Hungarian Rescue

by J.Pinsent

On October 23, 1956, a revolution broke out in Hungary when the population revolted against the communist government. Soviet troops were sent to quell the revolt causing thousands of Hungarians to flee their country as refugees. Canadians, opened their hearts and borders to those in distress, providing transportation via ship and aircraft.

The refugees traveling by air, were destined to land at Gander for refueling. The airport was provided food rations, clothing and other essentials, by the International Red Cross but distribution to refugees after landing required volunteers from the town’s people to assist. Plenty of warning was given, due to the length of flying time across the Atlantic. The Canadian Red Cross would forewarn the population of Gander to stand at the ready.

When the aircraft would land they were met by Ganderites to comfort the refugees, handing out the Red Cross provided clothing & personal essentials. Coffee and food would also be served while immigration sorted through the arrivals. Very little conversation was made because of the language but communication was made through handshakes and hugs. The refugees would then continue their journey to other airports in Canada to become immigrants.

I remember my parents being part of the refugee welcoming team, going to the airport at all hours of the day to assist. Telling me later, the families had arrived with nothing. They were hungary, with just the clothing they were wearing.  Before the influx of Hungarian refugees was over, more than 37,000 settled in Canada arriving by sea & air.

This was Gander’s first effort providing assistance to others from another country, during an international emergency, before they officially became a town. Something our history had forgotten.




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