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Bill McAndrew: Part IV

Bill McAndrew joined the army at age 17, was commissioned the following year and served the next eleven years as an infantry officer in Canada, Korea, Germany and Ghana. On leaving the army, a high school dropout, he attended Glendon College, York University as a mature student and gained his doctorate at the University of British Columbia. McAndrew taught at the University of Maine at Orono and directed that university’s Canadian Studies programme before joining the Directorate of History in Ottawa from which he retired in 1996. His particular interest has been in the battlefield behaviour of soldiers.

This is Part IV of an excerpt from an article which originally appeared in Canadian Military History, Autumn 2013 issue and is reprinted with permission of the author. 

If you missed them, you can still read Part I,   Part II, and Part III.

Part IV – Ghana

Bill McAndrews in summer whites while in Ghana.

In 1960 I returned to Canada, now a captain, in luxury aboard the liner SS Homeric, off-loaded my new Porsche at Quebec, and drove to our battalion station in Calgary. One evening the following summer I was duty officer at Brigade Headquarters in Wainwright when a signal came in listing the names of officers who were being posted to a training team that was to be sent to Ghana and was delighted to see my name. We proceeded immediately to Camp Borden for briefing and orientation and left shortly after for Accra.

Most of the team stayed in Accra at the military academy or army headquarters. Four of us continued on to Kumasi in the Ashanti rain forest to the Ghana Armed Forces Training Centre where we found that we were replacing a 20-30 man British unit that had been recalled for political reasons. The Army had evolved from the Gold Coast Regiment and the Royal West African Frontier Force with British officers and with independence was becoming Ghanaian. Most of its officers trained in Britain and the Soviet Union until the academy was able to graduate sufficient numbers. It was a commonplace that the former came back socialists the latter capitalists. That was a touchy point. Ghana was the first of the British African colonies to gain its independence and the course of its politics was watched with interest in the midst of the Cold War. Its nationalism and anti-colonialism were too easily seen as socialist, communist, and anti-West.

To me, at least, in the Kumasi weeds, this was a somewhat esoteric matter. We had been briefed on the background but by people who had no experience, little knowledge and less empathy for a country newly emerging from a colonial past. My concerns on the ground were more mundane and immediate, training the very willing soldiers we had. I was first the School’s weapons training officer and then commanded two different companies. It was engaging, challenging and rewarding work. The day began soon after the tropical dawn, with breaks for breakfast and lunch, a siesta to escape the heat and then back for a couple of evening hours. The training was basic; more interesting were the soldiers. Each day was different and we were left delightfully on our own to find our way. Our Ghanaian CO gave us full leeway and Canadian headquarters in Accra was too detached especially as the telephones seldom worked. Ghanaians found our informality a bit unusual at first but became used to it and we got along well. I was truly honoured when on leaving the unit, my soldiers enstooled me as a sub chief of one of the clans in a formal traditional ceremony that included drinking several tots of distilled palm wine known accurately as “kill ‘em quick.”

Tribal, clan and religious differences played a large part and there were marked differences between them, from the sub-Sahara north to the Atlantic south. As a company commander I had delegated authority to conduct summary trials for various infractions. When my company sergeant major marched in an alleged offender I had on my desk a Bible, a Koran, and a bayonet (for others) for swearing oaths but plausible stories were rare. My Muslim Imam was unfailingly helpful in sorting out conflicting tales.

One of my extra jobs, we all had several, was recruiting officer for the Ghana Armed Forces. Demand was high for limited spaces in the army and we kept records of all who applied whom we called in order as training space allowed. After a quiet period of several months I was startled to read in the Ghana Times one Sunday morning that Army Headquarters in Accra had announced that full scale recruiting was to open the next day. My staff of three dusted off our files of applications but they were quickly made redundant when on Monday morning between 3,000 and 5,000 eager would-be recruits turned up all trying at once to get through a small access gate in a strong metal fence. Several were injured in the crush and we had to summon three police platoons to restore order while processing around 1,000 in a few days. In the midst of the chaos an MP marched up a group who, he informed me, were from the president’s village and were to be given priority. I declined and sent them to join the mob. A couple of hours later my CO called me to his office for an explanation as he was to fly immediately to Accra and explain this apparent insubordination personally to the president. I tried to persuade him to let me take the hit; I could only be sent home but he had a career in his army. To his lasting credit he refused, said I had done the right thing not to give preference, and that he would back me up. It was an admirable display of moral courage and I can only hope that his career didn’t suffer.

