Ralph Verge at Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, September 2011.Historica Canada
Ralph Verge's medals. From left to right: Order of Military Merit, Canadian Korea Medal, Canadian Volunteer Service Medal for Korea, Special Service Medal (NATO), Canadian Peacekeeping Service Medal, United Nations Service Medal (Korea), Korean War Service Medal (Syngman Rhee), United Nations Emergency Force Medal (Egypt), United Nations Force in Cyprus Medal, Canadian Centennial Medal, Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Medal, Canadian Forces Decoration, Commissionaires Long Service Medal, unknown.Ralph Verge
"The Chinese had a terrible habit of making noise, banging on things and blowing trumpets. So there, there’s a wave of people with weapons basically, just making all this noise which is sort of a little frightening. It’s dark, right, and then the waves of troops come in."
You see in those days what happened in the army, if you went to the school of infantry, there was three regiments in Canada and only battalion in each regiment. You could go to the RCR [Royal Canadian Regiment], you could got to the Patricias [Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry] out west or the Van Doos [Royal 22nd Regiment] in Quebec. Of course, all English speaking people or the majority would do either the RCR or the Patricias. And I went to the RCR because that’s where I wanted to go.
Well, I guess the one thing that will always stand out in my mind, as I said, I was first and third, so I was on Hill 187 and 2nd/3rd of May [1953; fighting between enemy and A and C companies of the Royal Canadian Regiment] when I got attacked. I was 8 Platoon, Charlie Company and Lieutenant Banton was my platoon commander, an Ottawa boy, who was a pharmacist but joined the infantry, I don’t know why. I had an American carbine [M1 carbine, a semi-automatic compact rifle] because all officers, he had a nine millimeter pistol, and he kind of said, “Can I take your carbine? He said, “I want to go out and check a patrol.” He said, “You shouldn’t go.” Anyway, I gave him my carbine, he gave me his little pistol and he was the first man killed right outside the line, Lieutenant Doug Banton. And I was there with a little pistol. But anyway, that was something that stayed in my memory and it’s still in my memory and I spent a couple of bad years after Korea with terrible nightmares and they didn’t have PTSD [Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder; severe anxiety disorder that can develop after traumatic event] in those days. And I had a father-in-law, an educated father-in-law, but he got me through some real bad times just by waking me up and talking to me.
The Chinese had a terrible habit of making noise, banging on things and blowing trumpets. So there, there’s a wave of people with weapons basically, just making all this noise which is sort of a little frightening. It’s dark, right, and then the waves of troops come in and then the bombardments start and a lot of the bombardments are our own. They know we’re being attacked so our artillery comes in and tries to push them back, right. And I would guess that the attack probably lasted an hour, hour and a half and there was really nothing left of our trenches by this time. So we all left and went back to what they called the A Echelon after this and well, the other companies relieved us. So as I said, it was very frightening.
On [Hill] 187 that evening, I was wounded and I was helicoptered out and they put you on the side of an American helicopter. There’s like some kind of a bed. And they cover you all up with nice blankets and whatnot so you’re warm but I’m thinking that maybe, I’m not going to die from these wounds, I’m going to freeze to death in this damn helicopter, because you’re on the outside.
And then anyway, the funny part of the story was I was in 121 American Evacuation Hospital in Yongdong-Po [Korea] and after I got well enough, after eight days, nine days, a nurse came in, sweet little nurse, Captain Southerner, and she said, “Okay, she said, we want you to get some clothes on,” she said, “You’re going Iwakuni [Japan] to a rest camp. I said, “I’m going to Japan?” She said, “Yeah.” So I put on some clothes and they took me in an ambulance to the airfield in Soest [Seoul] and I’m all set to get on this Globemaster [heavy-lift cargo airplane] to take me to Iwakuni, and down come the British Red Caps, military police, right. And they were, we were a British Commonwealth Division. So they came down and, “Have you got Private Verge here? and they [the hospital staff] said, “Yeah, they said, he can’t go, he’s not an American.” They took me off, I didn’t get to Iwakuni and to make it worse, they transferred me out of the Yongdong-Po Hospital 121 to the British military hospital in Soest [Seoul] and you didn’t get treated the same at all. No pretty little nurses.
The Americans, they had, one night, second night or third, I was still angry I guess and the nurse come in and said, “Anything I can get for you?” I said, “Yeah, apple pie and ice cream.” I was being smart, right. I didn’t know, she brought me apple pie and ice cream. The Americans has an ice cream factory there for their troops. We didn’t have anything like that.
Two guys had a little section, as they call it parapet in the trench, the trench could be miles. And then you had your outpost and so many people were selected for patrol. And they tried not to select all the same people all the time. But you basically slit a new trench from dusk, we’ll say 5:00, 6:00, until 4:00, 5:00 in the morning. You couldn’t smoke or anything like that, because the enemy could see it. You just stood in your trench for whatever that is, 10 or 12 hours.
A bunker is built using earth and whatever wood you can find and sandbags. There was a lot of bunker rats, big rats. So it was never really comfortable, we just got in your sleeping bag and snuggled the blanket over you. And you slept. And during the day, because you were up all night in darkness. So not pleasant. But you got out now and then, you know. They had what they called a day LOB, left on the battle and not everyone could take advantage of that but you got selected and you went back to B Echelon, which was a long ways away. And you got all fresh clothes and a shower, some food, you know. So it was nice. You had the LOB and then as I said, you’ve got your R&R and then you moved back to brigade and div [divisional] reserve, so you’re not in the front line all the time. But you’re in the front line a lot.
Well, they had various patrols, right. They had what they call them outposts, which was in front of your platoon lines, two men normally. And then you had a fighting patrol and an ambush patrol. So your fighting patrol was basically probably five to seven men, basically to find and engage any enemy unless they were too powerful. And your listening patrol, which was in an outpost, just two or three men and that was just to pay attention to the lines in front of us, which was the Chinese lines and the North Korean lines. So it entailed, if you were on a fighting or an ambush patrol, a lot of walking and you know, and hoping you get back into your line and come back into your line and your company sergeant major was waiting there for you and he gave you the shot of SRD, soldiers ration daily, which you only get in acts or major exercise. I’m a boy, so I take the rum, right back and my sergeant said, “What are you doing, Verge?” I said, “Hey, hey sergeant major, I never drank.”
We were fortunate in some ways that those of us that were so young, we had a lot of World War II veterans that rejoined the forces for Korea and they were a real help because they knew, they’d been there in another war and they could sort of guide us. You know, you were in battles right up to the very end. And I’m not sure when the armistice, I think it was in July [27 July 1953] but I’m not sure, but we were attacked in May, you know, so it was fighting right up until the end. And the POWs taken that night, which were released, I have a picture at home, I should have brought it with me, of the first Canadians released from the POW camp on the Panmunjom bridge. But yeah, the fight remained, right up until the end. So you got home and in early November. And an experience that stayed, it’s still with me. I’m the immediate past president of Korea Veterans, Nova Scotia, I’m immediate past president of the Royal Canadian Regiment, Nova Scotia. So it stays with you. And it’s a relationship that you never really lose.