Even motoring through the desert at night, Ken Welton was never alone.
Driving trucks for the Canadian Army across the moonlit Gaza Strip, locals would emerge seemingly from nowhere, hoping to snag freebies from soldiers on peacekeeping duty.
“They’d come out of the woodworks,” recalled Welton. “The kids would see us and say, ‘Canada number one, Canada number one,’ but they were always after something, either money, cigarettes, or food.”
Now in his eighties, the Upper Onslow resident served one year as a United Nations peacekeeper in the Gaza Strip from 1956-57. He was deployed there after Egyptian forces were routed by Israel, Britain and France in the Suez Crisis, prompting the UN to send troops to Gaza, which remained under Egyptian control.
Welton’s job was driving truckloads of supplies between the United Nations headquarters in Gaza City and the Canadian base in Rafah, next to the Egyptian border.
When not driving trucks, Welton worked in signals, his second army trade, fixing up the teletype cipher machines used by the Canadian Army in the 1950s.
“I lived in a tent the whole year I was there,” said Welton. “You didn’t have barrack blocks or anything in those days.”
The primitive conditions endured by the Canadian, Indian and European UN peacekeepers somewhat mirrored life for many local people in Gaza City and Rafah sixty years ago.
“It was old-fashioned, like you’d see in the movies,” said Welton. “You’d go downtown, the stores had everything hung out on the sidewalks, even food. You’d see lamb or whatever side of meat they’d use hung outdoors. Sanitary conditions were very poor by our standards.”
Welton also saw Egyptian soldiers and policemen on the streets, wearing the same tan khaki uniforms, making it hard for the peacekeepers to tell them apart.
Often, they would demand bribes or straight up take money from UN troops if they saw the chance, making night or solo travel an expensive proposition. Welton and his fellow troops carried weapons, but only in the backs of their trucks.
Nevertheless, Welton got on well with most of the locals, who were hired to prepare meals in the base kitchens, under the supervision of Canadian Army cooks. When not in the mess tent, both soldiers and locals drew water from the same well, enjoying a chance to hang out and catch up on the latest gossip.
“The Canadians got along good with pretty well everybody,” said Welton. That’s the type of people we were.”
All told, Welton spent 22 years in the army until 1976, training as a paratrooper among his other achievements. His other tours were served at home across Canada, including inside the underground ‘Diefenbunker’ near Debert.