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Kept on Your Toes!

Heroes Remember

The cease-fire had taken place the previous July, now this is the early spring of ‘54. The units have completely stabilized but they’re still facing, as a belligerent, they’re still facing, in the case of the Canadians, they were in front of a Chinese Division which was on the other side of the DMZ which was about three miles wide, which included places on the Canadian sector like Hill 355 where there had been a big battle and that sort of thing. It’s right in the middle of that DMZ and we’re sort of on the flank of it, so we used to spend a lot of time living on those hills, that are patrolling those hills, with listening posts and so on. The Chinese would do the same thing. We’d occasionally, if we took a slight path a little different we’d come face to face with a Chinese patrol. We’d sort of stare at each other and if nobody made a move toward their weapons that was it, we’d just, you know, we just headed back to our own lines and they did the same thing. So it’s, there’s a certain amount of tenseness and eventually it becomes a bit routine. That’s dangerous, you don’t want, you don’t want things to ever get to be too routine because you get despondent, you get careless. A lot of defensive lines had been built up and by then there were deep bunkers and railroad ties over your head and about ten feet of earth or something that could take quite a bombing before it got down to you. So we continued to develop those things. We reinforced them, we repaired the barbed wire fences, the obstacles and so on. We did that constantly besides patrolling to the centre line. But we continually developed because over the years and after a winter, and Korea’s quite cold and the winter was very rough actually, and eventually these things rot - the sand bags and so on, so you’re constantly repairing this. You’re doing a lot of shooting and manning your own weapons. You’re doing a lot of training all the time, very intensive training that if it starts turning hot again, you’ll be ready, you won’t be caught by surprise. But with one big difference, that instead of two or three companies on the front of the battalion you may have only one, an outpost. They’re really lookouts at that stage and you, you’re constantly in touch with your people and if Chinese trucks look as if they’re turning, they’re taking the wrong turn, if you see them at all, you keep reporting them. So there’s always a constant, I’m sure they do the same thing on the other side. So there’s a constant reporting of what’s going on at the front. They do like us, you can see them shoot their mortars, you can see the explosions of their guns when they shoot and that sort of thing. And we do the same thing. And we all have binoculars looking at each other. So there was a lot of that but this was done usually on a rotational basis with about 120 to 150 men would man the whole front instead of, say, five or six hundred. But there’s always, there’s a tense moment every time that you run into them in the back. Because they were doing the same thing up to the centre line and we were doing the same thing in the centre line. So it’s not a difficult thing to do, to find yourself slightly over. And in fact we’ve had troops, even after the cease-fire when I was there that, that wandered a little too far out and were in fact captured and then handed over again through International Red Cross or something a couple of days later. Slowly, but surely, you took on some side interests, like our troops, we lived beside a few Korean villages. You see how poor they are. They’ve been devastated during the war. So the next thing you know, we’ve got three or four guys that are helping them build a school. So, that was part of it. So, to a certain extent we were helping, I guess to resettle. But they weren’t, in fact, allowed inside the demilitarized zone and unfortunately some of them would go in there. They’d blow themselves up on a mine field and we’d have to go and pick them up. So there was.. In some ways, there was nothing very new from one day to the next but, you know, there’s always a potential of things turning sour, so you have to be kept on your toes.

Mr. Belzile describes patrolling the Korean Demilitarized zone, and some aspects of living there.

Charles Belzile

Lt.-Gen. Charles Belzile was born in Trois-Pistoles, Quebec, on March 12, 1933. As a youth, he was exposed to the armed forces as troop trains passed by his home during the Second World War. He joined the reserves, then the regular force with the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry in 1951. In 35 years of service, Lt.-Gen. Belzile has served in Korea, Germany, Cyprus and Canada. His appointments have included regimental duties with the Queen’s Own Rifles, Commanding Officer of the Second Battalion Royal 22e Régiment, Commander 4th Canadian Mechanized Group and Canadian Forces Europe in Germany. Since retiring from the Canadian Armed Forces, he has held numerous posts as a consultant and honorary chair. Mr. Belzile Chaired the VAC 60th Anniversary Committee on VE-Day commemorations and was Grand President of the Royal Canadian Legion. International honours include Commander of the Legion of Honour of France and recipient of the Vimy Award.

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Veterans Affairs Canada
Person Interviewed:
Charles Belzile
War, Conflict or Mission:
Canadian Armed Forces
Queen's Own Rifles of Canada
Lieutenant General

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