William H.A. Willbond MSM, CD

A MOMENT IN TIME – DISGRACE SHATTERED BY RHYME

These are the Canadian AIRBORNE tales that they do not tell
No one tells our CANADIAN AIRBORNE history very well
Do they want our TROOPERS to continue to bow a losing face?
Did Chretien’s Liberal MND disband our Regiment in disgrace?

These are the stories of our Regiment’s Brave Men
You never heard these stories before or back then
A Somali youthful thief was beaten and died
Only one Private went to court and was tried

They hung the pictures in the Canadian War Museum
For all the world and the Canadian public to be seen
Where were these CWM tales of bravery and glory?
Shouldn’t they now be telling the Michel Gingras story?

Heroism: One Moment Is All It Takes

Melissa Atkinson, Managing Editor and Stephanie Burr, Staff writer: April 7, 2008

ALT
Michel Gingras holds up the medals he was awarded throughout his career with the military. He was awarded the Medal of Bravery for carrying an injured comrade to safety when they came under sniper fire in Cyprus. Photo by Stephanie Burr
On a hot July day in 1974, Michel Gingras learned the true meaning of bravery.

Just turned eighteen at the time, and fresh out of basic training, the young Private was on duty for the first time in Cyprus as a member of the Canadian Airborne Regiment patrolling the “Green Line.”

The Canadian Forces had been in the small Mediterranean island for 19 years, since it gained independence in 1960 from Britain (and would continue that mission for another 10 years). The Regiment was part of a United Nations peacekeeping mission to ease ethnic tension between the Greek Cypriots and minority Turkish population who inhabited the island.

The 180-kilometre cease-fire Green Line stretched across Cyprus, and divided the island capital Nicosia. UN forces patrolled this zone, which was far from safe.

Pte Gingras learned quickly about the conflict, and the danger that shrouded the Green Line.

“We were there to help, but there wasn’t much we could do,” recalls Gingras, who currently works at Rocky Point ammunition depot. “During the day we watched the two groups talking and laughing at each other’s jokes, and then night fell and they would start shooting at each other. It was the most bizarre scenario, and we were right on the Green Line, stuck in the middle.”

But on July 20, the Green Line became impassable when tension spilled over to an all out war after Turkey invaded the island in response to a short-lived Greek Cypriot coup d’état.

Pte Gingras and members of his reconnaissance patrol were soon caught in the middle of a battle on a narrow street in the old part of Nicosia.

As their section commander tried to discern the direction of distant gunfire before moving forward, his troops waited with one knee on the ground, eyes scouring the rooftops and building doors.

Within minutes they came under sniper fire. One soldier was struck and collapsed in a heap on the street.

“If they weren’t shooting at us then they had really, really lousy aim,” says Gingras.

The soldiers ran for cover. But Pte Gingras and Cpl Claude Gratton, realizing that one of their comrades was down, turned back amidst a flurry of gunfire.

“You have two choices when one of your own goes down,” says Gingras. “You can either keep running or you can turn around. We turned around, but it didn’t feel like a choice at the time. I just couldn’t have left him there.”

The two men picked up the injured soldier and carried him to safety; all the while hoping no bullet would find them.

“As we ran, I could see the stone wall on the right of us crumbling as the bullets hit it. When we made it to the platoon cover I was shaking like a leaf. I had bullet holes through my pants. Pte Gasse had a bullet pass through one of his legs and Pte Gaudet was missing one of his boot heels.”

The Regiment never knew which side had shot at them.

On July 22, the UN initiated a cease fire, ending the three-day conflict. This would not be the end of tension in Cyprus. Turkey attempted a second invasion a month later. Following that four-day conflict, the Turkish Army had claimed 37 per cent of the island. The UN adjusted the “Green Line” to separate the Turkish and Greek communities.

The injured soldier recovered from his bullet wound, and in 1975 both Gingras and Gratton were awarded the Medal of Bravery.

“When we were awarded the medals, I really felt strange accepting mine,” he says. “For me I just saw what I did as doing my job. I understand we didn’t have to go back for him, but that’s what we were trained to do, and he was my comrade. You just don’t leave your comrades behind.”

During the UN mission in Cyprus, 28 Canadian peacekeepers died, and more than 160 UN personnel from different countries were also killed.

CANADA IN CYPRUS

Canada made a significant contribution to peacekeeping activities in Cyprus for 29 years, with 25,000 personnel in 58 contingents serving on the island. In 1992, the Canadian government announced its decision to withdraw the Canadian Battalion from Cyprus. The close out of the Battalion was completed in September 1993. Currently Canada maintains two personnel on the headquarters staff in Nicosia.