Veteran Stories:
Thomas Cathro

Army

  • Thomas Cathro at The Last Hurrah, Winnipeg, Manitoba, August 2011.

    Historica Canada
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"I gave the best years of my life, for my country, because I believed in what we were doing, which was to protect those who could not protect themselves."

Transcript

My brother, my best friend, my chum got killed and we were close together, my brother and I and he got killed in a railway accident down east. So I decided, well, what the hang, there’s no sense, my brother’s not around, I might as well go join the service and go somewhere and find out what’s going on in the world. I joined the Patricias [1 Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry], well, Canadian army at that time and did my training at Camp Borden [Ontario] and went, from Camp Borden, went to battalion. Battalion was just finished the trooping of their colours and then everybody was away, so the retired Colonel Swetkey, which he’s here today, asked how everything was. “It was fine,” I said, “but my time was too quick.” Because after we got to battalion, he said, “Okay, you’re going to jump course.” So they sent us to jump course in Rivers and Shiloh [Manitoba], finished that, we come right back off that and went back to Calgary [Alberta] and then from there, they shipped us up to Wainwright, Alberta, for 17 pounder [an anti-tank gun] course training. And then we come back off that, we did an embarkation leave, got on the boat, went to Korea, got off the boat in Korea and stayed on the front lines, in mud, slush, snow, cold, damp, ugh. You could smell Korea 3.5 miles offshore, because it was all, we lived in human excretion until we got used to it. Mud up to our eyeballs. We went on U.S.S. Gaffey. She was a converted cruiser. We never slept below decks, it was a little bit of humour, it’s just we were on deck, our battalion was on deck and the Americans had an army on deck, supposed to have an army on deck. That’s over 5,000 men. So this sergeant was in front with the captain, the captain said to him, “Well, sergeant,” he says, “where’s all your men?” We’ve got 20 men on the deck.” “Sergeant, where’s all your men?” “Well, he says, it’s like this here, sir,” he says, “you’ve got men in the canteen,” he says, “you’ve got men in the latrine,” he said, “I’ve got men I ain’t never seen.” And we were all there, the battalion, our battalion, we were just laughing. We just laughed them right off the deck. So that was fun. So then we got on a train across Tokyo, across Japan, on a train. I guess we landed in Inchon [South Korea], I’m not too sure where we docked. Then we went by train as far as the train would go and then the foot soldiers had to march but I was in a half track, I was a support company so I rode in a half track, while the boys marched up. And I was in the hills for, I stayed over there for 17.5 months. I did three tours over there, so. Rats as big as alley cats, we used to say. The rats were, and they had a bug on them, a mite, it fell on you and bit you, you swelled up like a balloon and burst. It’s what they called Manchurian Fever. You’d sleep there at nighttime with your eye open and a flashlight, revolver in your hand and big rat come and boom, you’d shoot him. Times were tough. There was the one we would, were off the line, with everything, to get relaxed, to get relaxed again. You’re tensed up all the time because you never knew what was going to happen. It was just perpetual anticipation, put it that way, that maybe we’d get attacked and maybe we wouldn’t and… If you weren’t scared, you were a fool. And ninety-nine percent of us weren’t fools. So you had a reason to be scared. Because we got put to bed to sleep every night by, we called him burp gun Charlie. He used to come out on the hill and across from us, (makes noise), with his machine gun every night to put us to sleep. We didn’t go to sleep. And there was another fellow flew up and down the valley in an airplane, bed check Charlie we’d call him, he used to, he’d say, “You go to bed now, Canada, you’re safe.” Twenty-eight years I spent in the Canadian armed forces, I gave the best years of my life, for my country, because I believed in what we were doing, which was to protect those who could not protect themselves. And this is what I mostly went into the service for, was to take care of other people.
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