Leslie Peate was born in 1929, in Yorkshire, England, and served in the Korean War with the British Army. He comically recalls his experiences in the British Army prior to landing in Korea and provides an account of what transportation and living conditions were like while there. He shares that payment for military service was low in Korea at the time and praises the efforts of the Korean porters serving alongside them. He shares that he moved to Canada following the war and states that the South Korean government has never failed to recognize or appreciate those who fought to help secure its freedom. He is proud of his service and considers the people of South Korea as friends.
Landing in Korea and Train to Pusan
Leslie Peate describes landing in Korea at Incheon and recalls the devastation he witnessed when he first arrived. He recounts sleeping on wooden planks aboard a train, describing the experience as something from an old "Wild West" movie. He remembers there being nothing for miles and being served American C-Rations at mealtime.
Payment for Service
Leslie Peate discusses the amount soldiers in the British Army were paid while serving in Korea. He shares that they were one of the lowest paid with only the Korean soldiers earning less than them. He recalls actually losing money due to being transferred from Hong Kong to Korea where it was deemed he no longer needed a living allowance. He comments on what script was used and the trading of products among soldiers.
Leslie Peate elaborates on the work of the Korean porters. He defines them as mostly farmers and/or anyone who would help out during the war. He shares that those men worked harder than any other group of people during the war and stresses that they received no recognition at all and most likely no payments for their efforts.
Modern Korea and Appreciation for Service
Leslie Peate recalls the differences between South Korea in 1951 and the South Korea he saw later on during his revisit experiences. He states that the South Korean government as never failed to recognize or appreciate the efforts they contributed to helping secure a free South Korea. He comments on the industrial powerhouse South Korea has become and refers to the country as a place where his friends live.
[Beginning of recorded material]
L: My name is Les Peate. P-E-A-T-E is the last name. And go by Les which is short for the first name, L-E-S.
I: Alright. And what is your birthday?
L: I was born on the 1st of February, 1929.
I: But you’re of Great Depression.
I: Great Depression, right?
L: Well, it was a Great Depression all around the world in 1929.
L: Yes, I was, I was, in fact it was, it was a very cold winter, too, in England, so cold that instead
I: You born in England?
L: I was born in England.
L: In Yorkshire which is in
L: which is in North England.
I: And tell me about your family, parents, what they were doing and your siblings when you were growing up.
L: Well, my family was, um, when my father
could find work, and you just mentioned it was the Depression, um, what he worked, he worked as a carpenter and a joiner. My mother, of course, uh, in those days, most wives stayed at home, and that’s what my mother did. And, uh, at that time, I was an only child. I had a sister who was born about eight years later.
I: Eight years later.
L: Eight years later.
I: Um, I think it’s first time for me to interview the British sort of origin. You are Canadian soldier, right?
L: Oh, I’m a Canadian, I, I am a Canadian soldier.
I: Um hm.
L: I came to Canada in 1954 and joined the Canadian Army.
I: Nineteen fifty-four?
L: Nineteen fifty-four.
L: I served in Korea with the British Army, and that was when I met the Canadians. And in 1954 I decided to emigrate to Canada and join the Canadian Army.
I: So you participated Korean War as a British soldier.
I: Oh, okay. This is very special.
Um, before we go into the detail, just give me some idea of how difficult you going through this Great Depression in England.
L: Well, it was, um, the same everywhere. We didn’t realize that there was a Depression on. It’s, it’s surprising because everybody was the, was suffering the same way. Many men were unemployed. There wasn’t very much money.
I: Um hm.
L: And, um, because in Britain, it was rather different.
For instance, a working man in Britain would not have a car or telephone or refrigerator. He was lucky if he had a bicycle.
L: So, but we didn’t think, uh, that we were poor because everybody was the same way.
I: It was the supreme country in the world, [POX] Britannica
L: Oh yeah.
L: Oh, the, oh we, we owned a lot of world. But unfortunately, we didn’t have very much money ourselves.
I: Oh. Too bad.
So what school did you go through there? In Yorkshire?
L: Well I, I, uh, we had the, uh, elementary schools in the town, and I won a scholarship when I was 11 and went to a secular school. But I had to leave when I was 15 to go to work.
I: To go to work.
L: Work, yes.
L: Needed the money.
I: Um hm.
L: And, uh,
I: What kind of work did you do?
L: Well, at first I, um, was working
in an engineering firm.
I: Um hm.
L: And it became fairly obvious I didn’t have very much mechanical aptitude. So they, so I decided I would join the Navy. Well, it turned round the Navy didn’t want me.
I: Why? Why not?
L: They found I’d lied about my age.
L: So, um, I was fired. So then I worked as a clerk in, in an income tax office of all things.
And then when, um, I was 17 I joined the British Army.
MALE VOICE: And, and Les, you lived through World War II in England. What was that like or did you suffer bombing and
L: In a way, it, we had a few, uh, place of bombing. We, we were bombed two or three times.
MALE VOICE: And did your father serve in the Army at the time?
L: No, my father was an engineer, and he was, um, by this time, he’d come up in the world, and he was working on, um, amongst other things, he was, uh, sort of [INAUDIBLE] commissioning the engineers
and was, uh, what they called a cloak of the works as a sort of, more or less the, uh, head honcho on the job I guess. And he was, last, uh, I heard of him, they were building a brewery for the Navy in Nigeria.
L: So. But, uh, by that time, um, they were pretty well separated. There was just my mother and myself which is why I had to go to work because
I: What was the perception of British
people about America at the time?
L: Well, um
I: Did you know anything about America?
L: Oh yes.
