Harry Snaith at The Last Hurrah, Winnipeg, Manitoba, August 2011.Historica Canada
"But prior to that time, I don’t recall ever telling anybody that I was in the navy, that I had been in Korea and what little I had there, I don’t recall it ever being an item that we talked about."
I was transferred out to Halifax for the communications training that I got and we were trained as telegraphers and we were also trained as signalmen and coding. And that was a year. And after that, I was transferred back to the west coast and got onto a ship there, the [HMCS] Athabaskan, and started my travel by water for a good long time. And got seasick with the best of them and I guess I finally got over that and I know we were on a trip over to the UK [United Kingdom] and for me, being so sick, they said take me around to Halifax [Nova Scotia] and if I was still acting up and getting sick, send me back across Canada by train and wherever, I don’t know. However, we never got that far.
The news of the war in Korea, North Korea at the time, South Korea came and as near as I can remember, we provisioned ship and took off, we didn’t go back. Now, some say we did go back to Esquimalt [British Columbia] but the way I remember it was we just took off and we were provisioned a ship and everything and we were just headed for Korea. I continued after I joined there, I stayed on the ship after Canada once and then back. So I guess it was pretty close to the full three years that I was over there.
The trip to Hong Kong was a very eventful one. We got into I think it was called a typhoon, I didn’t know too much about storms at that time. And at that time, I was still on the bridge and it was a long ways down to the water when that ship was rolling like it was. And I can remember the captain telling somebody, no, no, it couldn’t be that bad, he would have flooded the oil compartments. But if that was done, they had to be wiped out by hand and I made the comment that I would gladly wipe those things out if we had not had to go through that again. And I don’t think I ever got seasick after that.
I think we knew where we went. I was 18 at the time. I didn’t, none of us, we had a good time on the way over there. I can remember one member of the group was a great storyteller and we’d sit out there and enjoy the nice travel, the Pacific is nothing like the Atlantic. It was nice sailing and we stopped in Hawaii on the way over too. But, well, I don’t really know at this time anymore what we were told about what we were facing but I think that we were, I don’t remember not being aware of the fact that we were going over there, that North Korea had attacked South Korea and that we were going over there and we would be working in the Yellow Sea. And the Athabaskan I know worked with the Seventh Fleet [United States’ Navy permanent forward force operating out of Japan, tasked with protecting the Korean peninsula], with the aircraft carrier, I don’t remember which one now. When they were flying aircraft off one of the jobs we did.
We did go up a river in Korea with three other ships. One of them went aground; it was American or Australian. And the Athabaskan went up there and we did a lot of shelling; shore establishment, trains, railroad bridges, anything to stop the ammunition, anything that would do harm coming in from North Korea and China. And we did landing parties. And I remember that we worked four hours on, four hours off. Where we were shelling the trains that were bringing in equipment and ammunition and men for the North Koreans that would used on South Korea and all those that were fighting against it at that time.
I even think the Canadians didn’t know much about it. I mean, my parents know what was going on because we’d have our little letters that we would write and give a weather report mostly and that was about it. Radio and newspaper were the only things around in them days. We didn’t have TVs. And so from that point, mixing with other families, even with our own father, I guess I had a brother and two sisters at home, and them things, it just wasn’t never talked about.
Not too many of us that I know anyway, I never talked much about the time we spent over there. My album I had went up in the closet, I went back to work at a civilian job and life went on. I married and had a family and that was it. I never talked too much until this KVA [Korea Veterans’ Association, a national organization for Canadian veterans of the Korean War] started, coming from across Canada. I got a phone call one time and I was living Medicine Hat [Alberta] and that and that’s where I started with them and how we really got together. But prior to that time, I don’t recall ever telling anybody that I was in the navy, that I had been in Korea and what little I had there, I don’t recall it ever being an item that we talked about.