There was time for limited travel around the country, to Accra, Cape Coast, Tamale, over to the Ivory Coast and I managed one lengthier trip, an attempt to reach Timbuktoo. I loaded up my VW Beetle with tinned food and beer and headed north for Ouagadougu, in what then was Upper Volta, then east across the Niger River on a raft to Niamey in Niger. Perhaps fortunately the roads beyond through Mali were closed because that drive needed more substantial transport as I found out on returning through game reserves in Dahomey and Togo where car repairs were not easily arranged.

I didn’t fully appreciate it at the time but I was growing uneasy with the gap between what I was told to believe and what I was experiencing. An earlier experience while in Germany had caused me to question some of my assumptions. I was on a NATO air transport supply course at Old Sarum – where we tried to move troops and supplies around the world matching infrastructure, aircraft ranges and capacities, fuel supplies and other useful factors without losing too many airplanes. At a mess dinner I was seated beside a British Army gunner lieutenant-colonel who in the course of conversation remarked that he was a Labour Party supporter. I was shocked, completely taken aback. My woefully restricted political awareness, finely channelled as it was by Cold War truths, assumed that Labour Party meant socialist, ergo communist, ergo the enemy we were gallantly resisting in NATO. He seemed such a pleasant, reasonable chap and far out-ranked me. It occurred to me that perhaps my political and ideological blinkers were a tad tight and caused me to begin thinking at least slightly about those given premises, a process that is on-going half a century on.

Ghana was certainly demonstrating a diversity of experience well beyond my limited horizons and caused me to question the premises underlying much of the received wisdom in the recommended readings for young officers. Bernard Fall’s Street without Joy on Vietnam and Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 on war were powerful movers. I began to feel a need to put them and other random readings – Greene, Waugh, Steinbeck, Hemingway, Camus, Lewis, Thoreau, Conrad, Sassoon and others – in context so I wrote to several universities asking if they would consider a thirty- year-old high school dropout. A few replied including Glendon College at the new York University which accepted me as a mature student.

Bill McAndrew writing the Staff College exam while in Ghana.

Leaving the army wasn’t an easy decision. I had just gained the second highest marks in that year’s Staff College entrance exams (it amuses me now that my lowest mark was in military history, I assume because I raised some questions of that year’s text, Montgomery’s Normandy to the Baltic) and my Canadian commander, Roger Schjelderup, recommended me for the coming two-year staff course. But it seemed the right time; too many unanswered questions had pierced the institutional bubble that gave the army its internal logic, so I cut the cord and enrolled at Glendon in the fall of 1963.

Part V – Leaving the Army, Back to School, and Directorate of History

Bill McAndrew: Part III

Bill McAndrew joined the army at age 17, was commissioned the following year and served the next eleven years as an infantry officer in Canada, Korea, Germany and Ghana. On leaving the army, a high school dropout, he attended Glendon College, York University as a mature student and gained his doctorate at the University of British Columbia. McAndrew taught at the University of Maine at Orono and directed that university’s Canadian Studies programme before joining the Directorate of History in Ottawa from which he retired in 1996. His particular interest has been in the battlefield behaviour of soldiers.

This is Part III of an excerpt from an article which originally appeared in Canadian Military History, Autumn 2013 issue and is reprinted with permission of the author. 

If you missed them, you can still read Part I  and Part II.

Part III – Returning to Canada, Preparing for Egypt, and off to Germany

We were three weeks returning to Seattle on an elderly American trooper and on to Gordon Head, now the site of the University of Victoria. After a leave I took a demonstration platoon to the School of Infantry at Camp Borden, and in the fall of 1955 was posted to our Regimental Depot, first in Edmonton then Calgary. Soon after it was back to Camp Borden for a course on Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Warfare, a basic introduction to that complex topic – fifteen minutes being allotted to the theory and practice of nuclear physics. While there the Suez Canal war broke out when the UK, France and Israel attacked Egypt to depose President Nasser who had nationalized the canal. Lester Pearson, at the United Nations in New York, hammered out the concept of a UN peace keeping force to separate the attackers and the attacked. This was sufficiently controversial to provoke a fist fight in the Mess between those who approved of Canadians being involved in a UN mission and those who thought the country should have said “Ready, Aye Ready” to support the Brits. Our 1st Battalion in Calgary was designated as the main Canadian component and a message went out for all QOR officers who were away from their units to return immediately. I was called from class, told to pack up, handed an airline ticket to Calgary, and given a staff car to get me to Toronto. We had to rush, with a police escort part of the way, but they held the aircraft for me. It was a bit of a fraud as I was with our Depot not the battalion that was going and my job then was to wangle a posting to the battalion. Luckily a newly married subaltern in the unit didn’t want to go and I got his spot.