I: Yeah. What do you
L: Mostly what we got from Hollywood, uh, from, from the movies.
I: What movie do you remember now?
L: Uh, oh, before the War
I: The one that you watched around the time.
L: Be, be, before the War, I remember a movie called Dawn Patrol. That was, um, a World War I fliers, World War I aviation, that sort of thing.
I: Um, um.
L: And, uh, we used t o watch adventure movies, and the Saturday mornings,
I: Um hm.
L: Um, they would open the theater, and for, um, a tuppence which would be about a nickel in Canadian money
I: Um hm.
L: they would show a, a western movie, a serial, cartoon and the newsreel.
L: And, of course, the western movies was, uh,
I: The cowboys.
L: was what was on.
I: Yeah, yeah.
I: So can you give us big picture of British Army at the time that you joined them? When was it?
L: Uh, I joined in
19, um, 40, well actually I joined in ‘46
I: Um hm.
L: the end of ’46. And at that time, the Army was mostly conscripts, um.
I: But you volunteered.
L: I volunteered.
L: I volunteered to serve five years, uh. There, there, they did have conscription and I said most of the people were or at least most of the other ranks were conscripts. They were, uh, drafted for two years.
I: Um hm.
L: And, uh, they were
I: How about,
how about Army unit? How many, what is the structure?
L: Well, we had, uh, we had very
L: We, we had the same structure as Canadian Division, Brigade, Battalion, Company, Platoon, Section, me
L: [INAUDIBLE] and, uh, they, um, it was, it was the same structure. The Canadian Army structure was really based on the British Army, uh, as was the Australian and New Zealand, South African
at the time. Everything was based really on
L: On the Com, and if you had, um, they were sort of supervised by the, the Chief of the Imperial General staff.
I: So where did you get the basic military training, and how was it?
L: Uh, the Canadian, British, Australian, all the Commonwealth troops, basically they had the same training manuals. They had the same rank structure.
I: What kind? Give me the details.
L: What, training?
L: Okay. Most of the training on the, uh, in the Infantry was at the section level. Now a section is usually about eight men and a Corporal.
I: Um hm.
L: And, um
I: Like a squad.
L: Like a, a squad in America.
L: We call them a section. And, um, this was basically, the Section Commander would normally give you a general training in weapon training, uh. You’d have a, a Sergeant Major, and you’d have your platoon Sergeant. They would, uh, teach you the intricacies of drill and march around and holler at you and shout at you and things like that.
But, um, things like weapon training, how to look after yourself and that sort of thing, the Corporals were very much responsible for that. And, in fact, um, I don’t think we got any retired officers here. But, um, they say that the Corporal is the backbone of the Army.
L: And, uh,
I: Did they beat you?
L: No. They, this was, this was, there used to be flogging in the British Army 100 years before.
L: But they, uh, they stopped flogging.
L: We, we, we weren’t beaten.
I: So no
L: Oh, you, they could give you what was, um, called confinement to barracks. And I thought that’s no problem.
I: Yeah, right.
L: Confinement to barracks just mean I can’t go out. I don’t want to go out anyway. It turned around it means more than that. You, you wash dishes. You prayed every hour, half hour, and it’s not very easy. And if you’re really bad, you get, they, they would put you in the, what we called the glass house. We say the glass house because there was a very notorious military prison
L: in Colchester in England
and, uh, it had a glass, um, ceiling. And they called the military prisons.
I: So they watch you.
L: Oh did they.
I: Every bit of it, right?
L: They watch you all the time. You weren’t allowed to dress. You weren’t allowed to sit down. you had to, even when you’re sitting on the toilet, you have to, uh,
L: So when we, so it was, it was not a good place to be. We were still paying off the Americans for the, um, material that we had
got from the United States
I: World War I, II, yeah.
L: World War II.
I: Yeah, yeah.
L: Which meant that, uh, there was a shortage of dollars which means that if you’re spending a dollar to pay your debt off,
L: you can’t spend a dollar to buy weed, or you can’t spend
I: See, this is very important information
L: for, for, for, for the, which means that in Britain, food was still rationed.
L: I came to Canada in 1954, and bread was still rationed in Britain.
L: Um, and, um,
I: So ration meaning how much, what kind of food
I: per day, for people?
L: Per day? For instance, we might get one egg a week if we were lucky.
I: One egg a week.
L: If we were lucky.
I: And it was distribute by the government.
L: Yes. Well, no. It’s, what, what happens you get a ration book, and then you buy the, you go to the grocer’s, and you buy an egg, and he cuts off the coupon for an egg or things like that. Uh, sugar was rationed. Tea was rationed. Cheese was rationed.
I: Cheese, too?
L: Tea? Oh, tea was, yes
I: No, no. Cheese.
L: Ch, cheese? Oh yea.
L: Cheese, cheese? Yes.
Cheese. Meat was rationed. You’d probably get, um, a week’s ration would be about the same size, uh, as a small steak, um. ration. But the, the funny thing is, um, strangely enough we were healthier then.
I: Yeah, because you
L: Because we, we, we
I: didn’t eat much.
L: we, we we, uh, yes. The government made sure that we, we had, um,
I: basic diet
L: en, enough of the, um, essential foods and, uh,
I: Do you remember the main menu
L: We, we had one chocolate bar, for instance, two, every two weeks.
I: Every two weeks.
L: We, whe, whe, I was a kid. So you can
I: Do you remember the main menu of when you were in the base, basic training camp?
L: Yes, I’m coming to that.
I: What was it?
L: I’m coming to that later, okay? As I said, I wanted to give you the big picture and tell you there was a food shortage. Okay. You, you were a little bit , fed a little bit better in the Army
than you did in civistry.
