Art Baker preparing to return home to Canada in 1954.Art Baker
Art Baker's brother William James Baker (left) with Wally Cannon (centre) and another soldier (both members of 3rd Battalion Royal Canadian Regiment) in Korea.Art Baker
Art Baker on "R & R" [Rest and Relaxation leave] at Inchon, Korea.Art Baker
Americans and Canadians returning home on a troop ship at the end of the Korean War.Art Baker
Three Canadians from 3rd Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment (on the left) and two New Zealand soldiers relax in a rest camp near Inchon.Art Baker
"So it was the Chinese army that was in front of us and we were, what, 300 or 400 yards from them and we had our black night glasses and we watched them for 90 days."
I guess I was around 17 years of age and I was not going to school and my mom got a little upset and said, you know, there’s eight of us, told my father, you’d better do something with those boys, they’re not going to school and do something with them. So my other brother, she sent him out west and he became a diamond driller and I thought I was going uptown to get a new suit and he took me into an army depot and signed me in. And this is October 1952. And that’s how I got in the army.
And he did the right thing at the end. When I stop to think of it, he couldn’t have did a better thing for me. When I arrived in Vancouver [British Columbia], there was the 28 of us, we were on a troop train from Toronto and there was 87 people in the draft complete but 28 were RCR [Royal Canadian Regiment] and the rest were all service people, like Ordnance Corps, [Royal Canadian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers] like mechanical engineers and there was Signal Corps, there was Dental Corps, there was all different, you know, corps groups that were going over as support. But of the 87 people, there was 28 RCR, infantry. And we were that group.
So we got on the ship and when I got to Vancouver, before I got on the ship, we went to Vancouver and we stayed in Vancouver for about a week or a week and a half. And while I was in Vancouver, we were staying at a naval base, we were in a big mess, a big hall where they had all these little canvas beds for us all to sleep on. And anyways, walking out the door one day and there’s my brother standing at the corner. Now, he’s been in the service since the Second World War, he never got out, he was a permanent serviceman. And he was in the Ordnance Corps and he left Shiloh, Manitoba, heading for Korea, as reinforcements for the ordinance corps. He was going to 42 Workshop. I had no idea. All’s I knew, he was in Shiloh, he was training paratroopers back then. Anyways, he said, what are you doing here. I said, I’m going to Korea on this draft, he said, no, you’re not, you’re too young. I said, like dad is sick, you know, if you tell him that I’m not on this draft, it’s going to kill him.
Well anyways, I talked to my brother and anyway, he didn’t squeak on me, he let me on the boat. The two of us got on the boat and went to Korea together. He went to 42 Workshop and I went up to, well, we went to Kure, Japan first, we stayed there for two weeks and did some more training and then we headed over tom Kure to Hiro and off to Pusan [Korea] and up to the regiment. And by that time, the war was over, it was July 27th, I guess, they wasn’t, they signed an armistice. So we had the 90 day ceasefire. I arrived there for the 90 days. And so we spent the first 90 days in an OP [Observation Post] up in the Demilitarized zone I guess, the DMZ line. And all’s we did was watch the Chinamen, that’s who we were, that’s what we called them, and there was no [North] Koreans in the war at that time, I guess they were all dead. So it was the Chinese army that was in front of us and we were, what, 300 or 400 yards from them and we had our black night glasses and we watched them for 90 days.
It was around Christmastime, 1953. This is after the 90 days but we’re still monitoring the DMZ. But at that time, we were going back and forth, we were taking off for, we were up for 48 hours and taking off for 48 hours and being replaced. It was just a little house on top of four beams. Like it was, I guess, how was it, it was eight by eight, it was like an OP, an observation post, made of wood. And it was on four beams, that was probably 12 feet high. And it was standing on top of the hill and you could see across the DMZ into their hill. So it was, I don’t know why they put us in these boxes because it was like a, I don’t know, like a target, it could be target practice for the Chinese, they could knock those off the hill with an artillery gun. Well, we were sitting in those things because we could see everything.
Anyways, around Christmastime, I could hear this moter for, you know, for a good two hours and I couldn’t figure out what the hell it was. Was it a tank or what. Of course, I had a Bren [light machine] gun up there and we cocked that and we were waiting and waiting and waiting and there was two of us in the OP. And I woke the other guy up and I said to him, I don’t know what the hell’s going on but I said, I could hear this bloody motor. And it was getting louder and louder and louder and I cocked that Bren gun and I said, that thing has come up around the hill, I’m going to open up on it. Well, what it was, it was a Canadian jeep, a military, we call it meatheads, a Provost Corps [military police] guy with two old guys from the Salvation Army coming up at Christmastime to give us cigarettes and hot coffee. But nobody told us they were coming.
Then when the DMZ was over, like they had to find something for us to do. So I had to go to school because I had no education. So the army put us all to school in Korea, they had some lieutenants there who were school teachers and I think there was about 40 of us that were doing, trying to earn our high school, they were giving us high school courses and that’s what we did in Korea, to keep ourselves busy.
Okay, I arrived in Montreal [Quebec] on the train, I got off the train at, I don’t know, quarter to six or something like that. And I went home with my kit bag and I was still in a uniform and I threw my kit bag in the hallway of my house, because I lived in Pointe-Saint-Charles in Montreal and I couldn’t go in the house because I was going to wake my brothers up and they would have probably kicked the hell out of me because I was one of the youngest kids. So I went down to the corner restaurant to have a coffee and wait, you know, until 9:00 to go back home or 8:00, whatever time they got up. And while I was there, a friend of mine come in that I knew before I went to Korea, before I joined the army, his name was Roland Bondu, a French lad who I was brought up with, he said to me, he says, Art, what are you doing? I said, I’m having a coffee, I’m waiting, I’m going to go home and wake the boys up. He said, look, I’ve got to go over to Northern Electric [a telecommunications company that would eventually become Nortel], I’ve got an interview at 8:00. He said, walk over with me. And it was only about three or four blocks from where we were, this Shearer street plant.
So I said, okay, I’ll walk there with you. Well, being in uniform, I didn’t realize it but the personnel director of Northern Electric in those days was Colonel Harkness. And he warned all his personnel department people, if they ever let a military man out of their office, they would lose their jobs. So you could be sure, when I walked in that door that morning, just to sit with this guy to get an interview, I started work at 3:00 that afternoon. He didn’t even get a job.