Remembering Canada’s fallen peacekeepers

Peacekeeper Memorial

A retired Peacekeeping Veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces salutes after laying a poppy at the cenotaph. Photo: Sailor First Class Mike Goluboff, MARPAC Imaging Services.

Peacekeeper Memorial

Peter Mallett, 
Staff Writer

Members of Victoria’s military paid tribute to Canadians who lost their lives in peacekeeping operations during the 30th Annual Peacekeepers Memorial Day Event at Esquimalt Memorial Park on Aug. 9.

Chief Petty Officer Second Class (CPO2) (Retired) Chris Preston, a peacekeeping veteran, remembers the importance of Canada’s historic global peacekeeping role. 

“It is of utmost importance all Canadians remember our military and peacekeeping history, or we are going to keep repeating these tragic moments,” the 68-year-old Victoria resident said during the memorial.

Forty-eight years ago, Preston was two months into a six-month United Nations (UN) peacekeeping deployment to Egypt when he heard that a CC-115 Buffalo aircraft had been shot down over Syria. Nine Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) members died in the attack, the largest single-day loss of lives during Canada’s peace operations.

The memorial was organized by the Canadian Peacekeeping Veterans Association with the Office of the Base Commander at CFB Esquimalt.

Attending dignitaries included Captain (Navy) Jeff Hutchinson, Base Commander; Randall Garrison, Member of Parliament for Esquimalt-Saanich-Sooke; and Mitzi Dean,
Member of the British Columbia Legislature for Esquimalt Metchosin.

Capt(N) Hutchinson noted the importance of Canada’s involvement in UN peacekeeping missions.

“Over the years, peacekeeping has become deeply entwined with the Canadian identity,” he said. “We identify ourselves as peacekeepers and are seen as such on the international stage.”

Canadian peacekeeping missions date back to the 1950s and have involved more than 125,000 CAF members.

Gerald Pash, the event’s emcee and former journalist, naval reservist, MARPAC Public Affairs Officer, and citizenship judge, emphasized how British Columbia was the first to declare a memorial day for the occasion.

“Canadians are particularly proud of how our military, which trains as warriors to engage in combat, has world-renowned peace operations, peacekeeping, and peacemaking,” Pash said.

Also in attendance were Silver Cross parents, Shelia and Shawn Fynes, whose son Corporal Stuart Langride died by suicide at CFB Edmonton in 2008; and Silver Cross parents Steffen and Tessa Hagen, whose son died with crewmates when HMCS Fredericton’s helicopter crashed into the Ionian Sea in 2020. 

After a rendition of the Last Post, attendees bowed their heads in a moment of silence as pilot Major Daniel Schade of 443 Maritime Helicopter Squadron conducted a ceremonial fly-past salute in a CH-148 Cyclone Helicopter.

CPO2 (Ret’d) Preston then delivered the stanza from the poem For the Fallen and Act of Remembrance. He then pinned a poppy to the wreath at the Cenotaph.

Preston remembers

More than once last week, Preston said his mind raced back to that fateful moment in Egypt so many years ago.

“What started out as an interesting opportunity for a young man from Victoria to see the world all of a sudden got serious,” he said.

He was the lone occupant at the Communications Message Centre for the main Canadian UN Headquarters in Ismailia, Egypt, on Aug. 9, 1974, when the call about the Buffalo attack came in. He remembers taking down the call details and forwarding them to his duty officer. This started the process of getting the word out to the rest of the world.

“Obviously, I wasn’t expecting to hear this news. It came as a complete shock and changed my perspective on everything,” he said.

While the official report from the Syrian military claimed they had mistaken the Buffalo for an Israeli military jet, speculations about their motives continue to this day. Nobody really knows why it was done, Preston said, noting that military officials from the Soviet Union have been Syrian military advisors.

“The mood at the time was very subdued and people were in shock, many angry,” Preston said. “We were there as peacekeepers, there is no doubt in what we were doing. We were there as neutrals making sure all sides respected the truce [between Israel and Egypt].”

Preston went on to serve 44 years in the Naval Reserves and 25 years as a constable with the Victoria Police Department. Today, he is the Vehicles Curator at the Ashton Armouries Museum. During the lead-up to the remembrance ceremony, he was part of a vintage military vehicles parade that made their way down Esquimalt Road to Memorial Park to commence the Act of Remembrance. 

Peacekeeper Memorial

Mitzi Dean, Member of the British Columbia Legislature for Esquimalt Metchosin, speaks during the 30th Annual Peacekeepers Memorial Day event at Esquimalt Memorial. Photo: Sailor First Class Mike Goluboff, MARPAC Imaging Services.

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