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.

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

Just Posted

Seniors in the Interior Health region can book their COVID-19 vaccinations starting Monday, March 8, 2021 at 7 a.m. (File photo)
Seniors in Interior Heath region can book COVID-19 shots starting Monday

Starting March 8 the vaccination call centre will be open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily

Mary Clayton testing her ski and avalanche gear. As communications director, Clayton helped create Avalanche Canada into the success it is today. (Liam Harrap - Revelstoke Review)
Inspiring women: It was a men’s world – until Revelstoke’s Mary Clayton broke into it

She helped create Avalanche Canada into the internationally recognized organization it is today

John Hordyk said it isn’t fair to just look at COVID-19 deaths as many survivors are experiencing long-term impacts, himself included. (Photo by Rachel Muise)
Not getting better: Revelstoke man diagnosed with post-COVID-19 syndrome

‘I hope the damage isn’t long term, but it could be permanent’

A member of the Vernon Search and Rescue winch helicopter team pulls a skier who broke her leg at the gorge backcountry area east of Sicamous into the helicopter on Friday March 5. (Shuswap Search and Rescue/Facebook)
Search and rescue helicopter helps injured skier out of Shuswap backcountry

The Salmon Arm woman broke her leg, but was helped out of the bush thanks to radio communication.

Interior Health reported 33 new COVID-19 cases on March 5. (Black Press Files)
Interior Health reports 33 new COVID-19 cases on March 5

Over 300,000 vaccine doses have been administered provincewide.

The James C Richardson Pipe Band marches in a Remembrance Day parade on Nov. 11, 2019 in Chilliwack. Wednesday, March 10 is International Bagpipe Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of March 7 to 13

International Bagpipe Day, Wash Your Nose Day and Kidney Day are all coming up this week

Multiple people were injured at a Vernon home following an early-morning break-in Saturday, March 6, 2021. (Black Press file photo)
Multiple people left injured following break-and-enter in Vernon

Police believe the early-morning break-in was targeted and not a threat to the general public

Kelowna General Hospital (File photo)
Second COVID-19 outbreak declared at Kelowna General Hospital

One patient and one staff member on Unit have tested positive for the virus.

Victoria man Brett Andersen is asking for people’s help to secure him one of eight free tickets to the moon. (Screenshot/@brettandersen Instagram)
Victoria man wants your help securing a free ticket to the moon

Japanese billionaire offering eight people a trip to the moon

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

The Conservation Officers Service is warning aquarium users after invasive and potentially destructive mussels were found in moss balls from a pet store. (BC Conservation Officers Service/Facebook)
Aquarium users in B.C. warned after invasive mussels found at pet store

Conservation officers were told the mussels were found in a moss ball from a Terrace pet store.

A Coldstream resident who found an owl struggling on her property in March 2021 is now spreading awareness of about the knock-on effects of rodent poisoning. (Kathy Renaud photo)
Okanagan owl ‘fighting for her life’ after ingesting rat poison

Coldstream resident warns against the use of rodenticide due to risk of secondary poisoning in raptors

Hockey hall-of-fame legend Wayne Gretzky, right, watches the casket of his father, Walter Gretzky, as it is carried from the church during a funeral service in Brantford, Ont., Saturday, March 6, 2021. HE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Walter Gretzky remembered as a man with a ‘heart of gold’ at funeral

The famous hockey father died Thursday at age 82 after battling Parkinson’s disease

Most Read