The RCAF flew us to Halifax in slow C119s where we were to board HMCS Magnificent for the voyage. “Maggie” was undergoing major refit to accommodate us so we were housed across the street in HMCS Stadacona. There wasn’t much for us to do while waiting except some marching around and physical training, until we were put on 24 hours notice to move and paraded, very proudly, through the streets of Halifax amidst applauding crowds. The day’s notice extended to two, then more before word came that we would not be going after all. Two reasons were floated about in the press. One was that the Egyptians understandingly objected to our name, Queen’s Own, having just been invaded by soldiers of the same queen. The other was that the UN force being raised had enough infantry and needed logistical, communications and other support units. I had an occasion not long afterwards to meet Mr. Pearson who assured me that it was the latter. What to do with us? For some reason the RCAF couldn’t fly us back and as Christmas was approaching trains were fully booked. We busied ourselves as we could, drinking duty free gin on Maggie, scuba diving with the navy in the less than pristine harbour and visiting a hospitable Olands brewery that welcomed the troops. The train that eventually materialized was an ancient steam engine with arrows sticking out from its last trip west. We got as far as Moncton the first day where the crew stopped to rebuild the engine fire. En route we were shunted off tracks to make way for passenger trains, freights, cows and anything else moving.

1957 Currie Barracks – Lt Bill McAndrew (c) and Major Fred Swan (r)

That summer I managed a posting back to my old battalion, the 2nd, that was leaving for Germany. Arriving in Dusseldorf was a shock. In 1957 much of the city was still in desolate ruins from allied bombing, and I carried the emotional baggage of growing up in wartime when all Germans were the bad guys. We were picked up at the airport by the battalion we were replacing, 1 PPCLI, and driven to our camp near Hemer a couple of hours away. The Canadian Brigade was spread over quite a distance – Soest, Werl, Hemer, Iserlohn – and our camp, Fort McLeod, was adjacent to another, Fort Prince of Wales, where the artillery regiment lived. We had good facilities; a rink, gym, squash courts, sports field, and officers, sergeants, corporals’ and mens’ messes. The troop quarters were basic barrack rooms, sergeants and junior officers had private rooms with common ablution facilities. I wish I knew then what I do now. I didn’t realize that the area had a fervent Nazi past, where several notable SS formations had been raised. Werl had a prison where a number of war criminals were still incarcerated. One, Kurt Meyer, who had spent prison time in Dorchester in New Brunswick before being returned to Werl, had been released not long before. One day I walked into the Mess with Danny Osborne, our battalion second-in-command, where a German was holding forth. It was Kurt Meyer who then was the sales representative of a brewery and sold beer to the Mess. The last time Danny had seen Meyer was when he had escorted him at his war crimes trial.

Most of this went right over my head at the time and it was an opportunity lost. Much later I got to know Meyer’s chief of staff, Hubert Meyer, who participated in several battlefield studies. An incarnation or so later, in my Clio phase, the Ottawa Citizen carried a review I wrote of Tony Foster’s dual biography of Kurt Meyer and Tony’s father, Harry who had fought each other in Normandy and who was on the court-martial that sentenced Meyer to death. I commented in the review that Meyer was the only German sentenced to death by a Canadian tribunal. A few days later I received a telephone call from a former RCAF legal officer who informed me that I was wrong. He had been involved in two or three Canadian war crimes trials that gave death sentences to Germans convicted of killing downed RCAF airmen. It was a good lesson to me of the hazards of being overly categorical. Few historical events are not heavily nuanced.

The ambience of the Germany at that time was distinctly old world. Village gasthofs were out of the 19th century. One Iserlohn café had an afternoon string quartet, male of course and in tails, in this time of Elvis. Waiters barely tolerated us and patrons were distinctly cool to our casual presence. We represented the war’s victors and our informality clashed with the general reserve. Moreover our relative wealth, at 4.20 marks to the dollar, could cause understandable resentment.

My job as intelligence officer was to learn about our operational commitments, locate our battle positions and prepare maps for the CO, Rod Mckay. We had two battle positions, the first on the Weser River to the east and the second on the Rhine west bank at Koln. The Patricia commander, Tom DeFaye, who became a dear friend in my Clio phase, took Rod on a recce of the positions with me along to carry the maps. It was more than slightly farcical. Security regulations said that we had to wear civilian clothes but as we traveled in a jeep and a staff car, and carried map boards and binoculars, our cover would hardly have fooled the most incompetent Smiley. It was here that I first developed doubts of the competence of those who had devised these operational commitments. We were supposed to delay a Soviet crossing of the Weser, which at that time could be waded with barely damp feet, until someone delivered a tactical nuclear weapon which, of course, would have taken us out as well as them. We didn’t have weapons with sufficient range to hit the river effectively from our battle positions and couldn’t delay anyone. It didn’t take a military genius to notice that some emperor had no clothes. As we were there supposedly as a deterrence and to wave the flag in the bigger NATO scheme of things it occurred to me that posting a senior civil servant on the border, perhaps a deputy minister or two, as a high ranking hostage would have been a more economical and equally efficient deterrent.

