UNEFME II (1973-1974)
Based on the experience of MJ McGraw CD Retired PERI 1949-1984
1. What Operation did you serve on? Second United Nations Emergency Force UNEF II (October 1973-July1979) UNEF II was established in October 1973 to supervise the ceasefire between Egyptian and Israeli forces and, following the conclusion of the agreements of 18 January 1974 and 4 September 1975, to supervise the redeployment of Egyptian and Israeli forces and to man and control the buffer zones established under those agreements.
2. Where did the operation take place? Suez Canal sector and later the Sinai peninsula Headquarters Cairo (October 1973-August 1974)Ismailia (August 1974-July 1979) Duration October 1973-July 1979. Canadian Peacekeepers were deployed again as part of the UN contingent sent to stand between the warring Middle East neighbours. On November 23, 1973, it was agreed that Canada would provide a supply company, a maintenance company, a postal detachment, a military police detachment, a movement control unit and an air transport unit (ATU 116) consisting of two Buffalo aircraft. These elements were all in theatre by January 1974. Poland, in addition to the engineer unit, provided a road transport company and a field hospital.
3. What unit? A PERI SGT with the welfare department at the (Al Shams racetrack outside Cairo). Cairo 1973-1974 the year was not quite up when I was posted to Egypt from Camp Gagetown in Oromocto, NB as the Canadian Contingent PERI, we were not issued the UN Hat Badge at this time because of the rush to get us on the ground in Cairo Egypt with the UNEFME II, many at that time wore their unit Insignia’s & accoutrements, we were Issued Blue Berets at our units before deployment.
4. What rank and position did you hold? Sgt whilst so employed to fill the position established for that rank & represent the Contingent on matters of welfare for the Unit in Sports & Recreational.
5. What were the dates of your deployment? Nov 1973 to June1974. But first the background, for those of an historical bent, on the peacekeeping force established in the wake of the ceasefire ending the October 1973 'Yom Kippur War' between Israel and her Arab neighbors, particularly Egypt. A separate ceasefire between Israel and Syria was concluded later and resulted in the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force, (UNDOF) on the Golan Heights in 1974.
The October 1973 war was naturally of great concern to everyone, including Canada. Mobile Command HQ in St. Hubert manned the Operations Centre 24/7 when the first tentative ceasefire was under discussion. It was assumed that Canada would again offer formed units to serve as peacekeepers interposed between the belligerents, as it had done for the original UNEF after the 1956 war and in Cyprus in 1964, should the UN pass the enabling resolution. "Jadex"(Gen Dextrase) wanted to have the Canadian Airborne Regiment made ready for that duty. There was considerable consternation at that decision because, at the time, the CAR was deemed to be the nation's principal domestic defence-of-Canada organization and was thus precluded from serving outside the country . . . notwithstanding the fact that it was at the moment training en masse in California's Mojave Desert.
The issue of the legality of the CAR's subsequent deployment was ignored for the time being but would crop up again later. In the meantime, CFB Edmonton went all out marshalling and repainting the regiment's kit white and plastering big black UN lettering on the regiment's vehicles. The regiment was finally all redeployed and the UN had finally approved a resolution when, from the perspective of the Canadian military, the wheels fell off. Once again the discussions between Jadex and Lt.-Gen. Waters, the substance of which was that under threat of veto by the Soviet Union, neither members of NATO nor the Warsaw pact would be permitted to put formed armed bodies within the demilitarized zone. The decision was perhaps understandable, given the degree to which both the US and the Soviet Union had logistically supported the respective sides, and by that point neither side in the Cold War trusted the other enough to have soldiers from the respective camps in such a volatile situation.
The upshot was that Canada, while an acceptable participant in view of its long history of peacekeeping, would have its role restricted to the provision of logistics support, which it would share with Poland, a Warsaw Pact member. To be compensated for the hoops they had just been put through FMC was directed to adjust the rotation schedule of Op SNOWGOOSE so that the next contingent into Cyprus would be the Canadian Airborne Regiment, irrespective of the legal restrictions. They arrived on the island just in time to fire their weapons in anger during the 1974 Turkish Invasion, losing some of their members to death and wounds in the process. But that's another story, best told by someone who was there. In the meantime, the whole of the Canadian Forces across the country scrambled to find enough truck drivers, quartermasters, vehicle mechanics and other logisticians to make an ad hoc service battalion. A similar search went on to make up a signals squadron, an air squadron with three de Havilland DHC-5 Buffalo medium transport aircrafT and the vehicles and equipment to support them. (After BUFF 461 was shot down by the Syrians on 09 Aug 74, which resulted in the death of 9 peacekeepers, a third Buff was sent over in late 75. For more info follow this link http://www.buffalo461.ca/ ). The whole mish-mash was deployed to the Shams racetrack outside Cairo and subsequent replacement occurred on an individual basis as each member completed his or her six month tour. A year later, both the Polish and Canadian contingents moved to Ismailia, thereby shortening the main supply route to the other national troops on the Green Line by about 100kms. The initial Canadian Contingent commander, a logistician named Brig-Gen. Nicholson, was subsequently replaced by Brig-Gen. Don Holmes of the RCR who, having completed a tour as the Canadian Military Attaché to Poland, spoke Polish and relations with the other contingent improved markedly.