I: It should be, right.
L: And, uh, it was, um, one of the things that, uh, we would get, uh, for ins, we’d always have a fried breakfast. Another thing, for some reason, the British Army, and I think the French, uh, for some reason, the French Foreign as well, I don’t know why, but they had a, an obsession with canned pilchards, uh, that’s fish. Apparently the, the, um, the thing that you didn’t have plenty of in Britain
was fish because the, um, the, uh, submarines, the German submarines didn’t come close enough to the Coast. So the fishing industry was allowed to, um, work well and, uh, of course, uh, you didn’t get much meat. So we sort of [INAUDIBLE] to eat fish, whale meat.
I: Um hm.
L: And, uh, that sort of thing. And, um, so we’d eat, we’d have a, original meal we’d have, um, probably meat and potatoes at lunchtime and, uh,
I: Meat and potato?
L: Yeah, meat and potato.
I: Every day?
L: Every day, yeah.
I: Wow, that’s good deal.
L: Well, we had something, it did, now the meat might sometimes be in the form of sausage
I: Um hm.
L: And I won’t say how much meat there was in the sausage. But it, um, but generally speaking, we, um, we had three, three meals a day I’ll say that, uh, three square meals a day. I, I was under 18 when I joined the Army. So they had the, a very, I and my, um, other 17 year olds
would get to the mess hall early, 10 minutes early, and under the supervision of the, um, Cook Sergeant, we would be given half a mug of milk
L: because if you’re under 18, you had a milk ration. And even, even in the Army.
I: That’s a [INAUDIBLE] right?
L: I mean, even in the Army you had that. So, so, so we didn’t do too bad. Plus, we had, um, a canteen. And if you didn’t get enough to eat in the, um, in the mess hall,
to most of us we did because we were eating better than we had before we went in the Army.
L: But some of the people had, uh, lived on farms. They had a, they were used to eating more because you’d kill a pig. You don’t tell a young menu, you [INAUDIBLE] So, uh, but, um, we ate fairly well I think, better, we ate better than the, um,
I: Normal citizens around the time, right.
L: The normal citizens
L: And then, of course, um, when I finished my training, we, I had a, an interesting time. I spent, uh,
uh, six months guarding Buckingham Palace.
L: I was one of the guards around Buckingham Palace.
L: And, uh, we didn’t have the red jackets and all that sort of thing because it was still, they were still suffering from wartime effects. They hadn’t gone back to the peace time thing yet. And I had the, uh, very, very distinction, I was the star of the show on the first day. I feinted.
I: [LAUGHS] Why?
L: Whomp. Well,
I: Was it psychological?
L: No. What happened is they told you, the [INAUDIBLE] said now, even when you are standing like there are three positions in the Army basically. There’s attention. The stand at, at ease which is you’re, you’re still [INAUDIBLE]
I: at ease, yeah.
L: And there are stand easy when you, theoretically, you can move anything
I: Um hm.
L: except for your feet and your tongue.
I: Um hm.
L: In the RCR, they say you’re not allowed to. But, uh, halfway into, until I say, until I say relax
I: Um hm.
L: Um. But, um. Anyway the, uh, Sergeant Major, the Regimental Sergeant Major pointed out don’t’ move, even when you stand at ease, you don’t move a muscle. So I stood up, and I stood still, and I didn’t move a muscle. Well, when you’re a growing boy of 18 and you stand still, and you stand still and you don’t move, the inevitable happens. Zap. That’s why you see so many people in the Guards, um,
kind of. So I feinted in front of, uh, thousands of people and. At least I became famous.
MALE VOICE: They didn’t charge you anything.
L: No, uh. And the, um, the other thing of note is I was on duty when Prince Charles was born, and I had to keep the, uh, spectators away from the Gates of the
L: Buckingham Palace because they put a notice on the gates to say that Prince Charles, that Princess Elizabeth had a son. And everybody was pushing forward to take the, um,
pictures of the notice, and I had to keep them back and
I: You must be popular to British guard at the time, huh?
L: Yeah. They, they liked me. Oh, I was even less popular later on because I became a policeman.
L: Uh. So, so anyway that, uh, that was part of the service. After serving in Britain,
I: Um hm.
L: and, uh, you mentioned what happened, um, the British Army was like most other armies. I lived in the South of England at the time. I’d moved from Yorkshire.
And I joined the Army. And, of course, where do I, where do they send me? To the North of Scotland.
I: Scotland. Why?
L: Because I live, because, I guess it was as far away as they could send from home. And that was just the way the Army works
L: If you, if you live in Vancouver, they will post you to Halifax. Uh,
L: That’s the way the Army works. That’s the way, that’s the way they do it.
I: I, I don’t think you explain.
I: What is their intention
L: The, the, there’s no intention. It just seems to happen that way.
I: [LAUGHS] So you are talking about random
I: Okay. Anyway.
L: So then the, um, then, uh, in 1949 we had a crisis. The Chinese Communists had pushed the Nationalists back.
L: And this, this was the, and they pushed them back as far, and they were approaching Hong Kong border.
I: Um hm.
L: And in 1941, Hong Kong was invaded by the Japanese as you know.
L: And the British government was afraid that this would happen again in the Communist bor. So they very quickly put, um, reinforcements together
I: To Hong Kong.
L: And sent them to reinforce Hong Kong.
I: Um hm.
L: And mine was one of the lucky battalions.
L: My battalion, King’s Shropshire Light Infantry.
I: Um hm.
L: I should mention the KSLI was the name of my unit. The King’s Shropshire
I: Um hm.
