Seventy years ago this week the men of the 2nd Battalion Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry came down from the Korean hills and relaxed for a few days’ break from the fighting.
They had initially landed in Pusan in December 1950, then spent six weeks familiarizing themselves with new U.S weapons and training on the steep Korean hills. Since mid-February they had been in almost continuous action, pursuing a withdrawing People’s Republic of China army northward.
Baseball, tugs-of-war, and beer were the order of the day in welcome warm spring weather. Instead of sleeping in holes in the ground they luxuriated in tents in their rest area just north of the town of Kapyong.
Everything changed on April 22nd. Republic of Korea (South Korean) forces sent to block Chinese troops advancing southward were overrun a few miles north of the rest area. An Australian battalion was assigned to defend a hill on the right of the Kapyong River Valley, while 2PPCLI was ordered to occupy Hill 677, a massive hill on the left. The Australians were forced to withdraw after a fierce fight.
Now the Chinese turned their attention to the Canadians atop 677.
The night of April 24th was the Patricia’s sternest test. Their force of 700 was up against an estimated 5,000 Chinese. The Chinese came on in waves, hurling themselves at the dug-in Canadians. At times they got right in amongst the defenders, occupying the Patricia’s positions for a heartbeat, only to be thrust back again. Light, medium, and heavy machine guns and mortars hammered at the attackers. Long-range artillery courtesy of a New Zealand field regiment roared. Through it all 2PPCLI held fast.
Dawn of April 25th saw the Chinese efforts lessen, and when an airdrop provided desperately needed food, water, and ammunition to the defenders, the fight was virtually over.
There are many stories of heroic action on Hill 677. For the battalion, recognition came quickly in the form of a U.S. Presidential Unit Citation—the only one ever issued to a Canadian formation.
The survivors of the Battle of Kapyong, like their other Korean War comrades, struggled for years to be properly recognized by the Canadian government. Those few who remain remind us of a bitter war bravely fought.