Veteran Stories:
Leslie “Les” Peate

Army

  • Leslie Peate at C Company headquarters of the King's Shropshire Light Infantry.

    Leslie Peate
  • Leslie Peate's Korean War Service Medal.

    Leslie Peate
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"It was a little bit scary to be all of sudden mortared by our own people. I knew my company commander didn’t like me, but I didn’t think he was going to go to those extremes."

Transcript

I have never been a brave man. I never pretended to be a brave man. I never wanted to be a hero. I’m as cowardly as the rest of them. But when you’re in the army you do what you got to do and when you’re a corporal you got to do a little more. But I was out on a patrol and I was under a bush and all of a sudden I thought, “Do you know, there are birds in this bush.” And then little twigs came down, came falling down. They were building a nest. And I soon realized that somebody was firing a machine gun and the bullets were going about a foot over my head. But the funny thing about it is, despite the fact that I’m a practicing coward, I was so fascinated by the novelty of what was happening that I forgot to be scared.

I was not in the company that was badly hit on [Hill] 227. Most of my time was preparing weapons and getting them ready to pass to “D” Company, which was the company that was really hit. Of course a lot of their weapons were out so we had to give them some new Bren guns [light machine gun] and reinforce them. I was lucky or unlucky, whatever way you look at it, and I was not really in the company that was hit on [Hill] 355 and on 227. And 355, it just about ended when I got there.

One of the things that I was doing that sort of I do remember is we were taking the – a lot of the casualties were from shellfire because they started bombarding the artillery. And one of the things I vividly remember is the bottom half of a soldier back for burial, just the bottom half.

We had an idea that there was a patrol. We thought it was Chinese. It turned out it wasn’t. They were North Koreans, but same thing. And we were looking for them and basically what happened is we had a firefight with them. We found them or they found us, and then had a little bit of shooting going on. It was one-sided. There was six of us and three of them. But when we ended up, we had two wounded North Koreans. One of them was just a young fellow; he was wounded in the knee. The other one was obviously mortally wounded. You could see the brain pulsing. He got part of his skull off and you could see his brain through the hole. And the guy pointed to me and pointed to my weapon and kept moving his trigger finger, just to say, “Shoot me, shoot me, put me out of my misery.” And I didn’t. I often wonder whether I should have or not. I didn’t because we needed intelligence and he might have lived long enough to have given us information of course. So I didn’t. But often I feel guilty because I didn’t put him out of his misery. That was one patrol experience.

Another patrol experience I had is we were in what was called a standing patrol. This was maybe about a quarter of a mile in front of our positions and you waited just in case anybody was coming so you could pass the warning. And I was in the – three of us were in there, and all of a sudden mortar bombs started landing around us. So I got a little bit worried. I got the radio and there’s nobody on the other side. It turned out what had happened, that somebody on an adjacent hill had seen us, figured that we were enemy, and without bothering to find out what was what, ordered some mortar fire on our positions. The people who should have been listening to the radio, I don’t know what they were doing but they weren’t there. So it was rather uncomfortable to be mortared by our own troops, friendly fire. Luckily nobody was hurt because when I saw what’s happening we took the best cover we could get and the mortars were – they were not very heavy mortars. We call them – they’re the 2-inch mortar. They weren’t much worse than a hand grenade when the effect comes around. But it was a little bit scary to be all of sudden mortared by our own people. I knew my company commander didn’t like me, but I didn’t think he was going to go to those extremes.

One of the funny things about the Korean War, is you get fatalistic. About maybe the first few weeks I was out there, I was worried stiff every time a shell landed within five miles of me or anything like that. I was worried. And then I was worried am I going to survive? Am I going to survive? And after about a month, you realized that you dig a hole that’s deep enough, you’ve taken every step you can to preserve yourself, if someone happens to you that’s fate. So you accept it. And because you’re accepting this big thing, the big thing that can happen, I may be killed tomorrow, I’ll maybe die tonight, the other little things that would worry you sick in peacetime, like oh I’ve got to go and pray, they’ve lost my camp badge, oh I never had time to clean my boots, oh somebody stole my wallet, all the little things that would worry you in peacetime, are so insignificant they don’t bother you. And you actually have more peace of mind than other times.

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