By Rebekah Enns
"First at bat as usual. Good luck in your mission."
-Vice Admiral Grant
We set sail, rushed into preparation
Not knowing our role to play
But we are the next generation We
will go, bring what may
Not much rest we were given
No time to even look
Onward bound we were driven
Play the rules by the book
First thing when we got there
A task was given to us Three
To keep other ships within our care
Their safe transport was key
And our Three ships who came East
Are together no more
That important union has ceased
In this god awful war
But our patience paid us well
In the job we were given
With only slight threat on ourselves
We became the threat to the others
With each shot our ability grew
And we earned a good name
With each shot we learned a new way to kill
And fulfilled all of our directives
The exhilaration of bombardment
Can never wear off
Not when no one can reach you
In position at sea
We had our chance to protect
Rescuing fellow fighters in need
Sailing through water filled with mines
Our impressive Cayuga at point
And by the time the cease-fire came
We had learned not to trust
We had learned war is not a game
And we stayed just in case
Completing evacuations as we were told
And cleaning up what we had made
Everyday drew on
Took its toll on our souls
In the end home was a long time coming
We'd just been trying to do our best
For ourselves and those who lived there
We pulled from port and headed back to the West
We patted ourselves on the back
Set our sights on a different path
Back home to rest
Accompanying Notes and Response
I opened with a quote from Vice Admiral Harold Grant, the Chief of Naval Staff in Ottawa at the time, because the people he spoke to are the people I wanted to highlight in my poem, the first Canadians sent into the Korean War and what they had to deal with when they arrived there.
On July 5th 1950 one cruiser, the HMSC Ontario, and three Destroyers, the Sioux, the Cayuga, and the Athabaskan set sail from Esquimalt, British Columbia. None of the sailors had much notice to prepare for that date; the Cayuga had been in dry dock until that time and the men of the Athabaskan weren't due back from their shore leave until July 6th. Despite all this when they got the call they packed everything up and left, their ships heavier than normal with sixteen officers as opposed to fifteen and two hundred sixty two men rather than one hundred seventy-eight. The officer leading the Destroyer fleet was thirty-seven year old Captain Jeffry V. Brock, a veteran of WWII and a master of tactics and leadership. Though described by some as being 'brash' he kept his head and negotiated what was best for his men.
The Canadians were put straight to work when they arrived in Sasebo, Japan on July 30th. They were also, however, separated and would not be working as a unit under singular command for the duration of the war. (Due to this in following wars Canada made it clear that the unit was not meant to be separated). Initially, the work given to them consisted only of escorting supply ships and transports to Pusan, but after five separate trips Cayuga was tasked with land bombardment.
There was a certain amount of threat that the United Nation's ships would be attacked either from fighter planes or by submarines, but not only were the Destroyers well equipped to handle either threat, the North Korean army, however formidable on land, was not prepared for sea warfare. This was a significant advantage that the U.N. did not take for granted, sending the Canadian ships alongside any port they desired.
The soldiers of the Destroyers didn't have a high level of training in this type of warfare and the equipment was far from uniform which made bombardment a difficult task at first. But with a great amount of practice, Canadians became known as quite the sharp shooters. Simply taking out targets was not the only time the Destroyer bombardment skills were utilized throughout the war. In December of 1950 they were ordered to defend five United States ships as they went up to Port Chinnampo at night to evacuate the U.N. forces. Lieutenant Andy L. Collier, the navigator of Cayuga, received a Distinguished Service Cross for leading everyone safely through the mine filled river.
In the July of 1951 an armistice was called for, however because of Chinese resistance this document was only signed on July 27 of 1953. But because neither side had been defeated the U.N was wary to pull their troops from the area, knowing that the opposition could very easily change their minds. And so the Destroyers stayed. In that time they evacuated more people living on the islands who wished to leave as they had done throughout the war. In the end they did not leave until September of 1955, two years after the armistice had been signed and any and all army bases built by the U.N. on Korean islands had already been destroyed.
In the beginning of the poem I paid attention to keeping the rhyming pentameter consistent, so that it would be smooth. As the poem went on though, and as conflict was reached in the telling of the events I dropped the rhyme. The effect I wished to give was one of disjointedness and of a loss of exactness, or repetition. War isn't a smooth and beautiful event, and it isn't poetic. When you get there often people need to act on instinct rather than careful planning. So to capture the facts of war in something that rolls off the tongue and sounds nice would be innately wrong. I feel like war is often over glorified, and perhaps my poem glorifies it a little bit also, but the subtle effect I tried to give my poem with the inconsistent rhyming was that there is a sense of wrongness to it, because we cannot fix that sense of 'wrongness' with war and stay true to the facts.
I have come to find that researching war history is both extremely interesting and rewarding. Coming from a community with a background founded in pacifism I am always being challenged to think very deeply on the topic of war. To be able to look at historical wars such as the Korean War, where on a national level Canada had to make decisions about what their participation in conflict would look like, brings up just how many different types of roles can be played in a single event, and just how complex history really is.
Canada had to learn many things about being an independent country and what being a 'middle power' looked like at the time. The Korean War was one of those places in our history that Canada made some of the decisions that affected what kind of a country we are now. In example Prime Minister St. Laurent can be quoted from 1950 to say the following in regard to their contribution of not only the Destroyers but the rest of the troops sent to Korea:
"It would be our part in collective police action under the control and authority of the United Nations for the purpose of restoring peace..."
I have always understood this to still be Canada's position on inter-national conflict, but I would be interested in the future to take a look at the past decade and a half to see how we were being affected on a national and governmental level by these conflicts, and what type of decisions are being made. It's also easier to understand the why of a decision when all the facts surrounding it can be examined. This is the type of thing that makes me excited about history and for the documentation of events such as the Korean War. It may be 'The Forgotten War' to some, but the effects of it are still being felt today.
- Bothwell, Robert, et al. Canada Since 1945: Power, Politics, and Provincialism. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1982. Print.
- Broderick, Jane. Canada and the Korean War. Montreal: Editions Art Global, 2002.Print.
- Brown, Craig. The Illustrated History of Canada. Toronto: Key Porter Books Limited, 2002. Print.
- Gardam, John. Korea Volunteer: an oral history from those who were there. Burnstown: General Store Publishing House, 1994. Print.
- Natkiel, Richard. Atlas of 20th Century Warfare. London: Bison Books Ltd, 1982. Print.
- Thorgrimsson, Thor and E. C. Russell. Canadian Operations in Korean Waters 1950-1955. Ottawa: Queen's Printer, 1965. Print.
- Wood, Lt. Col. Herbert Fairlie. Strange Battle Ground. Ottawa: Queen's Printer, 1966. Print.