6. How long did the unit spend conducting pre-deployment training? How much of this time was spent on exercises at your local base, or away from home? There was no pre-deployment training although everyone was sent to FMC HQ for a day of medical inspections and immunizations and had to take, under supervision, their first of what would be a weekly dose of anti-malaria pills.
7. In general, what subjects were covered during pre-deployment training? Did you receive briefings or training on the culture of the country you would be visiting? The contingent commander made up for the lack of pre-deployment indoctrination by holding a weekly 'Pinkie Briefing' every Thursday morning for new arrivals during which he covered the contingent's role, geography, contingent garrison routine, and cultural sensitivities.
8. How did you deploy to the theatre of operations and how long were you in transit from Canada to the operational area? Deployment differed for everyone because of the broad Detachment area from which replacements were selected. In general, though, people would arrive at either Trenton or Ottawa, be flown to Lahr where the aircraft was refueled and then on to the Cairo International Airport to arrive on Wednesday of each week, from which the replacements -- known as 'Pinkies' for their epidermal tone were bussed to Shams racetrack outside Cairo. That trip took the best part of 20min. By that time the UNDOF force was also up and running, on the same structure as UNEF II, and replacements for that region were flown on a Buffalo from Ismailia, along the Mediterranean coast past Egyptian, Israeli and Syrian SAMs -- the coordinated switching off of which during the timed flight became a priority after the loss of a Buffalo and into Damascus International Airport whence they were bussed to their camp on the Golan Heights. The return trip happened the same way, in reverse.
9. What was your weekly work schedule like during the operation? The weekly work schedule was generally reveille at 0600, breakfast at 0630, work from 0700 to 1300 -- by which time the outside temperature would be a balmy 50-plus C -- lunch and free time. The job of the PERI’ were in support of the Troops through HQ & Welfare Department we set up Base Recreational Facilities, Volleyball Courts, Horse Shoe Pitches, Minnie Golf with trips to the local golf courses and Cooks Tours to many local site seeing and area trips to Sports Clubs sit up by and pre-arranged through contacts with the local sports Reps and tour operators. This was made more than a little complicated by the cultural sensitivities of the region and the standard seven-day week was shortened by three days due to religious restrictions. The Egyptians went to ground on Friday, the Israelis didn't work on Saturday and the Christians shut down on Sunday so when required to escort of group of Canadian journalists wanting to cover their soldiers in action during their six-day stay, 'action' was often hard to come by as the soldiers were mindful of their hosts' restrictions.
10. What were the usual types of tasks you performed on a daily or weekly basis on the operation? Aside from the Regular Phy Ed & Welfare duties, organizing sports trips and Recreational runs and Tours Distribution of Mail and Movies which came about weekly and Recreational once each month. Duties included monitoring the needs of the Canadian contingent Troops by keeping on top of local sports facilities and organizing Golf Tournaments and Bus Tours to many parts of the country and briefing the Sports Officer and Commander (Major Louis McKenzie) on anything that might impact the contingent's operations. -- filing a weekly reports. Later we would also produce a contingent newspaper.
11. What was the weather like during your tour? It's Cool at nights in winter and warm to moderate in the day time.! It was HOT in the summer time & cool in the winter Months. That's to be expected in the desert.
12. What were your living conditions in theatre (type of quarters, personal space allocation, numbers of personnel living together)? Quarters were initially in tents but after the move from the Cairo racetrack to Ismailia we adopted facilities that had been installed by the RAF in the late-40s/early-50s and, Electricity was provided by diesel generators and water was provided by city of Cairo processed and purified, and sent throughout the camp by piping system. Being part of the Race Track system the sewage system was vastly overworked and after decades of usage by a succession of Egyptians and Canadians, frequently broke down. Two-step or Yallah (Arabic for 'hurry') -- to which all were subjected as a result of both the weekly malaria pill and the high concentration of chlorine needed to make the water safe to drink. It tasted awful and bottled water was always welcome.
13. What were the rations like during the operations (type, variety, personal opinion on general quality)? In the early days 1973 in Cairo, we used C-Rations were pretty much to Canadian standards. Then as time went on with the establishment of the camp at the Race Track the cooks set up a main Cook tents for all ranks until the Senior NCOs‘, Officers & Men’s set up their own Tent systems for messes & kitchens. Egypt must have some incredibly small chickens because the standard egg was about the size of a marble and those who had experience on a farm came to call them 'pullet pellets'. The usual breakfast choice was therefore scrambled eggs, which the cooks much preferred to serve since they could just break a bunch of the little blighters into a pan, rather than have to try to make them, say, sunny side up and serve something looking like an ovian Twoonie. Those wanting relief from mess fare could take a run into Cairo on their time off and get a decent meal, at a decent price, at one of the luxury hotel restaurants.