L: Light Infantry.
I: Light Infantry.
That was the, that was the name of my unit.
I: Um hm.
L: And, um.
I: What is that stand for again?
I: Uh huh.
L: Shopshire, that’s the
I: Could you spell?
L: S-H-R-O-P-S-H-I-R-E. That is the country. The name, the British Regiments are named for counties.
L: Yeah. That, that
I: What does that mean?
L: That’s the, that was the county.
I: Oh, the name of county.
L: You see, originally the British Army, different Regiments were
recruited in different places.
I: Of their region, okay, right.
L: Like, uh, I, because of my birth, I originally joined the King’s On Yorkshire Light Infantry. But, uh, then they transferred me
I: Got it.
L: So, so, um, anyway. We were sent to Hong Kong, and we were in Hong Kong for about a year and a half. And then, of course, the Korean War broke out.
I: So before you talk about the Korean War, what did you know about Korea?
L: I was the only person who knew anything about Korea.
And you know what it was? I knew you had a flag that went like this, the Ying Yang.
I: Oh. How?
L: Uh, from a Geography book probably, from some
I: That means that they taught you about Korea?
L: No. I, I was, uh, learning, uh, Geography at school
L: and, um, we
I: I bet that that textbook didn’t talk anything about Korea.
L: We learned about Korea, and I did remember what the flag was like because, of course, it was just one Korea in those days.
L: And, uh, so that’s, uh,
I: So Korea was covered in the textbook?
L: Oh, yes.
L: Not very, not, not in any great detail, you know. No more than say the Philippines or anywhere else. But it was, uh, it was mentioned as one of the countries in Asia.
L: I also remember the Olympics where, of course, a Korean won the marathon
I: Son Kee-chung.
L: But, but, uh, but, um, he was not allowed to claim for Korea because they
insisted he run in the name of Japan.
I: Right. Very good. When the Korean War broke out, how did you end up being in Korea?
L: Well, what happened, the, uh, Asia, the Brit, the British were the first, um, people who responded to the Unit, uh, to the United States request really.
L: And, um, first of all, of course, we had some warships there. Then we, uh, our Army was,
we didn’t have very many to, to spare because remember we were garrisoning all sorts of, uh, place at a time, Kenya. We just got out of India, um. We were fight, we were memoing Kenya. We were garrirsing Jamaica. We were garrisoning all sorts of places around the world.
L: And, um, so what they did is they recalled a brigade, three battalions of Reservists.
I: Um hm.
L: Twenty-nine brigade that. You may, you may not like to use the number because there’s a difference.
At 29 Brigade was all Reservists. You’ve probably heard of the Gloucestershire Regiment. That 29 Brigade was the Gloucestershire Regiment.
I: Uh huh.
L: The [INAUDIBLE] usually is and the Royal Order Rifles. Their Reservists, they were called back. Most of them didn’t even realize they were on the Reserve until they got a letter from the government saying come back. Uh, they, they got there first and, um, at the same time, we sent two battalions from Hong Kong,
the Middlesex who had gone out to, um, they’d come out with us to, uh, reinforce Hong Kong at the time.
I: Um hm.
L: and the [INAUDIBLE], and the [INAUDIBLE]. They were late to join by the Royal Australian Regiment and the PPCLI, and to PPCLI.
L: Uh, that was 27 Brigade. Then they, uh, augmented, they sent two more battalions out from Hong Kong
I: Um hm.
L: This time it was our turn. The [King’s Own Scottish Borders and the Castle Eye]
Plus, we had an Australian battalion, and it was really the comma, it was called the Commonwealth Brigade because we had troops from all the Commonwealth participants. We had a field, field ambulance from India.
I: Um hm.
L: We had, um, an Australian Infantry battalion, and we had New Zealand gun, artillery.
I: Um hm.
L: And we even had Canadian transport. So we were very well represented. And that, we had troops from also the Commonwealth. And that was, uh,
when I landed in Korea.
I: Inchon, when?
L: That would be, um, May, June, ’51, eh, yeah. May, June ’51.
I: And tell me about the Inchon that you first saw. Describe it. How was it? People, seeing buildings, scenery, whatever.
L: You, you, you didn’t see much until you got in there, and there wasn’t too much there. But , uh,
some of the, um, later I went back and came back from Japan, and I came back from Sasebo and landed in, this time we, we landed in Pusan.
I: Um hm.
L: So, and that was, uh, a little different.
L: Well, Pusan you, it was a city. Inchon was really nothing for miles and miles until you got in there.
I: Um hm.
L: But Pusan, you, and right in the center of the
L: And, uh,
I: So when you arrived in Inchon in May of 1951, where did you go?
L: Yes. Well, we went back.
I: Back to where?
L: We went back to Sasebo.
I: Tell me about what did you do from Pusan?
L: We piled onto a train and, uh, it was rather an interesting train actually. It was, obviously it was an, it seemed like something out of a, a 19, uh, 1880 western movie, you know, wild west movie.
We, um, the dining car was, um, a cold car with a, an American, uh, cook Sergeant with a great big cauldron of, uh, cans of c-rations. And, uh, we go the, to the, um, the, the, you , you went into the dining hall. They gave you a, a can of, uh, rations and a plastic spoon
L: and a mug of coffee which the, the coffee, the water bottle we had incidentally were very hot. I still have the burn there from the coffee. Um, I’ve had that since 1951. And, um, that, and then we had, uh, sort of wooden planks to sleep on, wo oden shelves to sleep on. We sort of tried to sleep as best we could in our sleeping bag.