My main memories of our time in Germany, aside from the wonderful travel and cultural experiences, were training and sports. The battalion was always on an exercise, cleaning up after it , or preparing for the next. Sennelager, Hohne, Putlos and other locations became familiar and there were always new areas to explore. We did well, I think, with what we had but the aura of unreality persisted. Our equipment was lamentable, the most striking example being to pretend that our three-quarter ton vehicles were armoured personnel carriers. It was assumed that tactical nuclear weapons were just another weapon like the rest. This was, of course, before Chernobyl wakened at least a few minds, but it was evident to most anyone that they weren’t and that exploding nuclear weapons on a fluid battlefield would harm us and the German population we were supposed to be defending as much as the bad guys. We were all targets.

Sports were big in our lives. Jim Mitchell, who coached the basketball team in Victoria, said off-hand that we were going to be winners and we made it happen; the Canadian Brigade title, then the British Army of the Rhine, and finally the British Army championship. One summer I got involved in a team to participate in a NATO Olympic Military Pentathalon in Athens. There was a distance swim, a long cross-country run, rifle shooting, and a couple of other military-oriented events. Unfortunately the Pentathalon was cancelled but we were left with solid swimming and cross-country teams. I ended up swimmer-coach of the swimming team, training for a time in the Möhnesee dam, of Dambusters fame, for a NATO long distance race in the Meuse River in Belgium. We placed third, pretty well considering we were up against Olympic swimmers from both the US and France. Our cross-country team also won the Brigade championship. I had a harrowing time, losing consciousness a few hundred metres from the finishing gate which I somehow stumbled through to complete the team’s finish and woke up in hospital luckily with no ill effects.

Part IV – Ghana

Bill McAndrew: Part II

Bill McAndrew joined the army at age 17, was commissioned the following year and served the next eleven years as an infantry officer in Canada, Korea, Germany and Ghana. On leaving the army, a high school dropout, he attended Glendon College, York University as a mature student and gained his doctorate at the University of British Columbia. McAndrew taught at the University of Maine at Orono and directed that university’s Canadian Studies programme before joining the Directorate of History in Ottawa from which he retired in 1996. His particular interest has been in the battlefield behaviour of soldiers.

This is Part II of an excerpt from an article which originally appeared in Canadian Military History, Autumn 2013 issue and is reprinted with permission of the author. 

If you missed Part I you can read it here.

Joining the 2nd Canadian Rifles and The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada in Korea

I duly went back to Camp Borden for the last training phase, was commissioned as a second lieutenant and posted to the 2nd Canadian Rifle Battalion. The unit was a new one, formed during that massive expansion of the Army for Korea and the NATO commitment in Europe. From a peacetime brigade the army expanded in a year or so to five brigades of fifteen battalions. The 1st Rifles went to Hannover in Germany in 1951 and the 2nd was meant to relieve them in due course. It formed in Valcartier in the summer of 1952 and moved to Ipperwash in western Ontario in the autumn where I joined it. The battalion was made up of companies from several militia units: “A” Company from the Victoria Rifles from Montreal, “B” the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry, “C” the Royal Winnipeg Rifles, “D” the Regina Rifles, and Support Company the Queens Own Rifles of Canada from Toronto. The CO was Bill Matthews who had been awarded two Military Crosses while serving with the Canadian Scottish in Europe. I went to “A” Company commanded by Bob Firlotte, a veteran of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion. Our CSM was a small, tough Montrealer from Pointe St. Charles, Jake Burton, a wonderful guide to a young bugger like me and the other platoon commanders, Ian Gilmour and Ted Ball. Ted introduced me to the wonders of Stan Kenton who was pretty far out in those days. In the unit, two subalterns, the only two university graduates, were lieutenants, the rest of us second lieutenants. A few were married, the families living nearby, but most of us lived in quarters. There were two cars among us.

