By Maja Graham, Army Public Affairs
Paju, Korea — In the bitter Korean winters of 1952 and 1953, despite the ever-present possibility of an enemy attack, soldiers of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI) and the Royal 22e Régiment (R22eR) managed to carry out some friendly battles of their own on the frozen Imjin River, using hockey sticks and a puck.
In January 2018, 65 years later, members of the two regiments returned to Korea to the city of Paju, on the Imjin River, for the 2018 Imjin Hockey Classic. This marked the first time since 1953 that Canadian soldiers played the game on Korean ice, though commemorative games have been held in Canada’s capital of Ottawa, Ontario since 2013.
The Imjin Hockey Classic 2018 was held to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the end of the Korean War and pay homage to the competitive spirit of the upcoming PyeongChang Winter Olympics. It also honored Korean War Veterans, showed appreciation and support for members of the Canadian Army, and showcased the strong ties between Canada and Korea.
Captain Geneviève Fortin-Ratté was among representatives of the Canadian Army who travelled to South Korea to help organize the event. “I was touched by the gratitude and the warmth of the local community as I passed out Canadian pins and flags to the crowd. I felt so honoured and proud to represent Canada and the legacy that Canada holds in their history.”
At the Imjin Classic 2018, four representatives of the PPCLI and another four from the R22eR joined with Canadian expatriates in a friendly competition against Team Corea, which was made up of Korean university hockey players. (The spelling of “Corea” reflects a more traditional English spelling from the period prior to the Japanese invasion early in the 20th century.)
Organized by the Embassy of Korea in Canada and Paju City in partnership with the PyeongChang Organizing Committee for the 2018 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, the event drew in a large lively and diverse crowd. Korean Army members, local Koreans, Canadian and international expats, and representatives of more than 70 media outlets watched the game from the sidelines of an outdoor rink on a mild, sunny day.
Among the special guests were Canadian Korean War veterans Lieutenant Colonel (Retired) John Bishop, Colonel (Retired) Claude Charland and Sergeant (Retired) Dennis Moore.
“As a veteran who played in the disputed hockey tournament on the Imjin River back in 1952, I had a chance to be around a good friend, albeit an old opponent on the ice. It brought back old memories and feelings, such as being far from home, and the trials and tribulations of war that we soldiers went through to do our duty, especially in a country that was so foreign to us Canadians in the early 1950s. Being a torchbearer for the PyeongChang Olympic Games was a special honour,” recalled Col (Retd) Charland.
The event also included the passage of the XXIII Olympic Winter Games torch relay, a military display of the Korean War and a photo gallery of the original Imjin hockey games.
It was a blow-out game for the Canadians who beat Team Corea 7-1. Team Canada members noted that they had an advantage as many were used to playing on outdoor rinks as children so the increasingly slushy outdoor surface did not slow them down. (The game had to be cut short by one period due to the deteriorating ice conditions.)
“The feeling of playing close to where the actual frontline was and to be supported during the game by our great Veterans,” he said, referring to LCol (Retd)Bishop, Col (Retd) Charland and Sgt (Retd) Moore, “with friendly comments and pats on the back was a career highlight and quite surreal. The conditions were not optimum, talking mostly about the ice surface, but the re-enacting had such meaning for all that were present that day that it gave us a sort of opportunity to contribute in a certain way to what happened then,” said Major Bryan Ouellet, a representative of the R22eR.
The Canadian Imjin Classic delegation also visited some historical sites while in Korea, including Canadian and Commonwealth monuments of the Korean War in Kapyong where one of the most significant battles of the Korean War was fought by Canadian troops. Members also visited the War Memorial of Korea.
“It was an absolute honour to visit Kapyong, where in 1951 the regiment distinguished itself and earned the Kapyong Battle Honour. To return to this storied location as a serving Patricia and gain insight from a PPCLI Korean War Veteran about the battle was a privilege and will remain a treasured memory,” explained Captain Brandon Edge, a representative of the PPCLI.
The Canadian delegation also had the opportunity to meet with Canadians living and working in Korea who in 1998 established the Imjin River Memorial Tournament. Canadian expats gather every Sunday evening for a game of hockey and compete for the Imjin Cup every year.
The cup is now on loan to R22eR at their regimental museum at the Citadelle in Quebec City, along with the XXIII Olympic Winter Games torch that Canadian Korean War Veteran, Col (Retd) Claude Charland carried through the crowd in Paju City, South Korea ahead of the Imjin Classic 2018 hockey game. PPCLIwill then display the cup at their regimental museum in Calgary before it travels back home to Seoul.