Veteran Stories:
Jean-Louis Blais

Army

  • Picture taken by Mr. Blais during a burial ceremony in 1956. Found by South Koreans, the two Royal 22e Regiment soldiers were buried by the Canadian military authorities at the United Nation Military Cemetery in Korea.

    Jean-Louis Blais
  • Some of Mr. Blais female colleagues (Mrs. Gisèle Saint-Pierre on the left) examining pictures taken by Mr. Blais at Camp Borden in 1954. This picture was taken at the time where the Army was giving it's first medical class in French. In the background, the Benting dormitory at Camp Borden.

    Jean-Louis Blais
  • Picture of a Korean village taken during Winter of 1955.

    Jean-Louis Blais
  • Canadian 3rd Advanced Dressing Station camp near the 38th Parallel in Korea during winter 1955.

    Jean-Louis Blais
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"Panmunjom remains and it’s the same contract. Go sign a contract every three or six months, make an agreement that will ensure the peace."

Transcript

My name is Jean Louis Blais. I was born in Montreal on January 13, 1929. I found the enlistment difficult because about six or seven of us French Canadians arrived from Quebec, we were together in the same class. When we arrived in Borden (Camp Borden, Ontario), we understood each other quite well but we were being criticized. Even by the camp commander who told us to speak ‘white,’ to speak English. We were being criticized for speaking French because they couldn’t understand us. But we did ok.

One thing happened which I remember. The first French course was the FNA (Female Nursing Assistant) course to become a female nursing assistant. The first class was given in (19)54, the course was supposedly being given there in Borden for the first time. There were French courses at Camp Borden. And so it was women who took that course. There was a similar course for men. The first course that was given in French was in Borden. We learned; let’s say we all had basic first aid training, like all professionals. In time, we’re all given the medical assistant or nursing course. You can continue on to become a nurse, to get your nursing license. You had so many hours to do, so many hours of practice. So many hours of study, so many hours of practice.

I had the opportunity to go to different hospitals, maybe at least 8-10 different hospitals where teaching is given, theory is given and then you are sent to practice in the various hospitals. Whether in Kingston or in Toronto, I did several hospitals like that. Then you do your internship for a period, maybe three months. And then after that, if you want to advance, if you want to be promoted, well then there’s other more advanced courses. Either you specialize in surgery or pharmacology depending on the job you want to do. I wanted to specialize in radiology and radiology was offered at the Kingston (Ontario) military hospital. And then there were opportunities to work in the civil hospital to learn and develop. That’s the opportunity we had. For example, in Montreal, I went to several hospitals and I had several opportunities to travel and develop. Then you took your exams, and you went up a rank, went up a level.

The only thing I deplored in those days was that the promotions didn’t come quickly enough. Then when you had a certain promotion at a certain level, to have the promotion you had to wait for someone to leave. So I became a sergeant, I wanted to have a higher promotion. There were 12 of us sergeants, and there were about five or six places where it was possible to go up in rank. So that meant that we would have had to wait for several people to leave.

I arrived in (19)55, July (19)55 (in Korea). When we got there, we picked up what was left behind. When I went in (19)55-(19)56, at the end of (19)56, we shut down the infantry unit over there (the 25th Canadian Infantry Brigade). It was us who were the last there with the hospital who shut down the infantry unit, the British, New Zealanders, the Scottish and the Turks. All of the units that were around us, they all shut down, backed up and returned to their countries. So I helped over there. I had photos that I had taken when we shut down the infantry unit with the Ambassador of England who had come. And then we opened a hospital in Inchon (Korea), to the south. We went all the way down to the port (near Seoul). We closed the brigade. We went down to the port with the hospital. We opened a small hospital which we called MIR; Medical Inspection Room. A small hospital with 10 beds, 10-12 beds until we left in July (19)57.

It was a long year. We spent a full year over there. It was just treatment, caring for the people who remained, the British, New Zealanders and the Scottish. We always had the problem of people trying to break in to steal from us. The North Koreans tried to break in. You had the demarcation line (a demilitarized area separating the North Koreans from the South Koreans at the 38th parallel) and people were always trying to cross over to the south side. That’s where there were skirmishes. People fired at each other and we went out and picked up the bodies and brought them back. In the winter, I saw frozen bodies that had been picked up from the mountains. The men who worked there froze, they were frozen bodies. You put slabs of ice into the truck.

No but there were always scuffles on one side or the other. First off, the practices occurred all the same. The Turks practiced. We practiced all the time. Because there was always the conflict between North Korea and South Korea. In Panmunjom we always had to sign every three or six months. We had to trek up there. I went twice. We had to go there and then the officers would sign a renewable peace agreement for three months, every three months. The same thing still exists today. You can calculate after 50 some-odd years. It’s still the same thing, at the same place, the same signatures. It still exists. Panmunjom remains and it’s the same contract. Go sign a contract every three or six months, make an agreement that will ensure the peace. There are always people trying to cross and for those who do, it’s a no man’s land. They’ll be shot, that’s for sure. And then you have to go get them.

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