Monday, January 24, 2011

The Korean War : Canadian Military Mail

The Korean War (1950–armistice, 1953) was a military conflict between the Republic of Korea (South Korea) and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea). The war began on June 25 1950 and an armistice was signed on July 27 1953. Altogether 26,791 Canadians served in the Korean conflict, and another 7,000 served in the theatre between the cease-fire and the end of 1955. Canadian fatal and non-fatal battle casualties numbered 1,558. The names of 516 Canadian war dead are inscribed in the Korea Book of Remembrance.

This article provides a brief history of the war and Canada's military contribution to the United Nations forces, and shows examples of Canadian military mail.


A. History of the Korean War

1. Formation of North Korea and South Korea

After liberation from Japan in 1945, the allies divided Korea at the 38th parallel to be administered by the Soviet Union in the north and the United States in the south. The Soviets and Americans were unable to agree on the implementation of Joint Trusteeship over Korea. This led in 1948 to the establishment of separate governments, each claiming to be the legitimate government of all of Korea. Soviet troops left North Korea in 1948. U.S. forces left South Korea in 1949.

2. War

Prior to June 1950, both sides had been engaged in a series of clashes along the 38th parallel.
On June 25, 1950, the northern forces crossed the parallel in large numbers and quickly captured Seoul. The South Korean government was forced to flee south.

On 25 June 1950, the United Nations Security Council condemned the North Korean invasion of South Korea and two days later recommended that member states provide military assistance to South Korea. On June 27 1950, U.S. President Truman ordered US air and sea forces to help the South Korean government.

In mid-September 1950 UN forces recaptured Seoul and by the end of the first week of October they were driving the North Korean forces across the 38th Parallel. The United Nations Forces then moved northward, crossed the North Korean border, captured Pyongyang the capital, and advanced toward the boundary between North Korea and China.

China entered the conflict, pushing back the U.N. forces. Eventually battle lines near the 38th parallel were established and fighting continued until July 27, 1953, when the Korea Armistice Agreement was signed.

B. Canadian Participation

The first Canadian aid to UN forces came from the Royal Canadian Navy. In July, 1950, three Canadian destroyers, HMCS Cayuga, HMCS Athabaskan and HMCS Sioux, were dispatched to Korean waters to serve under the United Nations Command. Five other tribal class destroyers, HMCS Crusader, Huron, Iroquois, Nootka, and Haida, served with the “Canadian Destroyer Division, Far East”. The Canadian Navy escorted aircraft carriers and undertook shore bombardments.

On August 17, 1950, the Government authorized the recruitment of the Canadian Army Special Force of brigade strength to serve in Korea and Japan.

For a summary of the Canadian effort in Korea, please refer to "Chronology of the Canadian Advances in Korea", which has been posted on the Canadian Veterans Affairs web site. The web site is an excellent source of information about the Korean War.

B. Canadian Military Mail

The Royal Canadian Army Service Corps set up a Base Post Office in Vancouver and regulating post offices in Korea and Japan. Several field post offices were established in Korea and Japan.

Mails from the troops were sent free and marked "On Active Service". Letters from Korea which were not cancelled received the Vancouver Canadian Base P.O. cancellation.

a) Royal Canadian Navy Mail

HMCS Athabaskan

The HMCS Athabaskan was a Tribal Class Destroyer commissioned in 1948. She completed three tours of duty in Korea returning December 11, 1953 from the last tour.

HMCS Athabaskan in Japan

From HMCS Athabaskan to Montreal (not cancelled in Korea or Japan)
Canadian Base Post Office cancellation, Vancouver, May 21, 1952

Return address

Canadian Base P.O. cancellation

HMCS Cayuga

HMCS Cayuga was a Tribal Class Destroyer, commissioned in 1947. She served three tours of Korea, the last in 1954.

HMCS Cayuga on patrol in Korean waters

From HMCS Cayuga to Nanaimo (not cancelled in Korea or Japan)
Canadian Base Post Office cancellation Vancouver, September 15, 1951

Return address
Canadian Base P.O. cancellation

HMCS Cayuga to Victoria
Mailed on board ship August 18, 1954 ( Naval cachet)
Cancelled at CFPO 31, Tokyo, Japan, August 23, 1954

Return address

Circular dated cachets were introduced in 1952 to identify ship mail.

CFPO 31, Tokyo, Japan August 23, 1954

Ferdinand Waldo Demara, the "Great Imposter", served as a trauma surgeon on the HMCS Cayuga during the Korean War.

HMCS Crusader

HMCS Crusader

During the war, Canadian ships engaged in "train busting". This meant running in close to shore, usually at night in order to destroy trains or tunnels on Korea's coastal railway. Of the 28 trains destroyed by United Nations warships in Korea, Canadian vessels claimed eight. HMCS Crusader, destroyed four trains, more than any other "train buster".

H.MC.S Crusader to Vancouver
Mailed on ship November 27, 1953 (not cancelled in Korea or Japan)
Canadian Base Post Office cancellation Vancouver, December 11, 1953

"ON ACTIVE SERVICE" cachet with drawing of HMCS Crusader

HMCS Huron

The Tribal class destroyer HMCS Huron served in WWII and was modernized in 1950. In 1951 she was deployed for six months in Korea. On return to Canda she was converted for use as an Anti-Submarine Destroyer and returned for service in Korea.

