Private Arthur Lortie poses for the camera with a Bren light machine gun and a British Mills grenade in his left hand, with the pin in his mouth.Arthur Lortie
At the frontline in 1952. Arthur Lortie (left) is holding a snake he shot with his Sten submachine gun.Arthur Lortie
Private Arthur Lortie having his lunch in a trench (summer 1952).Arthur Lortie
Private Arthur Lortie with South Korean orphans (May 1952).Arthur Lortie
Mr. Arthur Lortie, July 2011.
"We climbed the mountain, shouting and firing: grenades, machine guns, other guns. We opened fire as if there were 30 of us. We were only about 10."
My father served in the military with the Voltigeurs de Québec (an infantry regiment part of the Canadian Army Reserve) during twelve years or so. So from the beginning, we were conscious, we had seen my father in uniform at home. We had been to see him in several parades and things like that. So we knew. During the war (of 1939-1945), I was 12-13 years old. Quebec City was a military town then. We had the army, the navy, the air force. People would arrive at the Gare du Palais (train station in Quebec City), injured people. When I was young, we would go and see. We pretty much knew what was going on. I think that's what motivated us. Also, a taste for adventure. I think all young people have a taste for adventure.
In the morning, when we woke up, we prepared to make our own breakfast or often to eat our rations or to go eat breakfast below the mountain (in Korea) because the vehicles could only come up to a certain point. They couldn't climb the mountain. Also, to avoid being bombed, because sometimes we could see the Chinese and they could see us as well. We descended the mountain and went to eat our meal per group. One group at a time, we relieved each other for our meals. If we were on rations, if there were long periods on rations, we each had a box per day with our rations. We had to transport our rations. So, we had volunteers every day. Volunteers that we named. The volunteers went to get our rations at the foot of the mountain. There was a case of beer, too. We were allowed to drink a beer per day. So someone had to go get the case of beer and bring it up. It wasn't easy sometimes. But we made a deal with the guy bringing the beer up; he was allowed one extra beer.
Life in the trenches was hard. You were always dirty. There were no showers, no baths. I would say that we would go and take a shower once every three-four weeks. They would bring us in a vehicle to take our showers, about twenty kilometres away, in the back of a big truck. You'd sit in the box in the back, over roads of dirt or sand. So when we got back, we were... The shower was refreshing. They were shared showers, tents, and water came out both sides.
Our work was always stable. We had our trench, our part of the trench. We were responsible for a section with approximately 10 men. So the corporal was in the centre of the section, he had his dugout. We also had our own dugouts, about three men per dugout. There were about three or four dugouts per section. So the corporal controlled that. The three platoon corporals reported to the sergeant, to the sergeant's dugout, and gave him briefings about what was going on each day. The information was communicated from platoon commander to sergeant. In the evening, we knew who was going out on a patrol and what guard shifts we had. Because you never slept a full night. We were there for 12 months, and in those 12 months we never slept a full night. It wasn't possible except for when you went on vacation. At the end of six months, they would send us to Japan for five days. That was utter happiness. It did us good. It allowed us to recharge our batteries. But on the fifth day, we took a vehicle in the morning, crossed over on plane into Korea, got back on the truck and we were there for another six months. When we would go to Japan in the plane, people would talk, they would sing. But when we got back on the truck, silence. And it was like that until we got back to the line of fire. The sergeant would be waiting for us there: “Hello men! You're well rested up now! You’re all handsome and spruced up! So back to your guard duties tonight.”
We also always had what we called an outpost. In front of each platoon, there were one or two outposts. In the outpost, there were three men; the section commander, a signalman, and a gunner. The three of us would go to the outpost for 24 hours to be on the lookout to see what was going, even often during the day. Afterward, we would come back and another group would take our place. During certain periods, we would have the outposts for two months. So, about every three or four nights, we would go to our outpost. Every evening, there were patrols in the valley. We had searchlights on the mountains, big searchlights that scanned the area. When the patrols saw the searchlight coming, they would camouflage themselves. The Chinese were very good at that. Sometimes we would see them working during the day (...). We couldn't see what they were doing. From time to time, we could see them walking in their trenches. We could see them transporting supplies. We would see one from time to time. Just like they could see us. We couldn't go out to the top of our trench during the day because they would fire at us. They couldn't hit us with a bullet, but sometimes they threw a little bomb. Just a little quick one to remind us that they were there.
I recall a raid, among others, very well. In between us and the enemy, there was a river that they called the Han River. So we crossed the Han River. I was a gunner at the time. I was in the water up to there with the Bren (lightweight British machine gun), which I was holding out of the water. About 10 of us crossed. We had a firm base, as we called them, of 20 men who stayed on this side of the river and who looked out for the others so that we wouldn't be attacked, so that we could cross. Because when we crossed the river, there were some Chinese on the mountain on the other side. We were very, very visible. We crossed at night, there was no moon, nothing but still, you had 10 men in the water. It went very well when we crossed. During the day, we could see people working. The next day... uh... During the night, once we had crossed the river, we went behind the mountain and conducted a raid. We climbed the mountain, shouting and firing: grenades, machine guns, other guns. We opened fire as if there were 30 of us. We were only about 10. That was the plan we had been given. They didn't respond with any fire. We were very surprised by that. We had said: “It's going to be crazy at night, it sure won't be funny!” But no!
When we got there, we were scared. We had said: “We'll surely be taken.” There will surely be an ambush. They didn't shoot. So we thought, “When we cross the river to go back, we'll be targeted. Or there will be Chinese in the valley.” The other patrol will wait for us on the other side. Not at all! We crossed the river and our signalman had unfortunately fallen into the water with his radio. He wanted to possibly lift it up so that it wouldn't get wet but then he toppled over and we heard a splash! It made a funny sound, all of us together. It was pretty funny but we continued on. The group that was waiting for us on the other side said about at the half-point. The sergeant Tapin who was there at the time he cried out: “Ok guys, it’s all clear, come on over.”