L: We were rather, were impressed on the way up because there was a lot of devastation. And all another thing was a surprise was that every bridge
had a Korean guard. And as the train went by, nobody every sort of saluted me or, or done anything like that before. But I saw the Korean guard would present arms to the train as it went by, and I felt very important.
I: Yeah, you were a British VIP, right?
L: Yeah. We, we were all VIPS. So we’d travel on the train to Tak Chung
L: Uh, yeah, Tak Chung.
I: Tak Chung.
L: Tak Chung, yeah.
That was the rail head.
I: Uh huh.
L: And, um, we waited there and, um, in the Army you always wait. You’re either hurrying or waiting. You’re either dashing around
I: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
L: or you’re waiting. And I was dashing around waiting and waiting, wait, and finally some trucks arrived, and they drove us to Reserve position. So we came to this position. We found that somebody had already dug the trenches and that sort of thing
I: Where, do you remember where was it, in the frontline?
L: Yeah, well, that’s where we thought it was.
L: So we get in these positions, and the Brigadier, I remember, came around and said you’ll see action tonight, my boys, tonight. Better be prepared. You’ll see action. We later found we were about 14 miles from the frontlines
I: Um. So you were in the Reserve area.
L: Yes, we were in the Reserve. But, uh, the, uh, Brigadier scared the heck out of us, and none, none of us slept and. because we were sure that somebody was going to,
we were gonna have a bunch of North Koreans or Chinese. The Chinese had just come into the War of course then. uh, coming over and chiding us about it. In fact, they were about 14 miles away. So from there, we did a, a small attack, uh, a minor attack, um, because what had happened, I’m not a strategist. I, when, when you’re a, um, a Corporal, incidentally, that’s what my rank was then, when you’re a Corporal, you, you don’t really know
what the, um, what the whole picture is. You, you know what is happening 100 yards that way. You know what is happening 100 yards away. But you don’t know what is happening a mile away.
I: Um hm.
L: So we didn’t realize what was happening. We understood that the operation was, in fact, to straighten the line. We, uh, this time we’d be ad, we’d be advancing. What they wanted to was straighten the line. And, in fact, we did, they did straighten the line, and they finished up with the, a defensive line, of course, which was the
L: which was, of course, the defensive line. And that’s what pretty well where we stayed for the, um, rest of the War. We, um, we had one, uh, assault and, um, which, uh, I, I believe it was in the, uh, Hill 227. Uh, no it wasn’t 227, I’m sorry. It’s, um, Charley. Bob could tell you that.
It was the RCR claimed it was a battle on [INAUDIBLE] Uh, and we, um, we, um, had a, a minor scrap. We, we lost one, uh, one of our people. Uh, I didn’t lose anybody from my section. So it wasn’t a, but it was my baptism with fire if you would. I say my second baptism of fire.
L: My first baptism of fire was rather interesting. I was on what we, we used to have what was called a standing patrol. We had a Corporal and two men usually,
about 100 yards or so in front of the, uh, position. And the, their purpose is to warn you if anybody’s approaching. So I was in a tree, and I sort of realized there were birds in the tree. And then I realized that the birds must be building a nest because there was also some twigs falling on me. And then I soon realized that somebody was firing a machine gun about that far over my head.
I: Oh boy.
L: And, but the funny thing is I always wondered what it would be like,
um, what it would feel like, you know, to be under fire. What would I do? Would I be scared? Would I run? And I was too busy being interested in the phenomenon
I: Uh huh.
L: that I forgot to be scared. I wouldn’t say I’m brave. I’m not. But I was, I was, I was more interested in, you know, this is, this is happening. I’ve never seen this happen before. And I, I never, uh, I never had time to be scared. Uh, I, I [INAUDIBLE] to which was,
uh, probably a good thing, probably a good way to get, uh, insured because, uh,
I: So what happened?
L: Oh, they, they
I: Nothing happened?
L: They stopped firing after a while. They, they just, they just fired a, they, they were firing maybe for about 15 seconds and then they fired again a bit later. That was all. I think they probably suspected there was somebody there and just, uh, fired a
I: Um hm.
L: few bursts. We used to do that every night, um. When we’re in the positions, what you would do is
during the day, you would, you would get your light machine, and that’s the [brain gun, a lot machine] and, um, you would size it on where you think the enemy was. For instance, if you saw an enemy was digging a trench, you would, um, say well, in about a couple of hours, he’s gonna be there. So you would sign your, your [INAUDIBLE] machine gun on that point
I: Um hm.
L: and you’d put pegs in so that it couldn’t be moved.
I: Yep. When did you leave Korea?
L: Uh, I left Korea in, um, September.
I: Of 19
L: fifty-two. Actually my service was up in January of 1952.
I: Uh huh.
L: Um, my time was up. So I went to see my, um, company commander. I said sir, my time is up. Can I go home? He said congratulations. You’re a Reservist. Call out. Get back.
I: What did you say to him?
L: Yes sir.
You’re a soldier.
L: So I, I, I, they, they actually kept me about, um, uh, eight or nine months longer.
I: How much were you paid?
L: How much was I paid? We were paid less than, the only people who were paid less than we were were the Koreans.
I: Okay, so?
L: We were paid, uh, sometimes four shillings, uh. A private would get about maybe five shillings a day.
I: Five shilling.
L: Five shillings. That’s about $.60.
I: Fifty cents?
L: Sixty cents.
I: Sixty cents.
L: In fact, we lost money. We, we lost money because we went from Hong Kong to Korea.
L: And, um, when we were in Hong Kong, they paid us allowance, a living allowance for be, serving overseas. When we went from Hong Kong to Korea, they said you don’t need it anymore
L: And they took it off us.
