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Canadian UN Missions in the Congo and the DRC

1960-Present

By: Patrick-Aurel Fournier

Patrick-Aurel Fournier

Historical Contributor

Patrick-Aurel Fournier holds degrees in both History and Criminal Justice from Nipissing University and is currently working towards his Bachelors of Education and completing his Masters Degree in History with his research titled: “Poppy Ville: The Commemorative Transformation of Welberg, Netherlands, 1945-2021”. Pat has always had a deep passion for history, more specifically in the reasons why and methods behind commemorations. In 2019, Pat was selected as 1 of 7 Canadian guides to work at the Juno Beach Center in Normandy, France; during the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings. Born and raised in Northern Ontario and currently living in North Bay, ON; he hopes to one day begin teaching in the area and help foster the love and curiosity for history as was sparked in him by past educators. Pat is extremely excited to be able to help DMC in sharing our country’s history and hopes to spark curiosity and passion within his readers.

During the “Scramble for Africa,” as European powers were rushing to colonize Africa and divide it up among themselves in the late 1800s and early 1900s, King Leopold II of Belgium colonized and established the Congo Free State as his personal possession in 1885. After suffering greatly during its 75-year colonial period, Congo gained its independence from Belgium on June 30, 1960. Although the transition from colony to independent state brought hopes of a brighter future, it proved to be incredibly difficult for Congo. Once Congo had declared independence, Belgian officials did not prepare for the transferring of power to a new government. Chaos began for the Congolese as they endured political in-fighting, mutiny within the army, famine, inter-tribal tensions, and widespread violence. In the midst of this already chaotic scene, Belgium was quick to send troops back to Congo, without Congolese government approval, to protect Belgian citizens still living there and restore law and order.

On July 12, 1960, only two weeks after declaring independence, the Congolese government asked the United Nations for military assistance. This request was made in hopes of protecting the national territory of the Congo against aggressions, both external and internal. Two days later, the United Nations Operation in the Congo, or ONUC (the French abbreviation), began.

During the four-year ONUC mission, more than 20,000 UN members would assist in Congo, including more than 300 Canadians. Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) conducted multiple operations to rescue civilians caught in the violence. Initially, two Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) transport squadrons were committed to the operations, airlifting refugees out of Congo and transporting supplies for the ONUC forces in. During one of the airlifting missions, CAF Chief Warrant Officer Ron Knapton remembers the eerie feeling of walking through the elephant grass, hearing something rustling through it:

… and you’re walking back towards your villa and you hear rustling in the grass, you don’t know what it is. And this sort of, you get that sort of feeling in the back of your neck, the hair on the back of your neck is starts to stand up because you’re not sure what’s in there, what’s possibly there. Now it could be anything. It could be a small animal just moving around through the grass or it could be a large animal too. So you get, you had your times that you were concerned.

CAF Chief Warrant Officer Ron Knapton

The CAF also assisted in the Katanga Province, as UN peacekeeping operations sought to reintegrate the breakaway province by engaging militarily against the gendarmes that were attempting to keep the rebel governments in power. By February 1963, following success in the Katanga region, the UN was able to begin withdrawing its forces from the Congo; by 1964, the UN force was completely withdrawn and had completed its ONUC mission. Throughout the four-year operation, the UN suffered 245 military fatalities, two of whom were Canadians: Staff Sergeant Joseph Paul Come Marquis and Sergeant R.H. Moore.

Although ONUC ended in 1964, the turmoil in Congo did not. It continued to be plagued with unresolved issues, from its original crisis in 1960 and for the next three decades, which came to a head with the First Congo War (1996–1997). Also known as Africa’s World War, the First Congo War saw the authoritarian rule of Mobutu Sese Seko overthrown by Communist leader Laurent Kabila. Less than two years after taking power in Congo, now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Kabila entered the Second Congo War with his former allies, Rwanda and Uganda. The conflict saw large amounts of infighting and fracturing alliances until a stalemate was reached, which ended in the signing of the Lusaka ceasefire agreement in July 1999.

Kinshasa, DRC. 9 June 2007 – Maj. Louis Xenos is greeted by villagers from a small island community of Congo River near the city of Kinshasa, DRC. Image courtesy of the “Operation CROCODILE Image Gallery”, The Canadian Department of National Defence.

Following the Lusaka signing, the UN once again intervened with military missions in the Congo that are ongoing today. Throughout the UN Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC), CAF provided supported through Operation Crocodile, which delivered expert soldiers for military operations and training while protecting civilians and monitoring the arms ban within the country.

CAF also undertook Operation Caravan in the summer of 2003. During this month-long operation, two Canadian transport aircrafts with 50 CAF members completed 50 flights within the DRC, transporting 545 personnel and delivering more than 490,000 kilograms of freight to the UN members and civilians in the area.

Goma, DRC. 10 March 2011 – A Park Ranger with the Institut Congolais pour la conservation de la nature (ICCN) and Mr. Balemba Balagizi, manager of the Briquette Program for Virunga National Park explains the usefulness of briquettes and how to us them to a Canadian member of the Task Force Democratic Republic of Congo on Operation CROCODILE. Image copurtesy of the “Operation CROCODILE Image Gallery”, The Canadian Department of National Defence.

On July 1, 2010, the UN changed the mission title from MONUC to MONUSCO – the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. As of today, Canada ranks eighth among nations involved in MONUSCO in military police contributions, with 24, and there are still nine CAF members actively deployed on Operation Crocodile in the DRC. Since the beginning of UN operations in 1960, more than 2,500 Canadians have participated in peace-support operations in Congo. For Deputy Chief of Staff, Colonel Maureen Wellwood, their time on the MONUSCO mission allowed them to help bring justice to the many victims within the DRC. “It is important to be able to help establish peace in such a beautiful country.” The MONUSCO mission is ongoing today, striving to stabilize the DRC government and reach peace in the area.

