© Diane Crocker
Norris Point resident Eugene Bellows is the oldest member of the western chapter of the Canadian Association of Veterans in United Nations Peacekeeping.
As a teenage boy, Eugene Bellows recalls losing interest with school.
It wasn’t because he wasn’t interested or had any trouble.
“I was just bored silly,” said Bellows, now 76.
That boredom lead him to play hooky for a few days when he was around 16 and upon his return to the four-room school, which used to be located on Country Road in the city, the teacher decided to put him on the spot.
The class was studying geography and the teacher asked how far the Strait of Gibraltar was from the Suez Canal. Bellows answered with, “Well I don’t know, sir.”
When asked why he didn’t know, he replied “I’ve never been there, sir.”
That got everybody in class excited, and Bellows ended up having to write the correct answer of approximately 2,000 miles on the board 500 times after class.
“So the kids and I were kind of talking after: ‘That’s kind of interesting, but what has that got to do with us?’”
Two years later Bellows, who now calls Norris Point home, was standing on the aircraft carrier The Magnificent, passing through the Strait of Gibraltar when a friend asked how far it was to the canal.
“I said, ‘It’s 2,000 miles,’” said Bellows with a chuckle.
The Suez Crisis was in full swing and Bellows was on his way to the area to serve as a United Nations peacekeeper.
How he ended up there is a bit of a story in itself.
“At the time there was no Fort McMurray,” he said while at the Royal Canadian Legion in Corner Brook on Saturday. “So you had to do something.”
It was an uncle who suggested he join the military, with the thought they could serve together.
“That didn’t happen,” he said with laugh.
Bellows had wanted to join the tank corps, but the army had a different plan for him and placed him in the signal corps. That corps became a part of the UN Peacekeeping force, he said, and was dispatched to Gaza in January 1956.
“I was very young and it was kind of exciting,” he said of the whole experience. “We had no idea what was going to happen there.”
They first landed at Port Said and Bellows said the canal was full of ships that had been sunk.
“The French, English and Israelis had basically bombed the whole city.”
From there his corps went to Ismailia, and then on to Gaza where he spent six months at the UN headquarters looking after communications between the headquarters and the rest of the UN.
The last six months of his tour was spent in the dessert, attached to an Indian Sikh battalion.
“They were the infantry, we were the communications,” said Bellows. “The Danes and Swedes were there, too. They were the ambulance people, the medics.”
In all, he said, there were 27 countries involved in the effort.
“It was pretty exciting. And you know when you’re 18 the world is out there for you.”
While Bellows signed up in Montreal, he was discharged in St. John’s. He was 20 years old and could have stayed in longer.
“I didn’t want to be in Canada during peacetime because there was nothing to do.”
He returned home for bit and then went on to Toronto before ending up in New York where his mother was. Eventually, he started working in retail as a short-term job and ended up making a career in the field. He managed a number of stores, including high-end ones like Ann Taylor.
In 2003 he got involved with the Canadian Association of Veterans in United Nations Peacekeeping while living in Kingston, Ont., and since moving back home permanently three years ago has got involved with the Western Chapter.
He’s the oldest member of the local chapter and, on Saturday, helped kick off a fundraiser that will help erect a monument to peacekeepers at the Curling War Memorial.