Following the Second World War, the global landscape continued to shift as new nations emerged and some broke free of their colonial power. Many African countries began seeking their own national identities, one of which was the Congo. This former colony of Belgium had a long history of abuse and mistreatment at the hands of the Colonialists, but in 1960 they would finally obtain their independence.
While the departure of the Belgian influence was welcomed, their quick withdrawal caused mass disarray and conflict. The chaos would result in Belgian troops being sent back into the country, forcing the United Nations (UN) to respond. Canada would again voluntarily supply military support for the operation. Over 300 Canadian peacekeepers would join the massive 20,000 soldier UN force that would attempt to restore order in the Congo.
At one point, it was decided that Brigadier-General Jacques Dextraze would act as the UN Chief of staff, a position the Montreal native would hold from 1963 to 1964. During this time, Dextraze would run many successful rescue operations in the region. These missions targeted the safe return of non-combative hostages that were being held in combat zones. Due to the success of these missions, Dextraze was named Commander of the Order of the British Empire, with an Oak leaf for his bravery. To view a Historica Heritage Minute video that was later created to commemorate the story of Dextraze’s accomplishments, click here.
Photo: A Canadian soldier checking a recoilless rifle during a visit to a Congolese defensive position. (Credit: Department of National Defence /UNC63-23-9)