Canadian Armed Forces
Bill was a Gunner in the Korean War. He enlisted in the army at Chorley Park in Toronto, Ontario in August 1950 when he was 21. He felt it was something he had to do. The Korean War had just begun and both of his brothers had served during WWII. From Toronto, he went to Petawawa where he was outfitted before shipping out to the Canadian Forces base in Shilo, Manitoba for basic training.
One memory that stands out for Bill is the Canoe River train crash that happened November 20, 1951. “Our group, 23 officers and 315 men of the 2nd Regiment, Royal Canadian Horse Artillery (RCHA) were on route to Fort Lewis, Washington for additional training before being deployed to Korea. The railroad dispatcher had mistakenly put two trains on the same track in the Rocky Mountains near Valemount, British Columbia. Ours an older, wooden train and a more modern steel train – the Transcontinental Flyer met on a curve, neither seeing the other one coming, and hit head on.”
The damage to the older train was severe. Seventeen Canadian soldiers were killed -more casualties than the unit suffered during its first year of fighting in Korea. ““We were all taken back to Banff, Alberta by a train that had a mother engine added to it so the injured, many badly burned by stream, could be treated. The rest of us were re-outfitted. We waited for the track to be repaired and resumed our trip to Washington to complete our training.”
From Seattle, the men got on an American ship and crossed the International Date Line on route to Korea. “The trip took several days and we arrived either late January or early February 1951. We drove up the front, eventually setting up camp north of the 38th Parallel in enemy territory. As a gunner, my job was to fire a 25-pounder field gun which was mounted and pulled on a trailer. We’d set up several kilometres behind the frontline troops. We supported the Princess Patricia’s and the Van Doos. The Major, who was also on the frontline, would give orders and radio the coordinates for us to fire. If wrong, he would readjust them and we fired again. This continued until we hit the intended target.
During this time they were deployed on or near Hill 355 so named on military maps because it was 355 metres above sea level. The Hill was strategically located just north of Seoul and was highly valued because it was the highest ground overlooking the surrounding front lines and supply routes. Bill recalls that they took a severe pounding there as both sides fiercely fought to gain control.
Bill’s 18 month military commitment turned into two years. He returned to Canada on July 27, 1953. “When they sent replacements, you went home,” he said. Upon his return, his brother bought him a dump truck and he went into the trucking and excavation business during the summer. In the winter, he drove trucks for Texaco, Canada for 15 years delivering furnace oil until they shut down their Canadian operations. He later worked with Canada Post as a driver and letter carrier, and the TTC as a wheel-trans driver. He has 5 boys and 11 grandchildren.
“There’s no need for young people to die. If you see death in the field, it’s not glamorous like the movies. I start thinking of my children and my grandchildren. I don’t want that for them. I’m lucky I came out unscathed, but a lot didn’t. A lot of them bear scars that you’ll never see.”