Robert Stewart at the Korea Veteran's Assocation reunion, The Last Hurrah, Winnipeg, Manitoba, August 2011.Historica Canada
Robert Stewart in 1953.Robert Stewart
3 Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment's medics in Korea, 1953. Robert Stewart is on the far right.Robert Stewart
Robert Stewart and a Korean child in Seoul, South Korea, 1953.Robert Stewart
3 Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment's medics arrival in Japan, 1953. Robert Stewart is on the far right.Robert Stewart
"And that’s what bothered me the most anyway was the sense of failure when you lost somebody. Because you always think, well, if I’d known a little more, maybe I could have saved him."
Please be advised that, this veteran’s personal experience includes elements of a graphic nature and may not be suitable for a younger viewer.
And I went down to join the militia and the pipe band and I walked in at night. You don’t know anything and then it was dark and the army was all closed, there was only one lit room. So I walked down and I said, “I want to join the army.” The guy says, “No problem,” he gave me all the forms and I said, “Well, I want to join the pipe band.” And he says, “Oh, no problem,” he says, “it’s all the same.” He said, “We do all the same basic training and everything,” he said, “so we’ll process you and then get it all straightened out later.” So I went in and I signed and the next day I went and saw the doctor and all that stuff and they got me enrolled. And I joined the Medical Corps and I didn’t know it at the time. So that’s how I got into the system.
The training was not designed for Korea, really, like, the training was not designed, like what we should have had. It was primarily done by nurses, it was primarily for hospital use. You’re dealing with an arm off and some guy that’s blind or his clothes are, body and skin is peeled off. Those are things that you can’t be trained for that. I don’t think, anyways.
We [3rd Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment] were in division reserve, we just got set up and there was, about two miles away, there was a British group of signalers out laying land lines. And a mortar came in and got three of them. And so these three casualties were brought into our RAP [Regimental Aid Post]. And so right away, we’re working with traumatized soldiers. Like one guy had an arm blown off and another one, he was dead and another one, his head was gone. And he was dead, of course. So this guy with the arm off, we got him out to the hospital anyway and we evacuated by helicopters too. But that was the second or third day that we arrived. So that was the way we started.
In the front lines, if somebody’s wounded, you’re interested in keeping him alive. So you worry about his breathing, his bleeding and what else? Breathing, bleeding and there was another B. I can’t remember. But like if he’s not breathing, you try to get him breathing. And if he’s got like a wound in his chest, you know that’s a serious thing and it has to be stopped. So you try to cover it as best you can. Then you would get him on an ambulance and get him out of there or by stretcher bearer, depending on where you were. If you’re at the RAP, then you would be calling in a helicopter. And that’s one thing in Korea, they did have, they started using helicopters. It was a little Bell helicopter [Bell H-13 Sioux], carried two patients. But if you had a lot of casualties, like more than about five, because about five, you’re really hustling, you do the best you can with what you’ve got. And the best basically that you can do is practice good first aid. It’s like coming across a car injury, well, you don’t have a lot of kit to work with. You can’t start putting on tractions, so you do what you can and you get them the heck back to somebody that can help.
We were actually expecting an attack because May Day  was the big celebration for the Chinese and communists I guess. So when it didn’t happen, at night, there was always complete stand to and then in the morning, complete stand to. And that means everybody goes out and gathers in the trenches and so you have 100 percent of your people out. Then during the nights, you just have your regular, the standard two hour duty or whatever it was, you take turns. So we had been sort of expecting something on the first and when that didn’t happen, and remember that we were new, we had just come into the line and, but I was with the RAP at that point in time. So I was down at battalion headquarters and the first thing that I knew that anything was going on was when the sky started lighting up like a, you know, and then you start hearing the noise and the shells. And so you know something’s going on. And so you start getting ready for casualties. And they started to arrive pretty quickly.
There was everything, I mean, there was everything. Abdominal wounds, there were guys that didn’t make it of course with half their heads missing. I’m trying to remember the things that I specifically looked at. Amputations. And a lot of guys, like some of them, you could hardly see a wound at all. Maybe one shell, you know, a very tiny hole. And the guy would be dead, you know. So like it just kept getting busier and busier. I think there was about 23 casualties that we had there over the night. Not all of them came back to us because they shipped some over to  PPCLI and I don’t know, there was Chinese of course, you know, so you never really knew how many were there or what was going on or anything like that. You just worked.
The worst things I ever saw were the, the burns, like the burns were terrible. Napalm just makes me sick, I can still smell it now, it’s a sweetish smell and it’s just terrible. But burns were always the worst things that I ever had to deal with.
Probably the one that sticks in my mind and no particular reason other than that he was the last one, and this was after the war had finished, and I was just getting ready to come home as a matter of fact and I was up at the field ambulance. And by this time, I was working as a lab tech. So I walked into the lab this morning and there’s a stretcher there laid out and a guy’s laying on the stretcher and he’s got this blanket over him. So I had to clear them out so I walked in and I gave the stretcher a kick and I said, “Hey buddy, you’d better get up, it’s time to go get a breakfast or something.” So he never moved. So I walked over and I pulled the thing back and I remember to this day, the guy was laying there and his eyeball was sticking out. And a truck had run over his head. What it was, was a young kid had just arrived, Queen’s Own Rifles and he jumped out of the back of a truck and his ring caught in the tailgate of the truck and it just took him under the truck and the wheels just went over his head. And that was the last casualty I saw.
My primary thing as a medic was I always felt inadequate because if you lost somebody, it was like a personal affront to you, like you had failed this guy. And that’s what bothered me the most anyway was the sense of failure when you lost somebody. Because you always think, well, if I’d known a little more, maybe I could have saved him.