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Cyprus Situation

Heroes Remember

The UN tends to want everything decided in New York. Well, if your on the line in Cyprus, the company commander, like I was, I was the guy that has to take a decision whether you open fire or not. Today, it’s become so restrictive that you probably would not have any options at all but to wait for a word from New York. So, you know, it’s maybe an exaggeration but you talk to some of my friends like Lou McKenzie that encountered all this in Yugoslavia later. It’s very difficult to get anything decided in New York and military operations have a way of being nice and lovely here today we’re sitting here talking and you go outside the door and your fired on. Then it changes and no time to come back and say who do we call. We love the structure in NATO I think, basically the UN structure was a bit frustrating, a bit confusing. Although the time that I was there was in the first year so there was still enough activities and the UN had not been there so long that we’d had that many restrictions placed on us. So, in a lot of ways, we had a lot more freedom of action to take action ourselves than we came to have later. Because I went back there in ‘69 as a battalion commander and the defacto Canadian contingent commander and already the differences between ‘65 and ‘69 were dramatic. I mean, you know, if there was one shot fired by a hunter after a bird or a rabbit there, I mean the whole world turned upside down. Exchanges of fire when I was there the first time were four or five times a week probably. Not necessarily with us but over our head between the Greeks Cypriots and the Turks and you’re always somewhere in between trying to get them to stop. And you have to get pretty close to them to get them to stop. And we were fairly successful. In ‘74, well of course, when the Turks landed, they invaded and they took over the whole sector. And, as you know, the Canadian Airborne Regiment had about 23 casualties in a matter of twenty-four hours . And I was commanding a Canadian Brigade in Germany at that time and I’m the one that was sending heavy kit there. Airplanes started to come to Lar and we would ship APC’s and TOW Under Armour and TOW vehicles for anti-tank capabilities. We were building up the airborne regiment to make it much tougher and much heavier. And we did all this out of Germany because it would take too long from here. So we took this out of our own stocks, away from our troops and then fished out some of the stuff that was in the national stocks. Took the grease off and, you know . . . . But, it the meanwhile, Cyprus was being reinforced because it had turned into a war. And although Canadians were not a belligerent, well, they got attacked at a few places and they had to defend themselves. My boss commander CFE just sent me a little warning order and he says, “Better come and see me.” So I went and saw him. It was just across the parade square and then we gathered all the CO’s and we gave a briefing and then he told me, “Since you’re the last one that’s worked as a battalion commander in Cyprus, tell us what you think is going to happen.” So I said, “Well I think you’re seeing the Cyprus situation being solved. We may not like it the way it is but the Turks will not get out of there.” I said, “They’ve had a motivation to move in now.” And I’d say, “Forget it, I think your seeing partition.” And I said, “Well, that doesn’t make life more comfortable for our people but . . . ” And, in fact, this is what happened. This was not a very, this was not very challenging crystal ball gazing. Because when I was there the first time and even the second time, I mean, you know, everywhere the Turkish sector you just see Taxim, taxim which was separation. And the minute they were given the occasion to do it... and it was an election really that triggered them. An election in Cyprus of a man they didn’t have any respect for and they said it’s time to go and they moved in. Somebody gets hurt on the sidelines when these things happen. And the Canadians were hurt on the sidelines on that one. So we beefed them up and things stabilized again and then of course it went on for quite a few more years with very little trouble.

Mr. Belzile discusses the frustration of peacekeeping within the cumbersome United Nations bureaucracy and talks about the situation in Cyprus.

Charles Belzile

Lt.-Gen. Charles Belzile was born in Trois-Pistoles, Quebec, on March 12, 1933. As a youth, he was exposed to the armed forces as troop trains passed by his home during the Second World War. He joined the reserves, then the regular force with the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry in 1951. In 35 years of service, Lt.-Gen. Belzile has served in Korea, Germany, Cyprus and Canada. His appointments have included regimental duties with the Queen’s Own Rifles, Commanding Officer of the Second Battalion Royal 22e Régiment, Commander 4th Canadian Mechanized Group and Canadian Forces Europe in Germany. Since retiring from the Canadian Armed Forces, he has held numerous posts as a consultant and honorary chair. Mr. Belzile Chaired the VAC 60th Anniversary Committee on VE-Day commemorations and was Grand President of the Royal Canadian Legion. International honours include Commander of the Legion of Honour of France and recipient of the Vimy Award.

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Veterans Affairs Canada
Person Interviewed:
Charles Belzile
War, Conflict or Mission:
Canadian Armed Forces
Queen's Own Rifles of Canada
Lieutenant General

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