"When I arrived there first, the floors were pack sand. Later poured cement and the patients were on camp cots. We had exactly one nursing sister for the whole setup, so basically you had the medical officers, the doctors, and the medical assistants. So the MAs were doing all of the nursing, total. Well, as I say, it was pretty, it was pretty rudimentary."
Well, the next thing is the train to take you up North, well, that’s basically what was available there on the railroad that took you up towards the Front. Old wooden car, wooden seats, and the only thing it lacked was a stove in the middle which apparently was a feature of the cars in Canada when they were taking the coal in the southwest, you know, homesteaders.
So that was a sort of a combination. It was an overnight trip on the train. And then I ended up at the 37 Field Ambulance [No. 37 Field Ambulance, The Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps]. That was my first posting. The first thing that happened when I got there, I was put on guard duty and it was four hours on, four hours off and I thought, well, this is not the way it’s supposed to be. You know, I’m a trained medical assistant. Wouldn’t it be possible for me to get some medical type duties? So I undertook to speak to the Sergeant Major if you can imagine and I first said to him, Sir, how do I apply for a transfer? And at that point he threatened me with time in the service detention barracks. I don’t know whether you heard about it but it was run by the Canadians over there and it was a really tough place.
So, anyway, I managed to talk him out of that. I said, Sir, I’m not going to, I know I’m not here to cause any trouble for anybody. I, can I explain to you the situation and I said, look, I’ve just spent four months in Japan through no fault of my own. I’m here now. I’d like to be doing something useful. And here we were on guard duty. We had a rifle but no rounds in it, just a magazine in our pocket which we wouldn’t put into the weapon unless the officer said so and this was our life, you know, four hours, four hours on around the clock and to guard against what. I mean, there was nothing happening.
But so, anyway, it wasn’t too long after that they found some medical duties for me. And then after that, this would be around the 1st of December , I found myself on a truck on the way to 25 FDS [Field Dressing Station for No. 25 Canadian Field Ambulance, The Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps]. Well, apparently, the FDS, a year earlier, had started in an old school building in Seoul and it moved north as the fighting moved north. So by the time I arrived, what we had, we had two Quonset huts [lightweight prefabricated structures] side by side parallel. And in-between was a small building which functioned as an OR [Operating Room]. So we had a medical ward was the one building. The guys for the surgery were in the other hut. And basically that was our hospital.
When I arrived there first, the floors were pack sand. Later poured cement and the patients were on camp cots. We had exactly one nursing sister for the whole setup, so basically you had the medical officers, the doctors, and the medical assistants. So the MAs were doing all of the nursing, total. Well, as I say, it was pretty, it was pretty rudimentary. I mean, we had, we made the rounds with the doctor. We did the meds. We did the treatments. We had penicillin and strep and lots of salt and water because we had so many infections to deal with that very often, you’d fall back on salt and water to clean up an infection, either post op or, you know, the person had been injured or what have you.
Burn cases. We had an awful lot of burn cases. I put it down to these little heaters, you, know, little Coleman heaters that they were using. I think a lot of accidents occurred with them and you’d get guys in with some pretty bad burns on their arms and legs and so on. So that was a good part of our work plus the OR was handling all sorts of minor surgery. So you’d have people to prep for surgery and then the treatments afterwards and so on.
I would have left for home, would be the end of May or beginning of June. Probably the end of May, I think, in 1953. And the fighting continued right on. The ceasefire was on July the 27th, 1953 and there were constant attacks right up to the very end because what was happening was that the Koreans were pretty tough negotiators. And every little while they would get up and storm out of the room and usually what happened after that was another attack.
They were using it as a pressure tactic to try and gain a little leverage at the table. So consequently the attacks were right on. I can remember just before I left that one night that we were aware that there was something big going on because we could see the sky light up and we knew that somebody was catching it and apparently there was a company of RCR [The Royal Canadian Regiment] that were overrun that same night [in reference of the Chinese assault against The Royal Canadian Infantry Regiment’s positions during the Battle of Hill 187, 2-3 May, 1953]
So, almost every day, we’d be loaded onto the back of trucks. We didn’t have a bus or anything and we would bounce over these roads convoy speed. That’s about 15 miles an hour and go to wherever we were going that particular day and maybe it was a parade that we had to do and/or a concert. And then drive back at home; we were right up front with the guards. So it was back and forth like that day after day.
We’d be driving down south every day to play and then back at night you see. And there were some funny times. We once played at the British rest centre at Inchon (South Korea) and it was a really, really hot July day . And our audience consisted of a man in a lawn chair with his dog. Now, that was our audience, 45 people serenading. And one of them went to sleep and the other one walked away and I still can’t remember which was which. So that was kind of the low point.
I remember once playing at a British place and we’d finish whatever we were doing and just sitting around having a beer afterwards and relaxing, and all of a sudden a whole bunch of explosions happened and everybody just sort of hit the floor. And we thought, oh, the war is on again. But what it was it happened to be ‘Guy Fawkes Day’ [referring to an important celebration in British popular culture] and the Brits were celebrating it in typical fashion by setting off all sorts of explosives and things. But nobody had bothered to tell us.
Our most satisfying concert I would say was in Japan. We played a civilian concert in the park in the city Kure and I never saw such a big audience in my life. There were literally thousands of civilians that were there to hear the concert. And the boss got a big bouquet of flowers and so it was quite a happening.