Front cover of Robert Peacock's memoirs, Kim-chi, Asahi and Rum: A Platoon Commander Remembers Korea, 1952-1953 (Toronto: Lugus, 1994).Robert Peacock
3rd Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry Regiment on a Korean hillside.Don Landry
"Just took out the front end of the jeep and knocked us over the edge, down an embankment, and the driver was quite shell-shocked. And Sam and I were deaf as posts."
So I was able to, on graduation [from the Royal Military College of Canada in 1952], go to Korea, join 1 PPCLI [Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry] and go to the same company that I had trained with in Calgary the year before. So I knew an awful lot of the people in the company.
The NCOs [non-commissioned officers] were first-class in giving the officer cadet the tip, if you would just open your ears and listen to them, and separate the “BS” from the “HS,” they had an awful lot to teach you. And once they realized you were interested, they spent their time teaching you. Many of them decorated and very, very professional, very professional indeed. They set a very high standard but, my gosh, they were being moved about so much with the brigade being formed in Europe at the same time [27th Canadian Infantry Brigade Group in Germany], which took priority, believe it or not, over Korea. Showed the European bias of the Canadian [government] and military brass [high command]. Here we were fighting the war in Korea, and they were sending reinforcements to NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization], and we were going without in Korea.
All three battalions [of the PPCLI in Korea] did first-class work. And all three battalions fought a different type of war. And 2nd Battalion fought the skirmish, the climbing hills, and bugle charges attacks and stuff. And 1st Battalion ended up having to fight into a trench line, because then the armistice was being talked about at Panmunjom [Korean city at which took place the majority of United Nations-communist truce talks to stop shooting war in Korea]. And by the time I got there, we were down into World War I-type of patrols. And, oddly enough, there were more casualties in the last six months of the war from artillery fire, mortars, machine guns, than ever happened in 2nd Battalion and 1st Battalion. Because the artillery, it became an artillery war, and you just kept your head down as much as you could, and patrolled.
Patrols were de rigueur for brigade and divisional staffs and so each company had to put out standing patrols, naturally, to protect and give early warning of anything in the area, but then you had to go and do sweeps of the area, to make sure that they weren’t setting up mines or trying to run border crossings through your lines. And then there were fighting patrols to capture prisoners, ambush places, to ambush Chinese patrols, this was all done at night. And so you’re continually leave about, sometimes about 6 o’clock at night and you’d get in about, if you were fortunate, you’d be back 6, 7 o’clock the next morning. So this is - you were on the nightshift most of the time. And, all attacks came in the early evening or in the early morning.
And, we were always on the alert and having to get out and watch. You could measure when you were going to be fingered by the Chinese or the North Koreans because, they used their artillery to zero in on specific company positions. And then they would loose a huge barrage and launch their advance. But our artillery was equally good and usually was a stalemate and the Chinese lost out. So, by that time, you were just happy enough to, we were not given any, in the 3rd Battalion or even 1st Battalion, we were not given any attacks, to carry out, because with the Panmunjom truce [negotiations] going on, United Nations didn’t wish to be seen as the aggressor. What you let was the Chinese who were attacking all the time, trying to take territory, and so that’s what you were doing, you were fighting a defensive war, with artillery, machine guns, mortars, barbed wire, and yeah, you had your casualties, but, fortunately, they weren’t that heavy and the Chinese finally gave it up, because they were taking extreme casualties.
[Lieutenant-General] Matthew Ridgway, who came in and replaced - who became the army commander, [U.S.] Eighth Army commander, said we can’t beat them on the ground, we can beat them with artillery. He said, we’re not going to advance to the Yalu River [along North Korea’s northern border with China], therefore, let them come and we’ll kill them off as they come. And so that was the tactics in the last year of the war.
It’s August 1953, we had a monsoon, coming off the Yellow Sea, actually, a typhoon. And, dumped about 12 inches of water on the countryside in 24 hours. Every bunker I think in the brigade was affected but I know my platoon, I lost 80 percent of the bunkers collapsed. So, we were digging people out, and, of course all the valleys were then filled with water. All the rice patties were filled right up to the neck. And the small streams were roaring rivers, and I nearly drowned in one river trying to get a safety line across to a patrol which hadn’t moved back quickly enough. I was patrol master that night. We got the thing over and managed to get over to hook the safety line up, but the river was running too fast and I nearly drowned.
Early September of 1952, another fellow and I, a Sergeant Urquhart from C Company, had been given a patrol to do. And he still says I was crazy as a nut, but he would never listen. We had, we were using an American main supply route and some of our people were exceeding the speed limit coming down this one hill, because it was under observation by the Chinese and they liked to take potshots at trucks, which they did regularly. And I was called into the commanding officer and said, “You’re going on this patrol.” I said, “Well, I’d sure like to get a reconnaissance from the Royal Canadian Regiment position because I can see it much more clearly from up there.” And he said, “Yes, but you obey the laws on the American main supply route, and no speeding.” And so off we went, and coming back we got to the top of this hill, and there had been only occasional shooting, and the American provost [military police officer] said, “No speeding!” and I said, “I’ve got my orders from my commanding officer and he got his from the brigadier.”
And so down we went, not raising any dust and sure as hell, we got hit. Poor old Sam Urquhart thought that was the craziest thing and I agreed with him, it was the craziest thing, but we were given orders. 122 millimetre shell and it landed right on the road and it landed about four feet in front of our moving jeep. Just took out the front end of the jeep and knocked us over the edge, down an embankment, and the driver was quite shell-shocked. And Sam and I were deaf as posts. We walked our way back and the humourous thing was, it wasn’t my jeep, it was the acting company commander’s jeep. And he just spent all this time getting this brand new jeep. There it was, heading off to the repair shop, which I don’t think they ever did repair it. I think they just junked it.
The other one was in the battle for The Hook [series of hilltop features], with 3rd Battalion [18-19 November 1952]. We ended up with a brand new platoon, a few sprinkling from 1st Battalion still there. But we went in November of 1952 and then we stayed on The Hook, which was a dirty position. You’re right out on a salient and all your movement was seen by the Chinese all day long. So you didn’t stick your head up too much.
Ended up the war that morning, up on the front, watching the Chinese come out of their bunkers, and they just covered the hills as far as you could see them. And if you looked around, and a company would be 70 people by that time, and nothing behind them. They were just standing up on top of the hill, waving flags.