Non-Stop to Korea
by Don Kerr

As a corporal in the PPCLI I spent the spring of 1952 in Vancouver as part of a training cadre helping to raise and train a company of Seaforth Highlanders. Two of us, a sergeant and myself went all over town nailing up recruiting posters on telephone poles and in several weeks had a enough men to form the company. After some basic training, mostly in the Jericho Beach area, we were soon on the way to Valcartier to join up with the rest of the Highland Regiment. I then left them to return to Calgary and my Regiment.  

Then I received the bad/good news. The 1st Battalion was going to Korea and as we were going over as infantry there were too many NCOs. As an airborne unit we had section sergeants and as infantry we only needed platoon sergeants—that made a lot of sergeants revert to corporals and that left me hanging. At first I thought I was pretty lucky, then after a couple of days watching everyone getting ready I began to feel left out.

I got myself paraded up before the company commander of Support Company and announced that I heard they needed a Corporal driver mechanic for the mortar platoon. I got the job, waited several days until it was posted on the bulletin board and took a copy home to show it to my wife.

About a week later the company, I would say at least several hundred of us, boarded City of Calgary buses at Currie Barracks and headed for the train station downtown where we loaded onto antiquated passenger cars circa 1920s. The train pulled out almost immediately and a day or two later backed onto a pier in Seattle where we climbed the gangway of the General Hugh J. Gaffey, an American troopship already loaded with about two thousand American soldiers.  We were there long enough to watch an American army band made up exclusively of black soldiers with white helmets and white webbing marching up and down the dock playing 'Do the Hucklebuck'. A couple of hours later we were rolling in the swell off Puget sound with more than half our passengers sea sick and plugging up the latrines. Lucky for me I had been a seaman and it didn't bother me, as a matter of fact this was my second trip to Korea , I had been there in 1947 on a Canadian freighter, Harmac Westminster.  We felt sorry for those Yank draftees as they were all reinforcements and not one of them knew the guy next to him whereas we had been together for several years. Lots of them looked pretty slovenly and unshaven. We made quite a show doing pushups on deck in groups. Hard to believe now but I remember our group did one hundred. Amazing what you can do with an audience!


About a week later we arrived in Yokohama where we unloaded directly onto another train backed up on the dock. Wasn't the same band, just looked the same and played the same 'Hucklebuck' as we left the ship. The train headed out on the main fine and we were all amazed, there must have been five sets of tracks with trains whizzing past us in both directions. I think it took us a day or so to reach Sasebo and climb aboard another troop ship, a 'something' Maru only this time no bunks, only reed mats and no blankets or pillows. We did have however, another rendition of 'Do the Hucklebuck'.

A quick trip across the Sea of Japan to Pusan and there waiting was another train on the dock and another band playing the march of the month. This train was really something different, it even beat the Canadian one that we complained about both on our trip to Seattle and a trip to the Winnipeg flood of '51. These cars didn't have any seats at all, only planks that were placed like bunk beds. A person couldn't sit on them but had to either lay down or sit in the aisle.  However, the toilet was the big topic of conversation, just a six inch hole in the floor. The train left the dock as soon as we were loaded and the next day we were somewhere near Seoul where we off loaded onto trucks for the rest of the ride to 'B' Echelon. We finally stopped moving even though it was only for one night.

I can't say we rested very well—all we could see and hear was artillery firing up ahead in the line. It didn't make for a peaceful sleep but at least we had stopped moving— until the next day when we moved into the line. But that's another story.  

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In 1944 at age 15, Donald Kerr signed on a merchant ship as galley boy and was appointed sight-setter on a four-inch gun.  He joined the Seaforth Highlanders reserve in 1947 and then the Permanent Force in 1949.  After training in Camp Borden , he was posted to Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry.  He left for Korea with headquarters platoon (mortars).  In early 1952 he was promoted to sergeant.  After being wounded in Korea , he was discharged from the Commonwealth Hospital in Kure , Japan and was appointed Sergeant of the Guard at 25 CRG in Kure .  On returning home he took his discharge from the army.

 In 1963, Don Kerr moved with his wife and children to California .  They have a son and daughter in Canada whom they visit several times a year.

 

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