There were some real characters among the lot. One was fond of sliced onions covered with black pepper and strolling through the hallway of our H-hut quarters firing his 9-mm pistol at the lights. We ducked. Vip Vipond had an unfortunate habit of falling to sleep before putting out his cigarette, a habit that later killed him. Robbie Robinson was a fine woodsman, a Second War vet who had not been overseas likely because he was such a superb survival instructor. He showed me how to fry eggs on a shovel, among other useful things. Another Robbie, Mark 2, was a likeable guy and a natural Pioneer Platoon commander. Later he was mayor of Petticodiac, New Brunswick. Howie Traynor, Derrick Bamford, and Neil Anderson were buddies in “B” Company under Tom MacDonald, a former Hamilton cop with a big heart, a sense of humour and a Military Medal. Boom Marsaw later became an evangelical minister, John Saunders was a former sailor, Ron Werry an imaginative instructor, and Bill Crew held the record of most sneezes after taking the obligatory snuff at mess dinners. Paul Zmean, Charlie Belzile, and I hung around a lot together. Jack Hanley, from OCS arrived, also Johnny Moad another ex NCO Con Bissett, from out west, later transferred to the RCN’s Fleet Air Arm and killed himself flying a Banshee into the ground. They were all solid companions.

A second lieutenant in those days made $150. a month, with room and board, the same salary as half a century before at the time of the Boer War. The Mess was the centre of our social lives and mess bills were the first and biggest claim on our limited finances. Bill Matthews insisted on having a formal dinner every Friday, no matter where we happened to be at the time, and this ensured there was little money left. We single guys didn’t mind as we were having a grand time but how those who were married managed is a mystery. We received an issue of work clothing and kit and got a small initial clothing allowance which gave us a start for dress uniforms. The price in those days for dress greens was $47.50, with a $15.00 deposit. For the rest we arranged credit with a tailor and that was the next priority charge on our five daily dollars.

Ipperwash was chaotic as the battalion was just getting organized, and our company was made up of recruits, so we were doing basic training. The training schedule went through Saturday mornings and on Sundays there was almost always a church parade in the nearby towns where the battalion was led by the bugles and Deucehorn, our Great Dane regimental mascot who invariably chose to throw up or exercise his bowels enroute. Far distant Army Headquarters decreed that the low level of education standards had to be raised so on two nights a week this high school drop-out taught arithmetic and English barely half a page ahead of my less than enthusiastic soldier students. I was also sports officer and organized inter-company competitions in volleyball, basketball and other sports, hugely assisted by Harry Warren, an ex-British Army physical training instructor who carried in his pocket a copy of Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams, and Denny Stahl, then a corporal soon to be sergeant. Tuesdays and Thursdays were doubling days when all ranks had to double everywhere when outdoors and we did a lot of PT rifle exercises using our Lee Enfield .303s as props. They were very effective, both for arm strength and for getting to know our rifles.

Routine was from six in the morning six days a week, with two evenings educational instruction, at least one other on officer training, and every Friday was a Mess Dinner. Pay nights were lively. The wet canteen was always a scene of, to understate, boisterous activity. It was an educational experience for an eighteen year old like me to be duty officer and responsible for ensuring that damage was limited. One had to tread carefully through beer laden minefields. Another delicate time on duty was one morning when the civilian cooks who were on contract for food preparation slept in after a hard night. When the troops arrived for breakfast nothing was ready and they were understandably displeased. The duty sergeant that morning, fortunately, was Al Stevenson, a former lineman with the Montreal Alouettes, who hustled the cooks out of bed expeditiously. I boiled eggs and Al and I helped serve breakfast when it eventually appeared.

The battalion was initially slated to relieve the 1st Rifle Battalion in Hannover but this was changed and now we were to replace my old unit, 3RCR, in Korea. In the spring of 1953 we headed back to Wainwright to train at the company and battalion levels, which we couldn’t do at Ipperwash. Enroute we went by train to Ottawa where we paraded with other units on Parliament Hill for the Queen’s coronation. In those days troop trains could be lively. Troops always managed to stow drink in their kit and sometimes booze got out of hand. Tighter and tighter restrictions followed to keep the trains from being wrecked but soldiers quickly found ways to get around them. We junior officers had to inspect everyone beforehand, including ensuring that water bottles contained only water. Initiative and ingenuity invariably won out. A tied condom filled with rum topped with a bit of water foxed the most conscientious taster.

Three COTC cadets joined the battalion that summer for their summer training. All did moderately well in life. Charlie Belzile became commander of the Army; Lonnie Holland is a very successful investment manager. Lonnie tells me that the third, Robert Mundell, whom I don’t recall directly, was awarded the Nobel Prize for economics.

