Veteran Stories:
Norman McGugan


  • Page from Norman McGugan's pay book, showing the training he received.

    Norman McGugan
  • Norman McGugan

    Norman McGugan
  • "Hill 166," a poem written by Norman McGugan in January 1953, while he was stationed in Korea.

    Norman McGugan
  • Norman McGugan's dog tags.

    Norman McGugan
  • Norman McGugan at The Last Hurrah, Winnipeg, Manitoba, August 2011.

    Historica Canada
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"I felt something hit my right heel and Sten gun. The radio aerial had been sheared off and left us with no communication whatsoever. My Sten gun was bent like a pretzel and the shrapnel had left a tear in my flak jacket."


One of my most vivid memories was my first patrol. Charlie Company was the counter attack company for the British Royal Black Watch, who’d been hard hit by the enemy on The Hook [3km long crestline that had been frequently fought over between the Chinese and Commonwealth soldiers]. About two weeks after arriving in Korea, while I was still on a patrol course, we were awakened from sleep by a loudspeaker saying, “All Charlie Company, meet at the B Echelon headquarters with full gear immediately.” And thus began my first introduction into the frontlines. Three of us were assigned to go out to the Warsaw feature, a section of The Hook which was believed to be held by the enemy and see if there were any of them out there.

I had a radio known as the 88 wireless set over my shoulder. The radio set had been from the Second World War containing all dry cell type batteries. It could not be recharged and therefore, were limited in their use. I also carried the usual issue of the day, a Sten gun [9mm submachine gun]. We started out on the route in which had been a crawl trench but was now almost non-existent because of shellfire. It was difficult to walk as everything had been blown up. Bits and pieces of barbed had been blown up and caught in our clothing and we had to stop to free ourselves from it almost constantly. We reached our patrol area and went to ground.

I felt something hit my right heel and Sten gun. The radio aerial had been sheared off and left us with no communication whatsoever. My Sten gun was bent like a pretzel and the shrapnel had left a tear in my flak jacket. We returned to the command post, gave our report, got another radio and Sten gun and went back out and patrolled again without any further incident that night. Thus began my life as a Korean soldier.

[Patrolling The Hook] “The Horror of War.” Nothing had prepared us for what we saw, bodies everywhere. Trenches that were six, eight deep were blown in. Bits and pieces of gear were everywhere. There were broken weapons, tools of every description. Even eight by eight inch bunker beams were shattered like kindling. There was one area where the trench formed a T. It was now very shallow and whoever used it would come under fire. A group of USA boys were caught in crossing that area and received casualties. Corporal H, our first soldier killed on The Hook. He had been on the same end NCO [non-commissioned officer] course as myself. He was a very comical guy, was always joking. Crossing on our platoon’s area to get to our hill, I met up a Jovan Campbell. He had the same lament, “Norman, why am I here?”

[Battle of Hill 187; 2 to 3 May 1953] On the evening May the 2nd [1953] I believe, the Chinese were active, there were people in the valley, they were breaking in our 88 [radio] sets and 300 radio set, to interrupt anything that we might be saying. And some of the messages they were saying were, “Canadian white boy, go home, other people are sleeping with your girlfriend,” and so on. And then the battle started and they had positioned, had set up a target of our first machine gun, the one we owned. And they poured continuous shots through the parapet. And we weren’t able to use that. But 100 yards around the crawl trench, we’d set up a second one and we fired that pretty well all night long. And on the hill where Baker Company got hit, they had also, the Chinese had also targeted the different machine guns of the Canadians and poured continuous round after round in through the parapets. It was easy for them to do because people who were working for us in the daytime, some of them were working for the enemy at night. I know several of them were caught different times. And so the second machine gun come in very handy.

[“Hill 166,” written by Norman McGugan while in Korea, 1953]

We were all laying around one cold rainy day,
And the talk was of a hill that was not far away,
A hill that was covered with the glory and fame,
Hill 166, Old Smoky by name.

When a fellow steps up and says, “Listen to me,
and I’ll tell you of a patrol that happened to be.”
To patrol 166, a fighter they call,
So many to go, so many to fall.

We moved out at night, our mission to fill,
To storm Old Smoky, the devil’s own hill.
That night, it was dark and stormy besides,
Lots of good cover and easy to hide.

The Chinese opened fire as we attacked the slope,
To take them by surprise, we had given up hope.
The Chinese were many and we were but few
So we picked up our wounded and slowly withdrew.

The fire was heavy, the shrapnel it whined,
We treaded through paddies, although they were mined.
The fighter of failure, retreat a rout,
We had lost the first fight without a slight doubt.

That was the first of many to go,
To patrol and keep Old Smoky, their goal.
Their blood add to the glory and fame,
Of Old Smoky, Hill 166 by name.

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