The Barris Beat: Korea and Those Other Wars

What do Ted Barris, Kapyong, and Front Page Challenge have in common?

First things first: If you’ve any interest at all in Canadian military history, you’ve read something by Ted Barris, He is arguably one of the most successful and popular Canadian writers on this subject.

He has written an eclectic and steady string of best-selling books: from a study of Prairie steam boats, to hockey, to rodeo stars. But his real passion is this country’s military lore; from Vimy Ridge to Afghanistan. He’s written several books on World War 2, and at least two studies of the Korean War.

One of them, Deadlock in Korea, written over a decade ago (re-released and updated a year ago), has a chapter on Kapyong, and still stands up as a good solid read of the
three-year-long war and has the best account I’ve come across of the fate of Canadian POWs captured by the Chinese.

Ted has a knack of viewing war through the blades of grass; the terrified private peering through the undergrowth, rather than the Field Marshal hovering over his map tables. It’s very human stuff.

He is a broadcaster and journalism professor; is much in demand as a speaker, a battlefield guide, and is always it seems, working on yet another book. I’ve bumped into him on the beaches at Normandy during D-Day’s 60th anniversary commemorations.

I had known Ted from our CBC days and had interviewed him several times for various documentaries on military history. When I was writing my own, Triumph at Kapyong, Ted could have been competitive and protective with his knowledge and insights. But he was not. Rather, he was generous and patient. Ted believes a rising tide lifts
all boats. The more readers get interested in history, the better for all those who write it.

When Triumph at Kapyong came out in April, Ted took note in his blog:

And now he’s written another flattering Triumph review in the respected and popular historical journal, Canada’s History (formerly The Beaver).–Canada%E2%80%99s-Pivotal-Battle-in-Kor.aspx

A decade ago Ted co-authored a study of  200 Canadian musicians, Making Music.  His literary partner was Alex Barris, a long time CBC television personality and one of the original Front Page Challenge panelists. Alex Barris, who died in 2004, was Ted’s father.

Alex was a wise-cracking, witty, jokester, on air. And just what has this to do with military history or the clash or arms? Lots.

In World War 2, Alex had been a medic in the US Army. Medics are usually unarmed. It’s dangerous work and requires a certain nobility to go around in a war without a weapon, when everyone else has one. Alex was awarded the Bronze Star for valour when he saved several injured men on the battlefield. Ted knew nothing of his father’s medal until shortly before his death in 2004. Alex was simply seen as a very funny guy, not a brave, quiet and selfless hero.

Whenever I read one of Ted’s war books, I think for a moment of Alex. Ted’s next book should be about Alex and his war.


About Dan Bjarnason

Dan Bjarnason is the author of "Triumph at Kapyong, Canada's Pivotal Battle in the Korean War." Bjarnason was a television news and documentary reporter for The National at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation for over 35 years, He specialized in military history and has worked on documentaries from the Little Bighorn to the Falklands. He now lives in Toronto and can be reached at:
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1 Response to The Barris Beat: Korea and Those Other Wars

  1. roxanne varga says:

    i read a story about my uncle ,just hoping that maybe you had a picture of him ,his nane is alphonse hickey,my father died many years ago and never had any picture to show me.i would love to see what ever you may have. thank you for your time
    Roxanne hickey(varga)

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