L: So we actually lost money. And I think that Jim will say the same thing, uh. In the First Battalion,
uh, Regiment, they lost a jump pay, right?
MALE VOICE: Yeah. [INAUDIBLE]
L: So, pardon?
MALE VOICE: Yeah, when they went over, they lost the jump pay.
L: Yeah. They, they, they, um, the, the Canadians, they, the people, the parachuters in the Canadian Army, uh, didn’t get paid because there weren’t any, the only, the only Commonwealth outfit that did any parachuting in Korea was the Indian Field Ambulance.
I: How did they pay you, actual money or conscript or what is it?
L: Well, we had what was called script.
I: Oh, I’m sorry. Script, not conscript.
L: Script, yeah, script, yep. It, it was the, there was a, that was, uh, also quite difficult for us because we got paid in British currency, pound, shillings and pence. The Canadians, the Americans and everybody else got paid in U.S. script. So they could go to the U.S. canteens. They could go to the U. S. Service Clubs, and they could, um, they could spend it. We couldn’t.
because it was not, um, we could only use it in our own shop. Um, this was, this was not a problem. We had, um, you’re heard, you’ve heard of the lease landing in World War II of course.
I: Um hm.
L: Well, we had, we had our own agreement with the Americans. The Americans had lots of money but no beer. We had lots of beer but no money. Uh, it didn’t take us very long to, to
I: Yeah, I know. So
L: We, we, we used to get what was unheard of at that time, we couldn’t imagine in those days people paying $1 a bottle for beer.
L: But we would get, we would, we would sell it to the Americans for $1 a bottle. And of course, so if a person went on R & R for instance, um, you really need the American money because all the service clubs in Tokyo were American.
I: Yeah, yeah.
L: And, um, you couldn’t really spend British money except for our own leave center which means you couldn’t go out and get into mischief.
MALE VOICE: That beer was quarts they lasted.
MALE VOICE: It was quarts, aye?
L: Yeah, quarts, co, co, cold bottle. Q, [ASOHE]
L: We, it, is a, is a great beer, as a matter of fact, because, um, it had a lot of uses. The, um, apart from the beer itself, it came in wooden crates, and it used to be, we used to use them for furniture in our hoochies. We used to use it to [DOSEIT] aye, you know, it was a,
I: I see.
L: We even used it for latrines.
I: If I ask you one thing to pinpoint what are, what was the most difficult thing, what would you say?
L: What was the most difficult thing? I, I, it’s a, it’s amazing, uh. This sounds crazy, I know, and you’re gonna think I’m, but really, I had more peace of mind, I think, in Korea, than I had, uh, when I was soldiering in Britain.
L: Well, first of all,
you get in the frontline first, and people shelling you and then mortaring you, not a lot. I didn’t get mortared a lot, uh. And I only fired my rifle about six times in the whole time I was there, you know.
L: I di, I, I did not have a hectic War. I, uh, I was in an Infantry, I was an Infantryman. In the line, usually we were digging, we were being, we were being shelled, we were being mortared. And only about once, each unit, I think, was, um, had
one serious battle where they were really attacked. So, um, so really, when I was, uh, at first I got there and then I saw these shells landing on, um, neighboring hills and I, and I, I was worried. Gee, what’s gonna happen if one of them hits me? What’s gonna happen if one of them hits me? And then you realize that, um, after while, well, I’ve dug in. I’ve dug my trench deep enough. I’ve, d, I’ve, I’ve dug it the, I’m sleeping in a hoochie.
I, I’m, I’m sure that Jim told you what a hoochie’s like.
L: Um. My hoochie’s, uh, protected. If anything does happen, it’s gonna happen. And after maybe about two or three weeks, you accept that. You get fatalistic. You think well, you know, I’m gonna be hit by a shell or I’m not. And when you consider that, when you put that out of your mind, things that would worry you sick in peacetime like oh, I’ve lost my cap, as you know. I’m on parade. Or my boots are dirty, and the Honor Assembly going to give me heck. Or oh dear.
I haven’t got my paycheck this month. Things like that that would worry you sick
L: are so insignificant compared to the big thing that you don’t worry about them. And, and so I, I really had, uh, it’s a, it’s a part of you, you know. I had, uh, and I had my bad moments. I had, uh, one time I do remember was when I brought half of my buddy down from, um, the position after we’d been shelled.
L: There was only half of him left, from the waist down. Um, you know. I, I’ve had moments like that.
But, um, I didn’t go, and I, uh, I remember, um, unusual things like that. I think I told you about the latrines that we’d make out of beer boxes. I don’t know if Jim told you about that one, did he? Okay. Put these. No, it’s okay, it’s okay. What we did, the latrines were, um, you dug a pit
L: You dug a pit first of all
I: Uh huh.
L: or I should say, and this, I’m coming at, uh, something I wanted to mention late r. The people that we
don’t get any recognition, the Korean porters dug a pit for us. And I want to mention the Korean porters because it’s very, I think that’s, thing that a lot, a bunch of people are not really recognized.
I: Um hm.
L: Right Jim?
MALE VOICE: [INAUDIBLE]
L: The porters are not, Korean porters are not, they don’t get enough recognition, right?
MALE VOICE: No, oh no.
MALE VOICE: They did a lot of work.
L: They, and, um, so they’d dig a hole, and then you brace it, and then you put a beer box, entire beer box, which you cut a hole out of the top, make a toilet.
L: Well, what so happens is that, uh, every so often rats and things would get in the bottom.
L: So they would, uh, disinfect them with a mixture of one part DDT and four parts gasoline.
I: Uh huh.