Training continued when we returned to Ipperwash and towards the end of the year I was told I would be part of the unit advance party for Korea, first to Vancouver for final medical checks then to Tokyo via the the Aleutians and next day to Seoul in a USAF Globemaster, more commonly, Crashmaster, where the RCR met us.

Korea was not a pleasant place at that time. Seoul was almost totally destroyed. The road north was not much more than a track with thick dust that made anyone unrecognizable after a kilometre or so. The smell of human feces that Korean farmers used for fertilizer enveloped us. The few small towns and villages on the way, Uijongbu comes to mind, had ramshackle dwellings cobbled together from flattened tins. Hills were formidable, but seemed familiar; whoever chose the area of the Jasper training camp had done well. The RCR battalion was based north of the Imjin River just south of the DMZ [demilitarized zone] that had been established at the Armistice. Companies were scattered around in tented camps sited below battle positions in the hills.

Colonel Campbell was very gracious in remembering me from my previous time with the unit and said he had tried, unsuccessfully, to have me back. I was “A” Company’s representative on the advance party and worked with my RCR counterpart to prepare quarters, stores and all and, as sports officer, saw what the RCR was doing for sports and recreation. One event that stayed with me was checking out the divisional detention barracks near Seoul. The Canadian Provost Corps ran that foreboding place. Prisoners lived a more than spartan life on the premise that it had to be sufficiently unpleasant so soldiers wouldn’t willingly choose it over the front lines. The solitary cell was carved into a hillside with a barred heavy door; winters were cold, summers hot. I later had a New Zealand driver who spent a month in detention and he seriously commented that he would go north to the other side rather than return for another sentence.

Each battalion in the Canadian brigade had around 125 Korean Army soldiers, KATCOMS, attached to it. The RCR had scattered them throughout their rifle companies but when we met the unit on its arrival by ship at Inchon Bill Matthews had decided to concentrate them all in one company in which I was to have a platoon. Commanding Koreans was an educational experience. Nick Fritz was my platoon sergeant and we also had a Korean sergeant to pass along our gestured instructions to the troops. The first morning when I spoke to one soldier about his kit the Korean sergeant stepped up and punched him in the face. Nick and I looked at each other wondering what we had got ourselves into; clearly we had much to learn about the culture of the Korean Army. Things smoothed out in time and we got along pretty well. The soldiers could conveniently use our linguistic inadequacies to ignore whatever they chose, but they were good in the field and knew the countryside around.

The actual shooting war in Korea had ended the previous summer with the Armistice that still prevails uneasily more than half a century later. The battalion was part of the 25th Canadian Infantry Brigade which, in turn, was part of the 1st Commonwealth Division. One of the other brigades was British, the other had Australian and British battalions. There were also New Zealand gunners, Indian medical units, and others. The division reported in turn to the US Army’s I Corps and Eighth Army. Our division’s task was to secure a large sector of our side of the demilitarized line. 25 Brigade was the divisional screen while the other brigades manned fixed defences in the Kansas Line. Our battalion task was to patrol the DMZ. Each rifle company in turn spent a week in the line sending nightly reconnaissance patrols to intercept line crossers and anyone else. It was a very effective patrol school, a good way to learn that dangerous trade.

Besides patrolling we spent our time training. The battalion had not completed unit level training before arriving so we did platoon, company and battalion exercises pretty much continuously. In retrospect we were fortunate that the shooting war was in remission as active operations would have been disastrous, another Hong Kong. The constant turnover of soldiers in the months before leaving Canada never allowed our battalion to complete the company and unit training that would have prepared us adequately for operations.

Within a week of the battalion’s arrival we were in the middle of our weekly dinner when the CO got a phone message with the code word SCRAM. This was an exercise triggered without notice by Eighth Army for all formations and units to man their main defensive positions. We never knew for sure whether the SCRAM was an exercise or the real thing, but the drill was the same; gather the troops, issue ammunition and head for our designated positions in the hills. Fortunately we never did have to fight off a real attack.

That summer I was sent to Brigade Headquarters, commanded by Jean-Victor Allard, as a liaison officer. This was one of a few outside jobs for junior officers. Neil Anderson went on one at around the same time, as an observer with a USAF squadron, and was killed when his airplane crashed a few months later. I was there just a few weeks when I was sent on to Divisional Headquarters as the Canadian LO.

The COMWEL Div Hq was a unique organization. The commander was British, initially Major-General Horatio Murray, and his chief staff officer was a Canadian, Mike Dare, my old CO at OCS. Under him were two majors, a Canadian intelligence officer and a British operations officer, Peter Willcocks. Peter had three captains; an Australian, Mac Grant, a New Zealander, Max Tebbutt, and a Canadian, Chuck Spencer. Finally were three LOs; a Brit, George Whittaker, an Australian, Alec Reynolds, and me. This was likely the last of the old British Commonwealth military organizations and a fine one that worked seamlessly, at least so it seemed to me looking from the bottom up.

