A scene from “Canada and the Gulf War: In their own words,” a video by The Memory Project, a program of Historica Canada, is shown in this undated illustration. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Historica Canada

A scene from “Canada and the Gulf War: In their own words,” a video by The Memory Project, a program of Historica Canada, is shown in this undated illustration. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Historica Canada

New video marks Canada’s contributions to first Gulf War on 30th anniversary

Veterans Affairs Canada says around 4,500 Canadian military personnel served during the war

Petty officer Richard Austin was sitting at his position on board HMCS Athabaskan when he heard a clang. It was 1991, and the Canadian destroyer was traversing an Iraqi minefield in the Persian Gulf, on its way to rescue a crippled American warship.

“I remember waiting for the bang,” Austin recalls of those tense few moments nearly 30 years later. “Looking at the two pictures of my sons on the top of the weapons panel. The bang never came.”

Austin’s story is one of several Canadian experiences from the first Gulf War that were collected by Historica Canada and released on Sunday as part of a new video on what is a largely forgotten chapter of Canada’s military history.

Sunday marked the 30th anniversary of Operation Desert Storm, the massive attack that eventually resulted in U.S.-led forces pushing the Iraqi military from Kuwait, which Iraq had invaded in August 1990 under then-president Saddam Hussein.

The anniversary passed largely unnoticed by the government on Sunday, with no official statements by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan or Veterans Affairs Minister Lawrence MacAulay.

That was despite Canada being one of dozens of countries to condemn Iraq’s invasion, with three Canadian warships as well as fighter aircraft, security personnel and medical troops deployed in support of the American coalition that liberated Kuwait.

Veterans Affairs Canada says around 4,500 Canadian military personnel served during the war, which was broken into two phases: Operation Desert Shield, which saw a build-up of forces from August 1990 to January 1991, and Operation Desert Storm.

The latter started with a massive air attack on Jan. 17, 1991 against dug-in Iraqi forces before a devastating ground invasion that lasted two months. Tens of thousands of Iraqi troops were killed while around 300 allied soldiers died. No Canadians died.

Historica Canada CEO Anthony Wilson-Smith believes the fact no Canadians were killed is one reason there is little recollection or appreciation for what Canada did in the war. That is despite the fact many veterans suffered injuries during the conflict.

Signaller Bob Crane, who was a captain during the war, is one of those service members featured in the video who speaks about struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder after returning home.

Wilson-Smith also feels that the first Gulf War has largely faded into history as other events, particularly the terrorist attacks on 9/11 and the decades of conflict that have followed, have overshadowed what came before.

While Canada was quick to condemn Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, in which Baghdad hoped to gain control of the smaller country’s expansive oil reserves, the decision to send troops to participate in the U.S.-led coalition was controversial.

The Progressive Conservative government of day faced some opposition to the idea, before the Liberals supported military involvement. Even then, Canada played a largely supporting role, though its CF-18s did conduct some airstrikes on Iraqi targets.

Many of those interviewed for the video speak about the fear and anxiety that came with fighting a country that had a known stockpile of chemical and biological weapons – and which had a history of using them.

“It weighed heavily on everyone’s mind,” Crane says at one point.

Wilson-Smith is hoping the video, which is available online and will be shared with teachers across the country, will shine a light on Canada’s role in the conflict and the dangers that Canadian troops faced there.

“That’s one of the reasons why we did, to make it better known, because even though we didn’t lose any of our people there, obviously we couldn’t — and didn’t — know that going in,” he said.

“And the second is to make people aware of this extraordinary experience undertaken by about 5,000 Canadians, most of whom, the vast majority of whom, are still walking among us.”

ALSO READ: Less pomp, very different circumstances as D.C. prepares to inaugurate Biden, Harris

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Canada

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

An Island Health nurse prepares a dose of COVID-19 vaccine. (Photo courtesy Island Health)
Health authority opening 19 clinics to immunize Vancouver Island residents

Health authority anticipates more than 40,000 people will be immunized over the next month

The platanthera dilatata is the fragrant white bog orchid whose perfume on a hot August day is one of the unforgettable delights of a summer hike in Strathcona Park. Photo supplied
Strathcona Wilderness Institute AGM upcoming

The Strathcona Wilderness Institute (SWI) will hold its 2021 annual general meeting… Continue reading

The candidates in the recent municipal by-election say while they’re disappointed with the voter turnout, most are intending to take another run at a seat in 2022. Black Press File Photo
Candidates lament low voter turnout in Campbell River municipal by-election

Many say they will still be putting their names forward again in the future, however

BC Rent Bank helps people stay out of homelessness. Black Press stock photo
BC Rent Bank pitched for Campbell River

Program provides loans to keep people housed

(The Canadian Press)
‘Worse than Sept. 11, SARS and financial crisis combined’: Tourism industry in crisis

Travel services saw the biggest drop in active businesses with 31 per cent fewer firms operating

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Cole Moore with one of his sisters, Jasmin Moore. Photo supplied
Vancouver Island man looks to brain surgery for second chance

Fingers crossed that procedure can give Cole Moore a new lease on life after decade of seizures

Health Minister Adrian Dix, front, B.C. Premier John Horgan and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry arrive for a news conference about the provincial response to the coronavirus, in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, March 6, 2020. Pandemic emergency measures have been in place for almost a year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. officials plead for patience as 1.7 million COVID-19 calls flood in

Vaccine registration for 90-plus seniors opened Monday

A West Kootenay man died in an avalanche on March 4 while snowmobiling near Mount Payne, which is indicted by the red flag. Illustration: Google Maps
B.C. father of 3 dead after avalanche in West Kootenay

The man was snowmobiling with a group when incident occurred March 4

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Vaccine hesitancy decreases in B.C. as mass immunizations set to begin: poll

Two-thirds of British Columbians, and Canadians, would get the vaccine as soon as possible

Software engineer Shaimma Yehia, 40, has been forced to re-skill during the COVID-19 pandemic after more than six years of unsuccessfully applying for jobs in B.C.’s tech industry. (Submitted photo/Shaimma Yehia)
Why skilled immigrant women continue to be shut out of B.C.’s booming tech sector

Experienced software engineer Shaimma Yehia, 40, hasn’t found a job since she migrated to Canada 6 years ago

Ron Sivorot, business director at Kennametal’s Langford site, the Greater Victoria facility that made a component being used on NASA’s Perseverance rover on Mars. (Jake Romphf, Black Press Media)
NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover digging in with B.C.-made part

Kennametal’s Langford plant’s tooth blank is helping the rover’s drill collect rock cores

Most Read