May 24, 2024

Veterans of the Korean War gathered in Langley Friday, April 19, for an annual ceremony to remember a battle in which Canadians, Australians, and New Zealanders held off a force seven times their number.

The Gapyeong memorial stone in the Derek Doubleday Arboretum has been a site of annual remembrance since it was first installed in 2019.

The stone was shipped from Gapyeong County, South Korea, where members of the United Nations forces fought a pivotal battle to hold of a North Korean and Chinese advance in 1951.

Between April 22-25, 1951, a small group of Canadian, Australian, and New Zealand troops, backed up by a unit of American tanks, held off a full division of the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army that was marching towards Seoul, capital of modern South Korea.

The Canadians and their allies held back the attack for several crucial days, preventing the encirclement of a larger group of U.S. forces.

The battle helped blunt an advance from the north toward the capital of Seoul.

Among those in the crowd were veterans, both those who served with the Canadian Armed Forces during the war, and South Korean veterans who have since immigrated to Canada.

Also attending were the family of a B.C. man who died in the war.

Private William Leslie Strachan died less than a month after he arrived in Korea, according to his younger sister, Elizabeth MacHardy.

Now 90, she was 16 when her 21-year-old brother William died in battle.

“I don’t think Mom ever recovered,” said Gordon Strachan, William’s younger brother.

The ceremony was a way to keep her brother’s memory alive, Elizabeth said. She raised her three children with stories of their Uncle William, so they knew him almost as well as their other uncles.

“His birthday’s always important,” said Elizabeth.

Both of them have been overwhelmed by the recognition of Canada’s military commitment during the Korean war on display at the Gapyeong event.

Navy veteran Ron Foyle served on the HMCS Cayuga during the Korean War.

“It’s just been wonderful,” he said of the Gapyeong events.

He noted it’s possible to become emotional during the event.

“Some of the Korean veterans here call me ‘brother’,” he said.

All the veterans who served in the South Korean or Canadian militaries had poppies pinned to their jackets by students from Langley Secondary as part of the ceremony.

Organized by Langley’s Michael Chang, the event drew local politicians and dignitaries, including MPs and MLAs, and provincial opposition leader Kevin Falcon.

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