Veteran Stories:
William Manning


  • Group picture taken during an Air Photographic Interpretation Course in Rivers (Manitoba), May 13th, 1953. Sergeant Manning is on the first row, first from right.

    Bill Manning
  • Safe Conduct Pass for the Chinese soldiers guaranteeing them good treatment if they surrender. 1951.

    Bill Manning
  • During his tour in Korea with the 2nd Battalion of Le Royal 22e Régiment with the Intelligence Section, Mr. Manning was responsible of the Regimental War Diary. Here's a fragment describing what happened at the front line between July 1st and 5th 1951.

    Bill Manning
  • Propaganda Christmas cards for Chinese People Volunteers. December 15th, 1951.

    Bill Manning
  • Mr. William Manning, April 2012.

    The Memory Project
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"We killed the civilians, in a sense. So it was... it was terrible. And I remember Mr. Dextraze, he said, “Never say this while I’m alive.” I went up to his dugout and he was crying. And he was crying and he said, “Never say that you saw me crying while I’m alive.”"


One day my father said to me, he said, “You know what, Bill, you’re 17 years old, seems to me you should go and get a job somewhere” – and in such words, as he put it – “get a job and, you know, get out of the house, do something.” So I went to Montreal and, on McGill Street but I didn’t go there first, I went to the army, the navy, and they said it will take about three or four weeks before you can actually get in the navy. I said “No – my dad wants me to get a job today.” So I went over to the air force – it was the same situation.

So finally I went down to McGill, McGill College, and the army was recruiting there for the Korean War. They were looking for volunteers, and I said, “Hey, how long does it take?” He says, “Well, take the test and we’ll see.” So I took the test – which was ridiculous, it was so easy I could’ve done it with one eye shut and one hand behind my back. And so the test was over and he said, “Well, you graduated great, made high on the test.” And I said, “I got a couple of other guys that I helped also.”

So he said, “What would you like to do?” I said, “I’d like to get into the police.” He said, “The military police, unfortunately, there’s no more openings.” I said, “Well...,” I said, “What are you offering?” He said, “Well, a military career.” I said, “No, no, no, I don’t want to see myself in a rut with a bunch of water and a gun and, no raining and I’m...” He said, “Oh.” So I said, “Well, thank you very much.” So, I, as I walked away, the guy said, “Just a minute.” And I said, “Yes, what?” He says, “How about military intelligence?” I said, “What?” And then sort of a light bulb lit up over my head of about 60 watts - “that sounds interesting.”

So he said, “Well,” he says, “that’s a very interesting career,” and he says, “you go directly to the school, you have no basic training or anything like that.” I said, “That’s for me.” And sure enough I was - I became part of the army. So they sent me home with a few bucks and a pass, and they come back and says, “You’ll be part of the Royal 22nd Regiment, 2nd Battalion.” I had heard about the Royal 22nd Regiment – it’s a proud French Canadian regiment.

And so I went home and my father said, “Well, did you get a job?” I didn’t tell him. I told my mother, and she told him during the night, and my father at that moment, I became his... his unbelievable son. My picture was put on his desk at his office, and before that I was a nobody to my father. So he was quite proud of me, and I was very happy.

And, so, my career, military career started there. But it was an interesting life, and the seven years – roughly about seven years – I was with it, it was unbelievable. To go from a small town kid to becoming the intelligence sergeant as we – as I, well as soon as I came off the military course they gave me my lance corporal [rank], which was my first bar. And this was the beginning of my career. Not long after that, as I grew... I got my corporal, and then finally in the - when I was in the field my commander nominated me as a sergeant. And that was quite a thing, because Colonel Dextraze, who I would’ve followed to hell, he was a commander with, you know, unbelievable. Him and Brigadier Rockingham* in Korea were great friends, and I worked for them and I was pleased to work for them. And I would’ve done anything for them.

And finally – I was there for 13 months, I, my job was initially to, with six other people, to write the war diary, to go to villages, go into villages and evacuate the people and bring them out of the cities, because – not at the cities but these little townships, because we would probably be bombing the town the next day. And I had my group of people I called my spies, they would go across and get information and, you know.