Lieutenant-Colonel Paul Augustus Mayer, Ret. MBE, GM, CD

Lt. Col. Paul A Mayer, OBE, GM, CD. Image sourced from The MilArt Blog.

One of the CAF members recognized for his bravery and skills during the ONUC mission is Lieutenant Colonel Paul Augustus Mayer. Mayer was born on December 17, 1916, in Santiago, Chile, to a father with a military background and a mother who was a French countess and opera singer. As his father was a colonel in the British Royal Field Artillery, Mayer was arguably destined to follow in his footsteps. Due to a health scare at the age of 17, Mayer decided to move to Canada, where he quickly regained his health living on a dairy farm in Ontario. In 1938, knowing war was on the horizon, Mayer joined the Algonquin Regiment, where he was commissioned as an officer after Canada declared war on Germany in 1939. Mayer fought in France, Belgium, Netherlands, and Germany and was awarded the Chevalier of the Order of Leopold II from Belgium and the Croix de Guerre 1940 from France.

Mayer also served during the Korean War (1950-1953), where he was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE); he later served as a military advisor with the International Truce Commission in Indochina in 1959. By 1963, now a lieutenant-colonel, Mayer was a decorated soldier in the Regiment of Canadian Guards, having 17 decorations and medals from nations such as Britain, Belgium, Canada, and France. During the ONUC mission, Mayer was responsible for planning and executing a helicopter rescue mission to evacuate missionaries from Congo’s Kwilu province. In his autobiography, I’ve Had a Good Innings, he describes a frightening experience from this mission. Surrounded by members of the Congolese rebel army –the Jeunesse (for “youth”) – who were clubbing him in the head, Mayer was nearly shot in the chest, but the gun malfunctioned. He barely escaped but managed to reach the helicopter and successfully rescue the missionaries. For his bravery during this mission and others – over which he successfully rescued almost 500 children as well as 100 teachers and missionaries – Mayer was awarded the George Medals, on June 28, 1964.

In 1965, Mayer became a military advisor to the UN Secretary-General and was sent to the Dominican Republic. He served for three years, narrowly avoiding death once again, before retiring from the CAF in 1968. Mayer married Pamela McDougall in 1987 and spent the rest of his life growing and spending time with his family. He died on July 5, 2006, at Ottawa’s Montfort Hospital at the age of 89. Mayer was a man fondly remembered by his family and the service members he worked alongside. In 2017, a new Peace Support Training Centre for CAF members and allied military personnel was opened in Kingston, Ontario, and was named in honour of Mayer.

Sources & Further Reading

Canadiansoldiers.com. “United Nations Operation in the Congo.” https://www.canadiansoldiers.com/history/peacekeeping/onuc.htm.

Department of National Defence. “New Peace Support Training Centre Prepares CAF Members and Allied Personnel for Peace Support Operations” (November 3, 2017). https://www.canada.ca/en/department-national-defence/news/2017/11/new_peace_supporttrainingcentrepreparescafmembersandalliedperson.html.

Department of National Defence. “Operation CARAVAN” (September 20, 2013). https://www.canada.ca/en/department-national-defence/services/operations/military-operations/recently-completed/operation-caravan.html.

Department of National Defence. “Operation CROCODILE” (April 7, 2018). https://www.canada.ca/en/department-national-defence/services/operations/military-operations/current-operations/operation-crocodile.html.

Halliday, Hugh. “Honours and Awards, Canadian Army, Korean War Service” (February 4, 2018). https://www.blatherwick.net/documents/Korean%20War%20Honours%20to%20Canadians/Honours%20to%20Canadian%20Army%20Awards%20for%20Korea.pdf.

History Guild. “Africa’s World War: The Congo War” (January 19, 2022). https://historyguild.org/africas-world-war-the-congo-war/.

Legacy.com. “Paul Mayer Obituary” (2006). https://www.legacy.com/us/obituaries/legacyremembers/paul-mayer-obituary?id=46561044.

Loyal Edmonton Regiment Military Museum. “UN Mission in the Congo: 2 Sept 1960–30 June 1964.” https://www.lermuseum.org/1946-to-present/1957-1964/un-mission-in-the-congo-2-sept-1960-30-june-1964.

Mayer, Paul, A. I’ve Had a Good Innings (General Store Publishing House, 2006).

McCreery, Christopher. The Order of Military Merit (Department of National Defence, 2012).

Mfalamagoha, Novat. United Nations Peacekeeping Mission in the Republic of Congo: Success and Challenges in Protecting Civilians (LAP Lambert Academic Publishing, 2011).

United Nations. “ONUC.” https://peacekeeping.un.org/sites/default/files/past/onucB.htm.

UN Web TV.“UN Peacekeeping Service and Sacrifice: Thank You Canada” (February 4, 2022). https://media.un.org/en/asset/k1t/k1txw7cioe.

Veterans Affairs Canada. “CAF Operations (The Congo) Stories,” in The Congo: 1960–Present. https://www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/remembrance/wars-and-conflicts/caf-operations/congo#relatedStories.

Veterans Affairs Canada. “Elephant Grass,” part of the “Heroes Remember Video Gallery” (June 20, 2019). https://www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/video-gallery/video/9447.

Veterans Affairs Canada. “The Congo.” https://www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/remembrance/wars-and-conflicts/caf-operations/congo.