HMCS Huron to Hamilton (not cancelled in Korea or Japan)
Canadian Base Post Office cancellation Vancouver, February 2, 1951

On Active Service Handstamp

Canadian Base P.O. cancellation

HMCS Huron to Halifax
Mailed on board ship October 7, 1954 ( Naval cachet)
Cancelled at CAPO 5001, Tokyo, Japan, October 9, 1954

On Active Service handstamp

Naval Cachet, October 7, 1954

HMCS Iroquois

The HMCS Iroquois first arrived in Korea in June 1952 where it completed three tours of duty before returning to Canada in December 1954. On 2 October 1952, a shore-based gun hit Iroquois while the destroyer was bombarding the railway along Korea's east coast, instantly killing two and wounding 11 others, one of whom died shortly afterwards.

HMCS Iroquois to Shannon Park (not cancelled in Korea or Japan)
Canadian Base Post Office cancellation Vancouver, September 7, 1953

On Active Service handstamp

Return address C.N.P.O. 5075, Victoria, B.C.

HMCS Nootka

HMCS Nootka was a Tribal-class destroyer that served in the Royal Canadian Navy from 1946-1964. On September 22, 1952, HMCS Nootka captured a North Korean minelayer off the island of Ch'o-do, one of the few enemy vessels captured at sea during the war.

From HMCS Nootka to Halifax (not cancelled in Korea or Japan)
Canadian Base Post Office cancellation Vancouver, March 28, 1951

HMCS Sioux

HMCS Sioux steaming into Esquimalt Harbour February 4, 1951.

From HMCS Sioux to Manitoba (not cancelled in Korea or Japan)
Canadian Base Post Office cancellation Vancouver, June 19, 1951

b) CFPOs (Canadian Forces Post Offices) in Korea and Japan

C.F.P.O 25

CFPO 25, Pussan, Korea to Elk Mills, Maryland, April 4, 1951
Air mail to the United States



CFPO 27, Youngson Korea, to Napanoch, New York, August 6, 1951
7 cents air mail letter to the United States


CFPO 27, Youngson Korea, to Yakima, Wash., April 12, 1952

CFPO 27, Youngson Korea, to Odense, Denmark, July 2, 1953

Return address

CFPO 27, Seoul Korea to British forces Korea, June 30 1954
[CFPO 27 was located in Seoul from April 11, 1954 to September 15, 1955]

British Field Post Office 158 June 30, 1954 s916 Rear H.Q. Comm. Div.

CFPO 27, Seoul Korea to Arvida, April 8, 1955

Return address


CFPO 28, Kure, Japan to Portland, Maine, May 31, 1951


Return address


CFPO 29, Hiro, Japan, to Ottawa, December 8, 1953



25 Canadian Brigade Group
CFPO 30, Tochong Korea, November 16, 1951



CFPO 31, Tokyo Japan, to Vancouver, November 1, 1954


CFPO 31, Tokyo, Japan, to Madsen, Ontario, November 10, 1952
5 cents Forces Air Letter rate

CAPO 5000 : Regulating Post Office

CAPO 5000, Kure Japan, to Kitchener, August 13, 1952

CAPO 5000

CAPO 5000 , Kure, Japan, to London, June 9, 1952

"25 C.R.G. "
The 25 Cdn Reinforcement Group was stationed in Kure, Japan, from October 1950 to January 15, 1955

CAPO 5003

British FPO 734 (near Seoul), December 8, 1954 to Calgary

British FPO 734
Near Seoul

British FPO 949 transit, December 9, 1954
Kure, Japan

CAPO 5003, transit, December 10, 1954
Kure, Japan

Return address

c) Other

Mail from Canada

The cover shown below was mailed from Kingston on April 9, 1952. The letter was re-directed several times and was finally returned to the sender.

7 cents air mail letter rate

The ten backstamps provide the following chronology:

Late Period Cover to Korea

Vernon to CAPO 5000, Seoul Korea, May 7, 1955
5 cents Forces Letter Rate
The addressee had returned home and the letter was redirected.

The sender writes:

Hi Honey,

Just a few lines to say hello + hope you are fine + on your way home. Pretty soon its going to be two years since you left for Korea...

CAPO 5000 cds

CAPO 5000 Postal Tracking Station
May 13, 1955

Hubba-Hubba Air Mail Cachet

Humorous air mail cachets, many with the expression "Hubba-Hubba", were produced by American servicemen during the Korean conflict. Two air mail cachets were applied to the cover shown below.

CFPO 28 to Toronto, April 3, 1953

Return address with Hubba Hubba cachet

A cachet used on US military mail

Mailed From US Army Post Office

Mailed from APO 201, Seoul, Korea, to Fochigi, Japan, June 26, 1951
Canadian stamps affixed paying the air mail letter rate

Reference: Bailey, W.J., and Toop, E.R., The Canadian Military Posts,Volume 3, Operations in NATO, United Nations, and Canada 1947 to 1989, Edited by Eward B. Proud (1990)