L: And they would get a can of gasoline, uh, top it off with DDT and throw it and swish it around in the hole.
L: Okay. Along comes my friend Harry Calderwood. He’s a storeman. Uh, anyway he’d
have to explain. He’s smoking and he’s smoking and, and he, he, he had gotten the Japan news which is the paper that we got, and he, he’s, it was quiet so h e decided he’s gonna have a quiet, the, there’s a screen around him, he’s gonna have a, about 10 minutes peace. Whoof. He dropped his cigarette in the
I: Oh boy.
L: Whoof and, uh, the, um, when I hit it, every time we had a shower,
he would never go to the shower because everybody insists that he’s got a Japanese flag burn, burn, burnt in his, this is probably one of the ones you gotta edit out. But other, it, it, it’s a rear end. This is one of the things that, um,
I: We need to include that in the movie.
L: I, that I, um, but, um, as, as far as the things that, what do I remember? Okay. I’m going to, uh, I’m not, um,
I want to touch a thing I particular remember well or more than any other. But it’s a thing that I think should be mentioned.
I: What is it?
L: Uh, this, this is the Korean porters. We have, um, I was looking, for instance, I was reading the account of, um, Jim’s battle.
L: Of Jim’s battle on Hill 187. And Jim, excuse me if I quote you on this. But I read their log.
As you know, they, they have a War diary. Each regiment has a War diary. The War diary mentioned the names of the RCR who were killed, the names of the RCR who were taken prisoner and [INAUDIBLE] Jim Gunn
I: Um hm.
L: and, and a few others. And then, and it says and seven Korean porters, just like that, seven Korean. They didn’t even have a name.
L: They were in the, they were in the line. They died with our people. They, they didn’t even have a name.
As far as I know, I don’t believe they got paid because it, uh, at one time what would happen is, um, they would just round up all the, the farmers and they’d say you’re a porter.
MALE VOICE: There were 14 of those [INAUDIBLE]
MALE VOICE: There was 14 of them [INAUDIBLE]
L: Four, fourteen. I thought it was
MALE VOICE: Fourteen total. Four were taken prisoner and
MALE VOICE: A couple were killed and others were wounded.
L: Yeah. You see, uh, as Jim mentioned, and these people, they died with us.
They worked harder probably. In fact, they, the position that we were digging, we had to dig, oh. If anybody says a soldier’s best friend is his rifle, don’t believe him. It’s his shovel.
I: Um hm.
L: We dug and dug and we were, I spent more time digging than I, anything else in Korea. And, we all did. We dug for survival. And, uh, but the Korean por, uh, what they would do is they, they would round up the Korean villages. They, they would probably get by on cigarettes, rations that we gave them
One of the things that sticks in my mind about Korea is, um, there’s a place in England called Manchester.
I: Manchester, yeah.
L: Yeah. And they say that if, um, there’s a river in Manchester. If you can see the other side of the river
I: Um hm.
L: it’s going to rain.
L: If you can’t see the other side of the river, it’s raining already. Well, I think you can say the same about the climate in Korea.
It seemed to be raining every time I went there. But no. I think, uh, living in Korea, I, I like one, um, I like it. But now it’s a, it’s a dominant, um, power in, for, um, change in Europe. It’s a, it’s a [INAUDIBLE] in, uh, the fairly unstable world
L: And, and certainly it’s where I have a lot of friends. I many not know their names
I: Um hm.
L: They don’t know mine. But nevertheless,
I: I sincerely thank you that you recognized this Korean people who had to go up and down, up and down,
L: Yeah, that’s right.
I: Full of A-frame things to, to provide you and yeah. We have to do that. But we don’t have a record unfortunately.
L: No, it’s, a, it’s, one of the things, of course, you, you, you’d be allotted so many porters for your platoon. And they, they, told you what you needed to, um, bring up.
And, um, one of the, uh, things that they could carry, it’s a choice between a case of beer and two jerry cans of water.
L: We didn’t wash very much.
I: Um hm.
L: We did, we didn’t wash a lot.
I: What is the title?
L: The title is The War That Wasn’t.
L: The War That Wasn’t.
I: That’s very eccentric title. Tell me. When did you publish it?
L: Uh, about, um,
I would say about, um, 10 years ago probably.
I: Okay. What is about it? Why wasn’t?
L: Well, the Korea, the, the Canadian government refused to admit that the Korean War was a war. They called it a police action.
I: You know they officially, we are recording this, okay?
I: Say out loud.
L: That’s okay. It’s in the book so
L: so I, I don’t have anything to hide.
L: Um, the Canadian government refused to acknowledge that it was a war. They said it was a police action. They said it was, um, the title was the United Nations Operation in Korea.
They, it wasn’t until about 1990 or in the 1990’s when we, we had been bugging the, um, Department of Veterans Affairs and telling them it was a war and finally, as a matter of fact, I was President of the KV at the time, I was Secretary of the KV at the time, sat down with the Minister of Veterans Affairs and pointed out that when 516 people get killed and you’re shooting the people and they’re shooting at you, you can reasonably suggest it’s a war.
So they agreed. And they, they, um, from then on, uh, the, uh, they called it the, it became officially a war.
I: Um hm.
L: In Canada.
I: So that’s why you type so good?
L: That’s why, that’s why I called it the War That Wasn’t.
I: Great title. Great title. How much is it?
L: For you, for free.
L: And, uh, so anyway. I, I’ve been writing for magazines for
oh, several years. And every year, every month I wrote, uh, an article on the Korean War.
I: Uh huh.
L: Somebody once said that if Korea could be flattened out
L: if you flatten out half the hills, Korea would be the same size as Canada.
