Veteran Stories:
Berard “Buzz” Bennett

Army

  • Colonel (ret'd) Berard Bennett in Ottawa, Ontario, August 2012.

    Historica Canada
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"The vehicle fell over on its back and jammed the horn button down. So the horn was blaring! And, everything was quiet other than the horn at this time. Fortunately, it is difficult to locate sound at night."

Transcript

I did join the army, and as I say, although I spent most of my career, over 29 years of my 33 years-plus career in signals, I originally joined in “Reemee” [RCEME] and was in Reemee when I was in Korea. So I joined in Halifax [Nova Scotia], was sent to Kingston [Ontario] for initial training, and was very fortunate, in that – in a… sort of the pseudo-victim of an unpleasant incident in the mess one night. I was sitting at the table right next to the acting commandant of the school – the commandant was on a trip to Europe. The acting commandant had been sent down to Kingston from Army Headquarters [Ottawa], who asked me in the conversation what I would like to do when I finished the course. I said, “Well I’d like to go to Korea.” “Excellent, you can get workshop experience in Canada any time. Go to Korea, get the field experience.” And, the year in Korea stood me in good stead all the rest of my army career.

Pusan [Korea], I distinctly remember was fetid. This was on the 1st of August [1952] that I landed in Pusan. You literally could smell Pusan ten miles out to sea. It had not been a very large place, but there were a million and a half refugees there living in the most squalid conditions and we spent the day and the night in a British army transit camp called Seaforth Camp, which was just outside of Pusan. And, it was as spartan as you could expect a British army transit camp to be at that day. And it was very hot and they didn’t even have anything to cool a drink. Spent the day there and the night there, and the next morning, most of the draft was loaded on a train euphemistically called the “EUSAK Express.” That’s E-U-S-A-K – Eighth US Army [in] Korea. So we got on and we’re on our way from Pusan to Seoul and an American US Army captain came and said, “Oh, you boys got lots of ammunition.” I said, “No, somebody was supposed to have issued us ammunition, but they didn’t.” So we had no ammunition. And he said, “Well,” – this is in case the train gets attacked sort of thing – he said, “Well, there’s lots of ammunition in the boxes on the platforms at the end of each car.” I said, “Do you have any .303 ammunition?” “No, just .30 calibre.” So their ammunition is not going to fit our rifles. So I said, “Well, how about do you have any 9 millimetre ammunition?” I thought I could get some for my pistol, or for the guys with Sten Guns. “No, we have 45s.” Well, that’s not going to work. He said, “Well, anyway, there’s a couple boxes of grenades there, too.” Fortunately, we didn’t need ammunition.

The day we went up was the 2nd of August. I was 23 that day. Here I am a 23-year-old lieutenant with not quite a year’s experience yet – because I didn’t have a year’s experience until the 17th of August, with this load of troops, some of them who’d been there before, some of them who had been wounded and were on their way back, sort of thing. And, I thought, “Lord, what are we going to do with these guys when I land in Seoul?” sort of thing – “I sure hope there’s somebody there to meet us!” Pulled into the train station in Seoul, which I recognized – all the windows were blown out and everything – I recognized it from having seen pictures of it in the news media and the papers. But there was somebody there to meet us and they took everybody in hand and went off, dragged me over to the – there was an officer’s mess there, and I thought, “Can I get a drink for my birthday?” and I sat down and had dinner, and before I finished dinner they grabbed me and said, “Nope, we’re sending three truckloads of you up to the brigade, to the front tonight,” sort of thing. So they load us into the two and a half tonne trucks and we went on up, in the dark, and we went all over the brigade area depositing people and I finally got deposited at [No.] 191 [Canadian] Infantry Workshop sometime after midnight. So I never did get my drink that day.

We were generally located about half a mile or something behind the front lines. Combat was not our primary responsibility so, while I’d like to have said, “Yeah, I was there fighting the Chinese,” I in fact was not. However, we were exposed – the [shell] case as I showed you, the shell landed not too far from my tent. And, I had a policy – one of the things we had to do was, basically the thing we dealt with, in the light aid detachment, was vehicles. We recovered the vehicles from the battalions, repaired them if they didn’t need much, or if they needed a lot of repair, sent them back down to the workshop. One of the things – policies I had – was that, if the recovery was taking place in a forward area, forward of a battalion headquarters, that either the sergeant major or I would go with the recovery vehicle and the recovery mech[anic], just in case there might be something – problem – that we might be able to arrange to solve… that a craftsman, private soldier, would not be able to, sort of thing. So, that did occasionally lead us to getting exposed.

I’ll tell one story, and I’m reluctant to tell stories because it sounds like you’re telling war stories and telling war stories is a definite no-no. You don’t do that. But this was kind of – in retrospect – kind of humourous. We spent about three hours one night – and not entirely comfortable hours – on a forward slope, trying to recover a three-quarter tonne truck that had brakes that had been tangled up in barbed wire and failed and it had been run up, and it landed up on its side, right up against a steep embankment. And we spent about – as I say – about three hours trying to recover this thing, to get it back on its feet. But, it was a very narrow road going forward to a company position that was even further forward. And, we just couldn’t get anywhere, didn’t have the flexibility to get anywhere to work at this. So we tried everything, and it was very, very quiet, except every 15 minutes or so, the Canadian positions behind us and the Chinese across the valley, would exchange machine gun fire with each other for several minutes, sort of thing. And I remember, once or twice looking up and watching the tracers going both ways over my head and some of it didn’t seem all that far over my head, but anyway, there we were. But, other than that it was dead quiet there and this happened several times.

Finally, it was decided there was no way we could do this, so the recovery mech said, “We’ll run one of the cables from the derrick down though it and just lift up the back end and hook it up to the vehicle and we’ll tow it” – this particular vehicle had a big spare tire on the driver’s side door – “We’ll tow it on its side” – up about, maybe 100 yards or so, 150 yards, up just over the crest of the hill… where there was good open area we could get it on its feet.

So, this was what we were doing, and everything was going swimmingly, everything was quiet, it was just the gentle hum of the recovery vehicle working itself up, when the chafing of the bumper, on the derrick cable, cut the cable. The vehicle fell over on its back and jammed the horn button down. So the horn was blaring! And, everything was quiet other than the horn at this time. Fortunately, it is difficult to locate sound at night. Anyway, there was nothing for it at this point. It seemed like forever before somebody could get under it, disconnect the battery cables, and stop that horn. There was nothing for it at that point but to tow the vehicle, on its back, up over the hill, get it right, and tow it back. Of course, by this time, the vehicle had been wrecked. It was beyond economical repair and had to be written off.

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