"I was on the first train and we got in to Ft. Louis and the first thing we heard that the second train had been a head-on collision in B.C. in a place called Canoe River. And we lost 17 of our people in that train crash."
On our trip down to Ft. Louis [in Washington state] from Shilo [Manitoba], I was on the first train and we got in to Fort Lewis and the first thing we heard that the second train had been a head-on collision in B.C. in a place called Canoe River. And we lost 17 of our people in that train crash. And little did we know at the time that that was more people than we’d lose all the time we were in Korea.
The last six months or so in Korea was fairly static. Most of the winter, we were in one position and stayed there. We were allowed to dig in, we lived underground. We dug good dugouts and found timbers to put over and then canvass and keep us from getting wet. We had one sleeping place was just big enough. What we did was take the brass that’s leftover when a 25 pounder [gun] fires the shells and they’re about so high and squeezed the top and the stretcher, we’d get stretchers and by squeezing the top of the shells, they’d fit over the legs of the stretcher and get us off the ground by about that much.
So that was good and we made our own stoves out of ammo boxes with radio aerials used as lines to run the straight gas into these things in a drip system. So we lived pretty dangerous lives for a while, you know. But we turned them off at night, you’d never go to sleep with one of these on because you know, you’d never wake up probably. And besides that, for the smell of the gas and that and the dugout, because there are no windows. And what we had over the doors, you wouldn’t make a direct line into your dugout, it was sort of an L-shape, you’d go one way and then turn and go into your dugout. And over the doors, we used blankets to keep as doors.
We had one accident with that. We always had Korean kids around with us, you know, they’d wash our clothes and they’d help us out with little chores and such and one day we were in one of these dugouts and I heard a trickle of gas and I knew what was going on. So I said, get out of here, so we all got out except one man and what happened was, the Korean kids were filling the gas tank outside and they overflowed it and of course, the gas followed the line and soaked the blankets where it was coming through. And as soon as it hit the fire, it just backed up. But the guy got out, they sent him to Japan and he recovered alright but it was scary. We watched the fires a little more from then on. So like I say, the last part of the war was fairly static.
And we got out of there, our regiment was fairly lucky. We lost a captain, a couple of gunners. And the conditions that we had, we were pretty well equipped, although we were using Second World War equipment, like rifles, Second World War [artillery] guns and even Second World War ammunition that had been stocked. All our vehicles came from the U.S. and they were obsolete vehicles, bought as obsolete. And they bought extras, to keep them going.
As far as clothing, we had excellent sleeping bags, uniforms, winter wear. I think we had as good as there are and our rations, we had American rations. We were on American rations all the time except for when we were coming home, we were in Japan for two weeks on the way home and we were fed Australian rations but there was an American canteen just down the road that had hamburgers and hot dogs and I think they got a bigger business than the mess. Because there was a lot mutton and such and that didn’t appeal too much to us.
But yes, we had good rations, good clothing. The equipment worked well. We had one accident with a gun that blew up and one sergeant. There was two people killed I believe on that gun and one sergeant ended up with most of his stomach gone, he’s since died but he did get home. But you know, that can happen to anything, it wasn’t I don’t think because they were old guns and leftover.
When we went there, we were attached to the Americans right away, our brigade. Well actually, the PPCLI [Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry] went first in the Fall of 1950 and they were attached to the Americans, because they were there as a battalion. And the American wanted to put them in action right away and the colonel wouldn’t do it. And then the Americans sort of took them to task for that but he won out because he said, my people aren’t trained for this country. You know, you’ve got to give me a couple of weeks. Which they did eventually.
So then after we were there and the brigade was back together, we had three infantry battalions and the artillery and the course, and the New Zealanders were there and the Australians were there, so they decided they were going to form a Commonwealth division. And they did. So then we were in 25th Canadian Infantry Brigade and part of the First Commonwealth Division. And then they worked with the Americans of course. But it worked out well, we didn’t have any conflict with them. Any of the conflict was above us, between the officers and whatever, if there was any. I know there was a story went around about when the Americans were on that hill they called Little Gibraltar, which was 355 was the number of it. And that meant the elevation. And the Americans were on there and the Van Doos [a nickname for the Royal 22e Régiment] were on the saddle, they called it saddle beside them. And from where I was, you could see this attack starting in the afternoon and you could hear it. I could see the puffs on the mountain and hear the guns going off and of course, we were talking about it and saying, it looks like the Americans are going to get it tonight.
So during the night, the North Koreans really put on a push and they chased the Americans off. And so the Americans are on this high hill, the Van Doos are down here and in the morning, this is Chinese now or North Koreans. So the story goes that the Van Doos colonel, he said the Americans went so fast that their cigarettes looked like fireflies.