Veteran Stories:
David Bowen

Army

  • One of David Bowen's watercolour paintings from Korea. If you would like to see more click the "Sketchbook in Korea" link in the Resource section.

    David Bowen
  • David Bowen in front of his jeep in the winter of 1951.

    David Bown
  • David Bowen in uniform, 1951.

    David Bowen
  • David Bowen (left) with Sergeant Burly in mid-1951.

    David Bowen
  • David Bowen (left) with a South Korean boy in the summer of 1951. Bowen states the boy later died.

    David Bowen
  • After the war David Bowen became a pilot and an artist.

    David Bowen
  • A document certifying David Bowen's service and discharge from the Canadian Army.

    David Bowen
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Listen to this story

"There was some Chinese behind the lines, way behind the lines at an airfield with a little biplane and they’d come over at night and they’d drop hand grenades from the biplane and we’d call the guy “Bed Check Charlie” because he’d come around every few nights."

Transcript

When I first got there in the staging camp, we learned that a lot of fellows that had their throats cut in their sleeping bags overnight, just sleeping at night.  I used to wear a .45 [caliber pistol] which I got in Pusan off a fighter pilot actually coming back home.  He used to fly Mustangs there so I got the pistol and I used to wear it at night in my sleeping bag and if somebody got in my sleeping bag they’d be in trouble.

One night near Chorwon and there was some Chinese behind the lines, way behind the lines at an airfield with a little biplane and they’d come over at night and they’d drop hand grenades from the biplane and we’d call the guy “Bed Check Charlie” because he’d come around every few nights.  And then one night the US Air force go onto him with an F-80 Shooting Star and shot him down.  That was the end of it.

They learned very quickly that I had a photographic memory.  And I could look at a page and I would remember it.  So I was with a dispatch rider with the artillery and, of course, there was a brigade signal so that was way back behind us.  I was up near the front.  Right at up with the artillery and we had a little command post and everything else.  I was right there.

I delivered messages with a jeep in the dark in the rain.  Didn’t matter what the weather was, in the snow.  With the windshield tied down, I couldn’t have it up.  I had to shoot across to it if some stupid guy jumped out of the ditch.  So here I was in the middle of the night.  Had to memorize the map, then I can’t keep the map because the enemies get it, and I’ve got to deliver firing orders to a battery about two miles from, where all the action is.  So that’s the kind of thing I was facing.

This one night I went around a corner.  I was looking for a little tack sign to go down that trail to an intelligence officer, a battery officer, I forget which battery it was.  But I missed it and it was in the rain and it was in the middle of the night.  I went around the corner and somebody started shooting at me.  I could see the tracers coming down the road and they were going to get me.  So I whipped around and I went back and I found the tack sign.  And he just beat me up about that when I get there.  He says, “Where you been?”  He’s yelling and screaming at me and I said, “Well, I’m sorry, sir, I went around the corner and I saw somebody firing so I turned around.”  He said, “That whole road is mined.”  He said, “We could have lost a jeep.”  And he’s right on my shoulders, jumping up and down.  Well, you know, he’s giving me a hard time because he could have lost a jeep.

I never went on leave.  There was no such thing except when I went to Japan and I went there for five days and they, had a lot of money in Japan so I did some shopping and I bought a sketch book and some water colours stuff and you’re going to see that, realize that was my work already, the sketches.  Otherwise I’d never been able to do them.  But I got the sketch book there.  Water colors and did some shopping in Japan.  I liked it.  And I’m not a drinker or anything like that.  And so that was it.

I just got back to camp.  I took an accordion by the way and learned to play the accordion in my fox hole in my bunker.  I could see the scene and I wanted to record it.  I just didn’t want to remember it in my memory but I wanted to record it.  And, of course, being an artist anyway and having time on my hands I thought, well, what an opportunity.  And here I’ve got 20 minutes or an hour before I do something else so where they want me somewhere so I’m going to do the sketch.

I met the fellows face-to-face.  Sometimes, I’ll tell you the first time, of course, I saw they were, I’ll get to that later maybe, but General, sorry, Brigadier John Rockingham, our boss, was a big guy who was about 6’ 6” and he used to drive around in his jeep and he was supposed to have a guy with him but lots of times he’s by himself.  Well, who would tell a Brigadier, well, sorry, Sir, you need somebody with you.  He was by himself, so one day drives into the signals compound where I was and there’s two guys looking scared, Chinese, with quilted brown suits and little cap with a red star in it sitting on his hood with the back to the windshield.  And he just drives in, he jumps out and he says, “Who’s going to take charge of these?”  Yes, sir.  So there were two chaps, so I saw my first live Chinese sitting on the hood of Rockingham’s jeep.

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