In 2010 the Laurier Centre for Military Strategic and Disarmament Studies published Cyprus 1974 “This Ain’t No Picnic, It’s War”: The Combat Diary of Al Gaudet, Canadian Peacekeeper edited by David Kielstra. The book is a raw look at the thoughts and feelings of a young Canadian soldier on UNIFICYP mission in Cyprus. The process from the soldiers diary to the finished book is described here by Al Gaudet.
In 2007 Joe Drouin, an old friend of mine, started tracking down all the former members of the 1st Airborne Commando Group who had served in Cyprus in 1974 as part of the UN peacekeeping effort. Drouin was doing this and closely cooperating with Andrew Burtch, (@PostWarHist)a Post-1945 Historian at the Canadian War Museum.
“Project Cyprus 1974” was the brain child of these two men.
When Joe called and explained the project, I really wanted to help. But I lived in France, a stone’s throw from the Spanish border. What could I do?
Then it dawned on me during one of my early morning runs: “Hey, I have kept a combat diary on a Canadian Forces Steno Pad of everything we had lived through on a minute per minute and day by day basis… why not put it on paper and give it to Burtch and Drouin with all of the photos I had kept from my time in Cyprus?”
Dave Kielstra, an MA student at the University of Waterloo and student associate of the Laurier Centre for Military Strategic and Disarmament Studies, had always taken an interest in the Cyprus conflict. As these things so often happen, he got in contact with Burtch inquiring about Canada’s involvement in Cyprus. I happily gave permission for Kielstra to use my diary. With Drouin’s help, Kielstra was also put in contact with everyone who had served in the 1st Airborne Commando Group.
But the diary was a long way from publishable. With my focus firmly on staying alive, the original writing left much to be desired.
Modern technology helped David and I to correspond via email and Skype. This allowed us to iron out many of the rough edges from the original diary, but there was much more to do so I put David in touch with General Forand.
Little did I know that this gesture would one day evolve into a book.
David and the General went over the diary thoroughly. They expunged a number of small points because they either brought no value to the storyline or the memory of a young 22-year-old paratrooper was not as accurate as the war diaries. They both added historical context and a series of references to support or clarify the diary.
The value of an historian cannot be over stated. One day, I spoke of 2 villages that had been bombed, but I never mentioned in the diaries, and later could not remember, their exact names. Using his expertise Dave was able to dig deeper and roughly pinpoint the area this happened in.
Historical work, in essence, is detective work at its best, coupled with the capacity to communicate thoughts and events clearly so as to be truthful – and all of this from the writings of a young para-commando who wrote down events of war as they happened, often with bullets, bombs and mortars falling nearby.
Making sense of it all was no small feat. The book allows the reader to imagine themselves in the thick of battle with the Canadian commandos acting as peacekeepers…. May I humbly suggest that M. Lester B. Pearson, our former PM who had originally advanced the idea of the UN peacekeeping mandate, did not anticipate that he would be putting soldiers in a very unique, difficult situations not normally found in the history of warfare.
I get no glory from the fact that this book is now published. What I experienced was exactly what the entire 1st Airborne Commando Group went through. Of course, when reading the book you see things through my young mind and it should remind our leaders – and the general public – that UN service is no cakewalk.
Canadian peacekeepers have died and will continue to die for what Canada stands for as far as priceless values of peace and goodwill towards mankind and will not stand for with regards to barbarism
For the younger generations who will one day serve, or officers who will have men in a combat situation under their order, this book offers insight into not only my thoughts but the thought-pattern of men in war: the fear, the joys, the filth, sadness, and all the extremes of human feelings.
War is hell, but in that hellish crucible indissoluble bonds of friendship are born. The bonds of a very special brotherhood were forever carved out that are like no other, that of the Canadian fighting man and, in this case the para-commandos of the Canadian Airborne Regiment.
It is that bond that David and General Forand were able to bring forth with pristine clarity in this, the combat diary of a young Canadian para-commando who became a “peacekeeper.”
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