a couple of time and tilted one way and then the next. It was going to be another hot muggy day a few degrees below the equator as the sun broke through the morning fog. I dressed standing in front of the window that faced the river and in the still of the morning you could hear a roar and see the mist rising from the torrents of water tumbled over Stanley Falls.
I had been in The Congo for the better part of a week on a peacekeeping mission with the United Nations that was to last another seven weeks. At the beginning of the second week I met the flight back from Katanga at airport and drove the crew back to our Motel. As I drove up a mangy looking parrot flew by and landed on the balcony. When Chuck Empey get out of the vehicle the parrot landed on his shoulder. The parrot turned his head and looked Chuck in the eye. At that very moment I think a bond was established between bird and man.
Chuck made several trips between Leopoville and Canada as the flight engineer on the North Stars and the darn parrot seemed to know when the good Sergeant was due back. A day or so before that it would arrive at the Guesthouse and take up his perch on the balcony. He would ignore all our attempts to befriend him and wait for Chuck to arrive and fly around our VW Mini Van squawking and making a clicking noise and take up a perch on Chuck's shoulder as he walked up the steps.
Chuck always had a few bags of beer nuts tucked away in his flight suit and he and the parrot shared an Aderondict chair until it was time for bed. Chuck would sip on a beer while the parrot did his best to chip off a piece of a nut. In frustration the parrot would pick up the nut in his beak and give it to Chuck who would break it in pieces with his teeth. They then would share to remainder of the nuts this way. No harm ever came to the parrot and I doubt if Chuck ever gave any consideration to contacting psittacosis from the parrot.
On Chuck's last flight out of the Congo he took the parrot to Gibraltar and left it with his friend. Both Chuck's friend and the Parrot have disappeared from history. Oh, yes we called the Parrot "CONGO." (Roger Cyr - 14 February 2010)
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