When I learned that I would be moving, the first thing I did was consult the military staff bible of the time, Staff Duties in the Field. It was a very useful publication with all matter of sound advice and good sense. I wanted to find out what an LO was supposed to do and was taken aback to read that an LO should be an older, experienced officer who knew his way around people and affairs. I was barely twenty and looked perhaps sixteen. This may have led to an unspectacular start in my new job. A SCRAM alert came in and Peter went round the Ops Room telling us which brigade to inform. I assumed that I should phone the Canadians and did so but missed his instruction to alert the Australians. My mistake was noticed quickly when General Murray got a call from the brigadier who was asking why all the transport had arrived in his area. The transport unit had been informed but not the brigade. I thought that I would be packing my kitbag but instead Peter quietly suggested that I pay closer attention to what I was instructed to do. It was a fine lesson.

My main job was liaison with the 1st US Marine Division deployed to our left, to the west. I would take dispatches over to them regularly and bring others back. It was an amusing experience as they seemed not quite to know what to do with this uniformed kid who represented himself as the Comwel divisional commander’s personal representative. They were much more seriously minded, at least formally so, than us, wearing helmets all the time and expecting the war to break out next minute.

We LOs did regular shifts as duty officer manning the Divisional Operations Room. For routine work the chief clerk, a British warrant officer, a kindly and efficient man with a twinkle in his eye, patiently guided me through the intricacies of the staff system, moving files to the right people, filtering the important from the trivial. The Brits had a simple but efficient system before computers. A new letter would come on the file, all the correspondence held together by a string at the upper left corner, to explain its context. I would draft a response or channel it appropriately and the chief did his best to keep me from harming the war effort and myself.

The duty officer also manned the divisional radio network and kept the logs. Radio traffic was a challenge. It was hard to imagine that allegedly we all spoke the same language. With a Cockney, a Yorkshireman, a Scotsman, an Irishman, a Quebecois, an Australian and several others competing for dialect space the radio network could be a shambles, confusing to the point of unworkable. I imagine that Chinese radio intercept units listening to incessant “say again all after” transmissions were as baffled as we were.

Something new came up daily. One day it was a flap when one of the observation posts reported hearing tanks across the DMZ. I asked for confirmation from others OPs and alerted Peter Wilcocks who brought Mike Dare quickly to the Operations Room. He was particularly interested in any report of ominous tank movement but fortunately it was a false alarm. Another day a USAF lieutenant appeared in a radio jeep to conduct a close air support exercise, and I took him out in the mountains. He got radio contact with as yet unseen airplanes, asked me to throw out a smoke grenade and, sure enough, four fighters appeared overhead that he directed to the target area. Fortunately they hit the right hill not ours. It was a striking exercise in joint operations: a Canadian soldier in the Commonwealth Division, going up channels to an American Army Corps and Army, and an American airman calling in US Marine Corps fighters flying off a US Navy aircraft carrier.

The Officers’ Mess at the headquarters was British run and the meals were somewhat of a comedown from the unit where we had lavish US Army rations. In those days British catering was less than inspiring. The cooks did their best with what they had, but there was just so much one could do with custard powder which was on at least two daily meals. I scrounged welcome Canadian supplies. On one memorable occasion I was in Seoul and my New Zealand driver and I had milkshakes at a US Army PX. It was a treat that I can still taste.

I got over to Japan on two R and R (rest and recuperation) breaks. One day out of the blue a signal came in for me – from my Dad, who was on his way to Japan on a RCN ship, asking if I could get over to meet him. Peter Willcocks insisted I go, and I didn’t need much encouragement. I asked one of the artillery pilots at the headquarters to fly me to Seoul where I could catch a flight to Japan with an Australian Air Force courier. His artillery observation unit flew light single-engine, two-seat Austers. We got off alright and were still climbing to get over Kamaksan, the largest mountain between us and Seoul, when the pilot turned around and shouted that our engine had lost oil pressure and was likely to seize up, so back we went and landed just before the oil ran dry. He picked out another airplane and off we went this time without mishap. Out of the Auster and into the Aussie Dakota, an old twin-engine Dakota that had seen considerable service. We were half an hour into the flight when one propeller malfunctioned so back we went for repairs. Next morning we got away and made it to the Australian base at Iwakuni on the inland sea between the main Island and Shikoku not far from Hiroshima.

