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MY SERVICE IN THE KOREAN CONFLICT
Written by Frances Walton (November 11, 2001)
This morning I have been asked to relate to you some of my experiences in the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps – not the whole 25 years! I thought I would tell you of my year tour of duty in the Far East during the Korean conflict.
In June 1953 I arrived in Kure, Japan. Kure was formally a naval base that was targeted for the Atomic Bomb, but fortunately, or unfortunately, the bomb drifted to Hiroshima and killed many. Here in Kure we occupied a 400 bed hospital called British Commonwealth. It was formally a naval college and hospital. We Canadians staffed one of the 80 bed wards and the rest were staffed by Australian and British personnel. We had 8 Canadian Nursing Sister and a Canadian physiotherapist. We were on Australian rations, which left something to be desired. Mutton, Stewed Rabbit (Welsh rarebit) and sheep brains for entrees. We would receive the troops coming from Koran after they had been prioritized at the Field Dressing Station in Korea. These boys were sick (minus arms, legs or eyes), lonesome and some depressed. Out job was to treat and comfort them (TLC).
One night while making rounds with my flashlight along the rows of sick boys, one voice called “Sister, come here please.” He grabbed my hand and said “Don’t you remember me?” Here was this tall, young soldier propped up in bed, gasping for breath (he had a sucking chest wound) with a beard. He was in the Princess Patricia Canadian Light Infantry Pioneer Squadron who had been in a fierce battle. I didn’t recognize him. “I am Jim Dawes from Lakeside – you used to be my Public Health Nurse”.
In writing our report at night our arms would stick to the paper with the humidity, and you had to put your feet up off of the floor to let the rats run. Sanitation left a lot to be desired. All human waste was collected and spread on the rice paddy fields
In December of 1953 I was posted to Korea to the #25 Field Dressing Station situated in a valley near the village of Wee Jon Boo, twenty miles north of Seoul. We were in a compound surrounded by barbed wire fence and rice paddies. We had a cluster of prefabricated Quanset Huts. Here we had 40 medical ward beds, 30 surgical ward beds, 42 minor ward beds and a burn ward. We had a helicopter pad outside to transport patients in or out. We were now on Canadian rations! Steak, plus. Sheets were scarce. We saved our sheets for skin patients and the rest had grey blankets. We had to blacken our windows at night. Our nurse’s quarters consisted of a Quanset Hut divided by 6’ partitions into 8 rooms, with a pot belly oil stove in the centre. In our room we had a cot, orange crate for a bedside table and a basin to wash in. And nails in the wall to hang our clothes. If you wanted to talk to your neighbor down the hall, you stood on your bed and looked over the partition. We had to take turns lighting the stove in the morning and at night you filled your hot water bottled with water and used it for a warm wash in the morning. And for cleaning your teeth, we had a barrel of water out back. One morning one of our Nursing Sisters went out to get a cup of water to brush her teeth and when she came back in to start brushing discovered she had a frog in the cup too! We had to roll our sleeves down at sundown because of the mosquitoes, which a bite could lead to Malaria. We had Korean girls to look after our laundry and quarters. We provided them with laundry tubs, but they preferred carrying them on their heads and taking the wash down to the river and pounding it on rocks. At the Field Dressing Station we had a full staff of 8 nurses, a doctor, a physio, a dietician and a pharmacist. We also had Quarter Master Stores and a canteen. The terrain was hilly with very winding roads and dusty. Stretch bearers would sometimes have to carry the wounded on a stretcher 5,000 yards down steep terrain and rice paddies. They were treated at an Advance Dressing Station by competent doctors and orderlies. They would give first aid, clean off dried blood and mud and put clean pajamas on and send them by jeep ambulance to us, or if very seriously wounded would go to the Norwegian Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (similar to the famous TV show MASH) where they were very well equipped, even for kidney dialyses.
In June 1954 my tour ended. While waiting for our flight home 4 of us got a free trip to Hong Kong, sailing from Pusan to Hong Kong. While there we visited the Canadian Cemetery in Saigon Bay. Over 300 Canadians are buried there. Sadly, we seen row upon rows of tombstones.
Today we remember all those who laid down their young lives and those who came home, many maimed for life in our Veteran’s Hospitals. We who treasure freedom must be prepared to defend it.