Bruce Little's military medals: 1939-45 Star; Italy Star; Defence Medal; Canadian Volunteer Service Medal with bar; War Medal (1939-45); Canadian Korea Medal; Canadian Voluntary Service Medal for Korea; United Nations Service Medal (Korea) with silver cross.Bruce Little
"And there were never any repercussions, you know, it was a momentary thing and we didn’t have any psychiatrists or anything like that. So the beer and friendship was how you overcome those things."
I joined the Permanent Force [of professional soldiers] not just a Special Force for Korea.* So I enlisted for three years and partway through that, I went to Korea. That’s what I expected to do, was to go to Korea, but there was, that seemed to be the option at that time, that they hadn’t come out with a special service force I don’t think, so, I just joined the Regular Army.
And I even thought I might make it a career because my memories of military service [in the Second World War] were fond and I was kind of at loose ends, so I thought I would stay. But my mind got changed again after I came home from Korea.
Into Korea, luckily, it was during the very quiet portion and my role there was, again, I was in charge of, I think five or six electricians, and our job was to keep the 23rd Transport** vehicles mobile as far as the literal part goes. And we also were responsible then for the camp lighting and we had one generator I think when we arrived there and I think when we left, we had five or six that we had scrounged, or repaired, or one thing or another. So it was an interesting period, but, as far as helping the war effort, we were quite distanced from it. And I guess the other thing I would have to say how shockingly poor the people were, and we did whatever we could to help them. But, it was, I guess my role was scrounging for parts and the Americans really loved our boots, and so if you took them a pair of boots, you could trade for nearly anything that the military had.
I guess this is when I talked about I was going to be mentioned in dispatches then because, there was about eight of us, ten of us maybe, from “Reemee” [Royal Canadian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers] attached to a Service Corps, so we were kind of fostered children. And I think I got some recognition in that when we first got there, I think we had a ration of four bottles of beer, big bottles of beer a week, that you could purchase. But we had a few people that stayed from the previous company and they drank up all the beer the first night or two. So I protested and of course, when you protest, guess what happens? I volunteered then for running the canteen from then on. And that was the end of the nice experience and I say, the Americans had all kinds of, their weak beer, and with a pair of boots and a little money, you could buy beer from them, so - this was our social life, actually, sit around at the edge of the camp, and have your beer after work.
And I don’t know, I guess the only other thing I would think of that, there you get to know people very well and it seemed maybe every couple months, we’d have somebody go off the deep end, they’d get a letter from home that was devastating or somebody had died and they’d go berserk. And we found then that when one man did that, it would take six of us to hold him down. And there were never any repercussions, you know, it was a momentary thing and we didn’t have any psychiatrists or anything like that. So the beer and friendship was how you overcome those things.
We were a part of the brigade that was run by the British. And the British and I think there was Australians and maybe some New Zealanders and a hodge-podge in there but, we were small numbers and we were associated with Americans and I guess on the upper brackets, we’d be under American command. But we didn’t really take any orders from them and we were on the western side [of the frontlines] below Seoul at that stage and that’s pretty well where we stayed all the time I was there.
It was challenging in the sense that we couldn’t get parts for anything until everything was, we had to come up with some kind of a funny idea and we didn’t have, couldn’t get 110-volt light bulbs or anything like that, until we come up with the idea of taking eight 12-volt bulbs and put them in series and that’s how we lit the workshop days. And you know, everybody contributed to this. If you had a problem, everybody put their heads together and we come up with something and then, Eureka, we had solved it and something else is working, so it was a time of challenging mentally, but very rewarding and I think we did all that was asked of us and maybe a little more.
We all took an interest in that, you know, a little kid that be out playing with sticks and stones and this kind of stuff, with nothing much to eat until we contributed toys to them and we had chocolate bars or something like that, that was what we did. And we had house boys and they “lived the life of Riley” because they made more money than their whole family had thought of making. And so those were the small returns.
In the military, the sergeants and above got a whiskey or they could choose a hard liquor bottle once a month. And we had people that didn’t drink and if you had a bottle of Canadian whiskey, you could trade, you could buy a jeep with that pretty near from the Americans. So this was the golden currency and we used that but we didn’t have much else, boots and the booze were about the only things we had to peddle.
Well, at those times, we had ones that come up above the ankle, and they were maybe 12-inch boots or something like that, you know. And they looked pretty classy and they were comfortable and they were unique, you know, completely different to what the Americans were being issued. So, it seemed to be something that they had favoured. One of the few things in our stuffs that they thought was superior to their own.
Well, that’s true and in most cases, they were lavishly equipped and the food, you know, we were on American rations and we thought that was just super because we were attached to a British division and the Brits always had terrible food. Even in Korea, they still seemed to have their own rations more than they had American. And how this worked, I don’t know, but we got American rations and bread and pork chops and chicken and steak once a week or something like this, so it was, if you’re used to military rations, this was Heaven.
*The Canadian Army Special Force raised in 1950 of volunteers for Korean service
**No. 23 Transport Company, Royal Canadian Army Service Corps