I’ll never forget the incredible difference between it and Korea. I arrived absolutely filthy, covered in Korean dirt that was impossible to get rid of. Occasionally we could shower in Korea at the Mobile Laundry and Bath Unit: drop dirty uniforms, walk into a communal shower that sometimes had water, and then pick up clean clothes. After an hour’s return jeep drive on dirt tracks with an inch of dust the shower was a distant memory and the clothes as dirty as before. Iwakuni was on a beautiful bay and the countryside unimaginably fresh, green and clean. I got a room at the Mess, a Japanese orderly took my grimy clothes away, and I had the first real shower in months. An hour later he brought back a uniform that I barely recognized, clean, starched, like new. A beer on the deck looking over the gorgeous scenery was a magical moment.

Next morning I caught a ferry over the inland bay for an hour or so to Kure. The ride was full of wonder, a traditional Japanese painting of water, mists shielding mountains and gentle trees. So peaceful. I took a train to Tokyo next day and met my Dad. We had a nice reunion and spent the day together looking around the city before he had to leave to get to his ship in Yokahama. I stayed in the city for a couple of days and, among other things, heard the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra play Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto. Then I caught a train going somewhere south, got off in a town whose name and location I don’t remember, possibly around Hamamatsu, where I stayed for the last few days of my leave. Somehow I found a place to stay, wore a Kimono and slippers the whole time, bowed a lot, attended the communal baths, ate something somewhere, and didn’t meet anyone who spoke English while there. It was a most interesting interlude.

After I got back I was shot at for the first and only time. I had to take messages and instructions to units in the east of the country, on training exercises at Nightmare Range. Enroute my driver and I were stopped by a Korean soldier manning a road block at the entrance of a long bridge. He waved his carbine at us while talking in Korean which we didn’t understand, became heated so we took off over the bridge and he started shooting. We ducked and floored the elderly jeep. Fortunately he was a bad shot.

Bill McAndrew on a visit to the 38th Parallel in Korea.

In the autumn of 1954 the Commonwealth military commitment to Korea was scaled back, the division to a brigade and the Canadian brigade to one battalion, ours. I was still at the headquarters and we had a new commander, Brigadier Geoffrey Musson. Our first task was moving to a new location to free up our present one for the Koreans. Our new ground was at the base of Gloster Hill where the British Gloucestershire Regiment had been very very badly beat up in a big Chinese assault a year or so before. Looking for something in our files one day I came across an interrogation report that the Glosters’ adjutant, Tony Farrar Hockley, made when he was repatriated as a POW. It was a fascinating document, so I borrowed, it, climbed the hill and used it as a guide to the battle. It was still fresh, positions that the report described in detail dotted with slit trenches and debris. I didn’t realize it then but it was my first battlefield study of which I did many more in later life.

Brigadier Musson was a kindly and tolerant man as I learned. I was still going back and forth with the Marines on our left and got to know their commander’s ADC (later he won a lot of money on a popular American television programme, The $64,000 Question that was subsequently found to have been rigged). Through him their commander invited Brigadier Musson over to watch a football game. With draftees, the Americans had a league on a high level university level. They sent a helicopter over to pick up Musson and I drove over in a staff car for the return trip. I misbehaved at a following reception, drank far too much and was loaded into the back of the car, the general in front with the driver. I assumed next morning that I was finished but Brigadier Musson only seemed highly amused when he asked after my health.

Early in December I returned to the battalion. By then we were camped out in what had been the Brigade Recreation Centre without much to do. We were due to go home early in the year, but the date was repeatedly delayed until March. In the meantime we did a bit of training and sports and packed up equipment. Our quarters had been upgraded from tents to quonset huts, six of us to a building in rooms partitioned with plywood. One night I wakened to the smell of smoke and found the hallway engulfed in flames. I went out through the window, the last to get out and barely before the building went up. Vip Vipond didn’t make it and we found his burned rib cage next morning. It was an odd feeling when the reality of the situation hit home at daylight. I had got away with just a few minutes to spare wearing the bottoms of my pajamas and those, along with my dog tags found in the ashes, were my sole and only possessions in the world. Back to basics. Very strange.

Part III – Return to Canada, Preparing for Egypt, and off to Germany

QOR Regular Force Photo Albums

IMG_9383As we continue to catalog and photograph our collection, we’d like to share three photo albums of the QOR Regular Force Battalions:

The albums have been photographed by one of our regular volunteers, Capt (Ret) Larry Hicks.

If you can help us, we strongly encourage you to comment on a specific photo to identify dates, people, places, or occasions!