So intelligence is a question of gathering information of all forms. Above, on each side, in front and the back. It’s gathering information so that you can give this to the commander and you give him an idea what’s going on. And on that basis he plans his attacks or whatever. Or his defences. So working with Colonel Dextraze was a tremendous experience. Writing the war diary is interesting, because you had to be on top of everything, you had to be involved with everything. Because what you were writing every day was going to Ottawa once a month with all the maps and other documents and - on this day - they make archives, they build their archives. And a lot of books that come out today I know carries some of the information that we put in our war diaries.

So it was an interesting career from that point of view. It was a strange life, because somebody said, “What is it like to be in the war?” I said, “Well, you don’t know what it is until you’re in it, really into it. And then into it means that bombs start falling on you or people start shooting at you, you don't realize that you’re in a war zone.” The first day we headed for the front, I remember were went out, what, two miles on our way to the war front. One soldier was killed because he was on the side of a truck and another truck sideswiped him, killed him. So that was my first person killed and you had to go and see who is he and you know, put it in the diary.

So it was strange then. And then your first real encounter with the enemy and the first Chinese that you were, well, at that time we didn’t have too many Chinese, we had mostly North Koreans, until the Chinese joined the war later on. It was strange. But it grows on you. It becomes second nature to see death, to feel death, to be scared a little bit. But you never feel that you’re going to be killed. You don’t get really... If you start believing that then you’re in the wrong place.

So it’s a – It was an exciting, as well as exhilarating. Because it’s what you were looking for – adventure. My job was to go into small townships where I had to evacuate the people, and I would include my six or seven guys and well-armed and well-equipped. And we would go in and say to the village people, “You’re out. Just get out of the house.” And they wanted to take their belongings - “I’m sorry, you can’t take anything with you.” And sometimes, I think the largest group I ever took out was - it was 99 and I was looking for one more to make it an even hundred. And I remember coming back and we were even shot at from our own artillery. They thought we were a bunch of Chinese. Or Koreans, anyway. And we hid them and we got them on the radio to stop shooting at us. Or the airplanes would swoop down and look at us and, you know, stuff like that.

No, that was my job and we had a camp in the back where we kept these people, refugee camp. And we fed them and took care of them. And then the next day in one particular case the village was completely nearly... The trouble was the Chinese would hold the people captive, and knowing that we as Americans and Canadians would not shoot at innocent people. So they would shoot at us, but we wouldn’t shoot at them because the civilians were there. But when the order came down one night, I remember saying that we’re going to bomb the city and we sent the helicopters in with leaflets, “Get out of there, get out of there.” But the Chinese kept them.

Chinese are like ants, they have holes in the mountains and they - it’s unbelievable. You should see some of the stuff we saw there. And then when they finally decided to go and bomb, the Chinese of course got in their holes, and left the civilians, and we killed the civilians, in a sense. So it was... it was terrible. And I remember Mr. Dextraze, he said, “Never say this while I’m alive.” I went up to his dugout and he was crying. And he was crying and he said, “Never say that you saw me crying while I’m alive.” And I felt very bad for him, because it wasn’t his decision anyway, but that happens in war. It was his area. And we had to win and we had to advance, and the city was in their way and...

So that’s war and I remember the first time I was really scared when they told me and said, “You’re leaving tomorrow. You’re going home tomorrow.” Then I was scared. You always say that now I’m going to have a bullet with my name on it, for sure. And the strange part […] I was - they, my commander said, “You’re going to stay an extra month, instead of 12 you’re going to stay 13 months, to be able to transfer all information you know.” Because I was responsible for where the landmines were, where the barbed wire was – this is all the secret stuff I had in my control. And so I said, “Okay, I have no choice.” But there was two other guys for the motors who stayed as well. Two from the Royal 22nd, they stayed as volunteers to show the other guys where the targets were and so on and so forth.

So the day I was supposed to go away, the day before, the two guys that stayed, they put the shell in the mortars, the 2.5s [inches], and they exploded, killed the two guys. So I came back the next day with my three-quarter tonne truck and the two dead bodies in the back, and me sitting there beside them saying, “That could’ve been me, you know.” Those are the things that stay with you. And I remember when I go on places to talk about the war or the Korean War as an invitation, they always - the first question is, “Did you kill a Chinaman?” I said, “That’s between me and God.”

*Brigadier John M. Rockingham, first Commanding Officer of the 25th Canadian Infantry Brigade in Korea

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