Contributed by Bob Laing – nephew of Leslie Robert Kemp
My earliest knowledge of Les was in the early 1950’s while he was in Korea as part of New Zealand’s, Korean War effort. Les was a driver in a transport unit that NZ had in Korea. I remember two things that happened during that time.
The first being the Korean troop broadcasts on the NZ national radio. The troop broadcast, used to be mid to late morning, on a Saturday. Mum would listen waiting to hear if Les had been chosen to speak that weekend. I do not recall hearing Les. The broadcast was only about a half, to one hour and all of the troop messages were very similar, even to a 4-5 year old.
This was fairly typical. The compare would introduce the person who would say something like, “Hello Mum and or Dad, all is well over here, I well fed and am treated well. Hope you are all well. I got your last letter and I have mailed you a reply. Tell Sally (or another lady’s name) that I miss her or love her.” Listening you had no idea where the troops where apart from Korea. No doubt the messages would have been well “sanitised” and pre-recorded.
The second thing I recall was Mum’s weekly or fortnightly baking for Les in Korea. Mum would either bake a large fruit cake, about 25-28cm, square and about 5 cm deep. The cake just fitted into a metal cake tin, the lid was taped down and posted off to Les. The alternate week or fortnight, Les got shortbread. Neither would have been a hardship for Les and his mates as Mum was a good cook. I have often thought later, no wonder the troops were well feed. They lived on Mum’s shortbread and fruit cakes.
Les told me a funny story that I recount about him during the Korean War. I was 14-16 years old at the time.
Les was driving in a convoy of trucks which were taking artillery ammunition to the front. Out of the sun swooped a number of MIG fighter aircraft to bomb and strafe the convoy. Les said he had never been so scared in all of his life. Trucks toward the front of the convoy had been hit and the convoy had almost come to a stop. Les decided the safest place was to take cover under the truck. Les had been under the truck for a few minutes and then he realised that if the truck got hit he was a ‘goner”. What to do?
Les quickly got back into the truck and decided to drive it as far off the road as possible. Good idea. Water filled, rice paddy fields, came right to the edge of the road. The truck immediately got bogged. Les, now in total panic, ‘took off’ as fast as he could across the paddy fields to get, as far away from the convoy, as possible.
That was Les’s story, however it didn’t stop there.
An officer saw what he thought was happening and recommended Les for a military decoration. Les was “mentioned in dispatches” which read something like.
Driver Kemp, convoy?? On date ?? came under heavy MIG air attack. (Once I find out the dates etc I will amend the Korean War section.)
“Driver Kemp was driving a lorry loaded with high explosives, artillery shells. The vehicle was somewhere in the middle of the convoy which was under intensive air attack from MIG fighters. Driver Kemp’s vehicle was seen to have broken down. Driver Kemp quickly got out, got under the vehicle, repaired it and then drove the lorry off the road so as not to obstruct the narrow road. Driver Kemp then took cover in the paddy fields some distance from the convoy”.
I have often wondered, after listening to Les’s account, how many medals were given in war time to soldiers who were scared out of their wits and just merely reacted out of fear.
The following web sites might be of interest.
Les told me an unfortunate Korean War story. Winter in Korea was bitterly cold. Kiwis used to cut the top off a 44 gallon drum and use it as a fire place in camp. Fires were often started in the drum by tipping in a little petrol to get the fire under way. One evening after a meal, someone flicked a fruit tin or water across the other side of the fire wetting another solder. That quickly became a water fight with fruit tins of water going in all directions. Unfortunately someone picked up the left over fruit tin, of petrol and flicked that cross the fire. Les said to me that one of the group, got quite badly burned.