Alexander MacDonald, Korean War veteran, in full uniform.Alexander MacDonald
"We could hear the Chinese were trying to take Hill 355...we were actually attacked only around three o'clock and that’s when we opened up with our mortars and our tanks, and everything else... In that particular battle, we had 54 casualties. Sixteen were killed."
To me, the Bren gun* was possibly the best weapon that Canadians had at that time. The old Lee-Enfield .303 [calibre] rifle** could hardly compare with what the Americans were using. Our equipment was very old, except for the Bren gun. It was… It was a rapid firing, totally reliable weapon, and you could change a mag [ammunition magazine] in a matter of seconds, and also the barrel, you could change the barrel because if the barrel got too hot, you just flipped it off and put another one on in a matter of seconds. And we were trained to do that, you know, it wouldn’t take two seconds to change the barrel and get going again. It was an excellent weapon, but one incident, when it did let me down, this was… We were on Hill 355.*** Oh, well actually, we were in saddle end… Yeah, between [Hill] 227**** and 355, this was in November 1951.
Well, see what happened is we moved into the position at four o'clock in the morning and there was a slight drizzle, and there was no action at all until… Well, we could hear the Chinese were trying to take Hill 355, and so they were bombarding Hill 355, and so we were getting some of the… the stray shells, and we were actually attacked only around three o'clock in the afternoon, and that’s when we opened up with our mortars and our tanks, and everything else. But, so after using the Bren gun for a while, the rain sort of changed to snow, so when we were being attacked the third or the fourth time during the night, and I tried to use the Bren gun, and it had jammed on me because it was frozen. So that’s the first time it let me down, and what I did, being very resourceful, I actually peed on the Bren gun. Now, a lotta people say, “Okay, it's impossible,” but, actually, what else could you do, you know, so I did do that. And it worked. I never thought I'd… I would be too concerned, but when I started seeing people getting killed around me, I started saying a few Hail Mary's or making promises, and stuff like that. Actually, I was quite frightened, there's no doubt about it, but it didn’t stop us from doing our jobs. The… It was quite, you know, we were… We weren't surrounded, but three sides of us… There was Chinese on three sides of us and behind us was A Company, so we had the Chinese coming at us from three sides, and we had… In that particular battle, we had 54 casualties. Sixteen were killed.
Like, we're talking about trench warfare, and our casualties were piling up, like we had 16 dead and something like 30 some… 33, I think, 34, were wounded, so where were we gonna put these people? So we had dead Van Doos# along with wounded Van Doos in bunkers, you know, we'd take them out of the… Our line of defence was a trench, and then we had bunkers all over the place, so we'd take them out of the trench and put them in a bunker. You know, we had wounded people there with dead people. It wasn’t… Fortunately nothing happened to me. Another thing that I, you know… Then it didn’t bother me too much, but today when I look back at… The equipment we had was very inadequate, you know, this was in the middle of winter, all we had was a… Not a sleeping… We didn’t even have sleeping bags, we had a blanket. So you can imagine… We had good parkas and, you know, the heavy battle dress at the time, but no, not even a sleeping bag, so we spent the winter like that. One of the people that… on Hill 355 did have a head injury and probably had… He had a helmet, he wouldn’t… I don’t know, it's hard to say, but the same guy, after two days he'd become, I guess, afraid he was gonna die, and in those days we called it shellshock, so myself and another guy, we took him down to A Company. We didn’t have to go through the Chinese lines or anything like that, but we took him down to A Company who then evacuated him, I guess, to first aid or something like that.
And what we were doing during the four days is we threw an awful lot of grenades. I think we threw something like 40 cases of grenades. This came out later on. So myself and this other guy, when we brought this guy down, we came back with a couple of cases of grenades each for ourselves like, you know… And, yeah, I remember that part too. And what I do remember too is something that maybe you haven't heard. On the way down we came across two Canadian soldiers who had been killed. They had been stripped. Their winter coats were taken. Their boots were taken and their hands were tied behind their backs, probably they'd been taken prisoners… Now had they been killed by shells or by bullets, I don’t know, but we'd been trained not to move a body because it might be booby trapped.
So… But we did see these two solders alongside of the trail in the middle of winter, you know, they… An awful sight. I think what marked me the most is not all the fighting on Hill 355 or any of the other hills, but when we were moving up from Busan as you know the… The planes went back and forth in those days, and we were doing cleanup at the beginning, and there was some resistance in one of the small villages or… And so we shelled them, and we went in with our platoon, threw grenades and everything like that. After it was all over, you know, I… I realized that it's not military people who suffer the most, it's the civilians. I saw so many wounded… So many wounded women. There was no men. The men had all fled. Women and children. I saw ladies with shrapnel sticking out of their heads. I saw one little boy, must have been six or seven, both legs blown off. His little sister, maybe 10, was massaging what was left. That was my worst experience.
*The Bren gun was an easy-to-handle, light-weight machine gun used by many Commonwealth military outfits.
**The British Lee-Enfield rifle was used by Commonwealth troops in Korea. It was known for its unreliability, particularly in situations requiring rapid fire.
***Hill 355 was a main feature for Canadian troops at the Korean frontline, and the site of fierce battles with enemy forces in November 1951 and October 1952.
****Along with Hill 355, Hill 227 was contested terrain during the war and the site of fierce battles for Canadian troops.
#Le Royal 22e Régiment.