L: Um, but
L: The, there was a hill. Every, everything had to be brought up a hill.
L: Your beer, your water, your ammunition, your wire, your, and what, what is more important
the, besides bringing the stuff up the hills, the Korean porters would also carry down a few wounded or a few
L: killed. And people, you, you, you read these histories. I put a chapter in my book about them. But you read the histories, they, they don’t get a mention.
L: They should. And, um, okay. They, um, I, I’ve been trying to find out, maybe you can tell me. I’m hoping that somewhere in Korea there’s a monument, a memorial
for the, uh, the unpaid Korean porters because these, as far as I’m concerned, were the real heroes if you like. They are, um, not, um, they’re not making big money. They’re not having people looking after them. They’re not
I: Very nice of you to talk about that because even Katusa
I: officially adopted by the Americans and Katcans by the Canadians,
I: we don’t even have the whole list of those
L: No, that’s right.
I: at the time because we didn’t have any
of the Ministers power.
L: Uh, uh, but even the Katusas and Katcans, you know, at least they were sort of in with, they were getting the rations
L: and all that sort of thing. And, it’s funny you mentioned the, uh, Katcans as a matter of fact, because when I was on the Revisit to Korea, the first one
I: When did you go back?
L: Uh, the first time I went was, uh, 1988.
I: Nineteen ninety-eight and then
L: Nineteen, nineteen eighty-eight
I: Uh huh
L: and then I went again at, um, I think it’s, um, 2003,
and then I went again in 2008 because at that time, I was the, uh, Canadian representative on the IFKWVA if you know what the IFKWVA is?
L: It’s the International Federation of Korean War Veterans Association.
I: Uh huh, uh huh, uh huh.
L: That’s the, uh,
I: Yeah, I know that, yeah.
L: President of the U.S., the, uh, and so the, the first time was eighty and, um, it’s interesting because, uh, we were going somewhere on the bus, and the bus stopped and the, an elderly Korean gentleman
gets on the bus and comes around and gives everybody a, a, um, a lapel pin
I: Uh huh
L: and, uh, and he said Katcan, Katcan, Katcan, Katcan.
L: And, uh, so they, we, we didn’t remember them. But I think that, um, the unsung heroes of the Korean War
L: I think are , quite frankly, the
MALE VOICE: You know, Jung Woo, you might want to say what Katcan means for people unable to translate that.
MALE VOICE: What is Katcan?
I: What is Katcan?
You tell me.
L: Yeah. Uh, okay. Katcan Korean Attached to the Canadians
L: And Kat, uh, Katusa, of course, is a
I: attached to the United States
L: Canadian attached to
I: But this Korean porter never been, never been really recognized.
L: No. they, they were never
L: They, they, they didn’t have any status at all.
L: They, uh
I: Yeah, yeah. Um, I know you have tons of stories to make us laugh out of this War. But, um, let, let us go back to 1988
2003, 2008 because you going to have a clear contrast of the Korea you saw in 1951, ’52 and those revisit. Tell me, what did you see, and how did you feel about it?
L: Well, can I go back to 50, 1951?
L: Okay. In 1951, let’s face it. what little industry there was in Korea was in the North. The South was almost,
I: It’s a rice paddy, rice paddy.
L: Nothing [INAUDIBLE] When I went back in 1988, when I was in Korea in, uh, in ’51, I think the tallest building I saw, and I was surprising that it, uh, was still there in Seoul was the Palace.
L: It, it was a, it was the, it was the sort of only major building of any sort. When I came back and saw what had happened, um,
I: That’s the year of Seoul Olympics, 1988.
L: Nineteen eighty-eight, yeah.
L: Yeah. Well, uh,
as a matter of fact we saw, one of the things we went to was the Olympic stadium. The Olympics hadn’t started yet. But, yes. And, uh, you had a gentleman named Park who, uh, was one of your soccer players who went and played it well. I’d always talk about soccer, but we, we do have some good soccer players, too.
L: Um, but, um, I was surprised how little, how different it was. You, you almost say that you’re not in the same country.
L: Um, the, that was the first thing. The second thing I thought was our government,
the Canadian government, uh, they sent us over. The sent people like Jim over. They sent, they sent the first people over. I’m sure you’ve heard the, um, the second, two PPCLI got the first, first rotation. They sent the people over, and for about, um, from 1954 on until we started making a lot of noise about 30 or 40 years later, they’d forgotten us. It took us 19
um, but in 1990 before they finally admitted yeah, it was a war, it was a war, yeah, you know, and, um, on the other hand, there were two nations. I’m gonna mention two because there are, there aren’t two, I think that should be mentioned. One is South Korea and the other is the Netherlands. Netherlands was liberated in World War II by the mostly Canadians. And we served in Korea. And I think those two governments
did more to recognize us than our own government has. I don’t know. I might get an argument on that from Jim. But they have. They, they’ve, they’ve never felt to recognize us. They never felt to appreciate us, um. when we go on the Revisit, little kids come on, you know, and shake our hands, um. It’s a, it’s touching. It, and people say, uh,
you know, you were in the Korean War, you know. You lost a lot of people there cause we lost, we lost, um, well over a thousand, the British. You lost a thousand people there. Was it worth it? And I’ve got one answer, yes it was. When I see what has happened and when I say that, um, Korean had become an industrial, uh, power, I mean what I say because if you look at my car outside, you’ll see it’s a Hyundai Sonata. And, uh,
I: So, what is Korea to you now personally?
I: Yeah. Personally. What is Korea to you?
L: It’s a, it is a place where my friends live.
[End of Recorded Material]