14. Did the Battalion celebrate holidays and Regimental Days as special occasions? Do you remember any particular events that stand out in your mind? The biggest event occurred every week. Pinky Day was Wednesday, when the weekly service flight arrived with the replacements and took out those who had completed their six month tour. It was also the day we took our malaria pill and those things had some odd side-effects, which seemed to hit everyone differently but nightmares, hallucinations and mild nausea seemed to be common complaints. Everyone found their own solution, some more successful than others, but a couple of stiff shots of whiskey just before bedtime seemed to work for me. Christmas was better forgotten and many did their best to avoid it as the tents blew down on my first Christmas away from home and I missed dinner because of that.
15. What weapons and equipment did your section/platoon employ during this operation? Was any new equipment issued during the operation? We were issued FN Rifles that were kept in a clear plastic gun cases, for the whole of my tour, never needed it, although we did have a parade to establish a point that all where not familiar with the weapons they were issued, so that brought on a whole different bug out rule.
16. in a few words, can you describe your general impression of the physical terrain of the country you were in? In addition to the terrain described under 'weather', the major feature was the Suez Canal. Since the contingent had to support the battalions deep in the Sinai, that presented a major obstacle. The Israelis had, of course, sunk ships in the canal during the war so there was no ship traffic until, as part of the ceasefire agreement, the canal was cleared and it reopened in 1975. That presented additional problems as the Egyptians wanted to run as many ships as possible through the canal because, until the opening of the Ras Sudar oil fields outside Port Suez, canal ship traffic was the country's principal source of income. The Canadians and Poles, on the other hand, needed a crossing over the canal in order to run materiel into the Green Line so a compromise was reached whereby, on a tightly-controlled schedule, the Egyptian army would run a pontoon bridge across, keep it open for a limited time, and then pull it up. The bridge schedule was published and anyone wanting to cross would gather in the forming-up place on the near bank and, at the dropping of a flag, make a mad dash across, up the far bank, and into the desert. But the Egyptian concept of 'ma'alish' -- like the better-known Spanish concept of 'manana' -- meant that the bridge may or may not be open when you got there and it may be withdrawn before your turn came to cross, regardless of what the published schedule said. Still, it seemed to work and no-one went without their re-supply although max flex applied equally on the canal as elsewhere.
17. What entertainments or diversions were available during your off hours? Entertainment was a nightly movie in the mess, week-old letters, newspapers and magazines -- We got a Canadian entertainment group over, courtesy of the Director of Welfare. From a professional perspective and it too could be entertaining the area allowed you to walk the ground over which some the fiercest battles in modern history had been fought in 1944, 1945, 1948, 1956, 1967 and 1973. While the Malta Pass was a bit far out, one could visit Chinese Farm and visualize the greatest tank battle since Kursk. Even closer, one could practically walk to the site where Israeli General Ari Sharon had crossed the canal, against orders and surrounded the Egyptian Third Army, thereby bringing a call from Cairo for an initial ceasefire. At any time, you could be riding a taxi in Tel Aviv and the driver would relate what it was like to be roaring over the Sinai in his Centurion. That is 'entertainment' none of us would want to miss.
18. How much leave could you expect during the tour, what were your options (locations, travel of spouse) for this leave? Each member of UNEF II was entitled to two weeks' UN leave and most of us opted to take it either in Germany, locally within Egypt, or in Israel. I chose to go to Alexandria, spend some time with friends, I went to Lahr for sports Gear & spent two weeks there because of an aircraft restriction, was only to spend one week!
19. Were there any small locally available souvenirs that soldiers purchased that still remind you of the tour when you see them? Aside from the souvenirs few would want but collected nonetheless -- scorpion stings, mosquito bites, sunburn -- there was ample opportunity to buy Egyptian souvenirs in Cairo or Port Said. The Souk in Cairo was a pale imitation of those in Damascus or Beirut and few chose to buy gold there. We used to get visits from a certain merchant with contacts in Beirut and he would present a catalogue from which quality items could be selected and be delivered the next week, usually on schedule and without hassle.
20. How did you transition out of country back to Canada? How long was it between your last 'duty' and your return to family? Return was via the same schedule as the arrival although I was able to leave a day earlier in the belly of a Boeing 707 got to visit one night in Cyprus and an extra 'decompression' day in Lahr before catching the regular to Trenton, then another Boeing 707 to Trenton. Then from Bellville to Montreal by Train & from Dorval to Fredericton NB the next day.
21. What medal did you receive for this operation? The tour earned me the UNEFME II
Our team boarding Air Canada at Fredericton Airport bound for Quebec City & Base Valcartier on advance party briefings prior to deployment to Mid East Via Lahr Germany & Cairo Egypt - 1973. (Mel is in the center)
UNEFME Race Track Hilliopolis. (Middleman again)
(Not the middleman here)