Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Jim Hueglin - Memories of the Congo ONUC

Memories of the Congo ONUC, A work in progress
            I was born on 15 July 1940 in Stratford, Ontario to Mabel Haines and Eugene Hueglin and I have one brother who is three years older than me. My early years were spent in Stratford, Guelph, and Dover Township, Ontario. June and I married on 23 Dec 1961 and we had our first child, Stephen on 22 Dec 1962.
            In 1961 I was unemployed, with a Grade XII education and living with my parents in the countryside outside Chatham, Ontario. No member of my family had ever been in the Canadian military, however, for some unknown reason I had a desire to join the Army so I went on my own to the Recruiting Office in Chatham to inquire about enlisting.
            On 2 February 1961, I was sent to No 7 Personnel Depot in London, Ontario where, after my first military haircut, I participated in various forms of testing to determine whether I was mentally, physically and technically acceptable to join, and what I would be best suited to do.
            On 23 February 1961, I was Taken on Strength of the Royal Canadian Corps of Signals and underwent six months of basic training at the Royal Canadian Regiment Depot, Wolseley Barracks, in London. My first six months at the Depot involved living four to a room, Kit layouts, frequent inspections, a good deal of marching and saluting and field craft. It was a time when each recruit kept a bayonet and rifle in their clothes locker and, a breach block in their barrack box. My wake up call each morning was a metal pipe being thrown along the terrazzo floor outside my room.
            On completion of Basic Training I was shipped off to the School of Signals in Kingston, Ontario. The initial time in Kingston involved indoctrination training into the way Signals did things, Technical Preparatory Training, and getting to know the other seven individuals who shared my one room, double bunked, living space.
            Following the aforementioned I commenced a long Group 1 training course, in Kingston, as a Teletype & Cipher Equipment Technician, a trade that required that I have a high level security clearance. During the time I was on course June and I married in Chatham. This was not as easy as it sounds since I had to receive my superior's permission to marry and live on the economy and, because of the course I was on, there was some concern that I would be living with someone who did not have a security clearance. As an aside, at the time we married, an Other Rank had to be 21 years old to receive, in addition to a monthly basic pay of $115.00, before deductions, a Marriage Maintenance Allowance of $30.00 and a Subsistence Allowance of $100.00 to help defray the cost of living on the economy.
            On completion of the course I was posted, within the School of Signals, to the teletype maintenance organization (X Tp), that operated out of the Genet Building, working with a memorable group of technicians. Most of this group were solid role models in terms of work and family, however, ... On completion of a Junior NCO Course on 28 March 1963, I was promoted Corporal.
            22 November 1963, the day JFK was assassinated, I was in the Orderly Room in the Forde Building at Vimy Barracks in Kingston signing a document that read that should I not appear for a tour of duty in the Republic of the Congo I would be classified as a deserter. Before deployment June and Stephen moved to live with her parents in Chatham and, as was then required I made a mandatory pay allotment to June of $60.00 per month.
            Our contingent flew via Pisa, Italy in a Yukon, turboprop aircraft, from Trenton, Ontario, to N'idjili airport in Leopoldville, Congo to join other members of 57 Canadian Signals Unit who were already serving there After takeoff from Trenton, with this being the first time I had flown, it was somewhat disconcerting when the pilot feathered the engine as the aircraft reached its cruising altitude. The change from the noise of the aircraft labouring  to gain height, to dead silence when it leveled off was a shock I will never forget. In Pisa, along with other tourists, I climbed the Leaning Tower and, later in the day watched others from our contingent trying to pass Canadian Tire money off as legal Canadian currency at the hotel where we were billeted. When we landed at the airport in Leopoldville, the aircraft door opened and the smell and atmosphere of Africa came wafting in.
            In  the course of my deployment my time was split between Leopoldville and Elizabethville. Leopoldville, being a city at an elevation of 240 m, some 515 km inland from, and East of the Atlantic Ocean and 480 km south of the Equator was hot, humid and rainy. Life there was quite routine in many ways. I climbed up and down seven flights of stairs more than once a day since the elevator in our quarters did not work.  There were about 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness. It rained everyday at about the same time. I had access to a community swimming pool that was always as warm as tea. Off duty life centred around the wet canteen and its liquor and Polar beer; an outdoor area where movies were shown at night on a large screen; buying local Franks on the black market with the Canadian $10 bill June mailed to me in a magazine; an occasional trip downtown to the ivory market area to buy souvenirs such as a jewellery box, mask, spear or Katanga cross; or a walk along the Congo River to watch the locals in dugout canoes or view the statues of King Leopold and Stanley.
            I walked everyday to and from my quarters to my place of work in the UN Headquarters Building (Athenee Royale). I stood guard on occasion outside our quarters with an unloaded weapon. I worked the day shift in a maintenance shop above the tape relay centre along with some of the same people I had worked with in X Tp and I mostly chummed around with a fellow by the name of Bob Leckie.
            My work dress was a blue beret, armlets with rank, Corps and Unit designation, an Indian Bush shirt, khaki shorts, a web belt and buckle, knee high socks and suede jungle boots. You could tell you had been in theatre for awhile if you had hair on your knees from not wearing long pants.
            Other fond memories include buying a Phillips tape recorder and short wave radio; recording Congolese music; listening to CBC Radio International as The Beatles arrived in North America and the Bonaventure headed for Cyprus transporting Canadian troops. Other less fond memories include Wally Shannon, the SSM, who insisted we play what came to be called "Wally Ball" (at one time his wife was Head Waitress at the Vimy Officer's Mess); only getting milk when the next Yukon flight arrived; seeing people eating from the kitchen waste area outside our mess hall; and witnessing the local police arresting young people, throwing them into the back of a vehicle and carting them off to jail.
            The teletype equipment we maintained were electromechanical in design and included the Teletype Corporation Model 15 teleprinter and the Model 28 teleprinter, perforator/reperforator combination; and the Kleinschmidt TT-4 teleprinter. These were all mid 1900's pieces of equipment that were widely used in the US and Canadian military and that, for the most part, were easy to maintain. The Model 15 and Model 28 lent themselves to static installations in message centres whereas the TT-4 was a portable piece of equipment that was well suited to field use. I, however, can remember one instance when it took me a great deal of time to repair a singularly frustrating TT-4. The Typex cipher machine used was a variation of an electromechanical device, with changeable rotors, that first came into use with the British military prior to WW II. It was big, bulky and, I believe, weighed about 120 lbs. To the best of my knowledge it required a good deal of operator maintenance and was time consuming to operate. After my return I heard a tale that for security reasons, and since there was no value in bringing them home, all the in-theatre Typex machines were dropped out of an aircraft into the Congo river.
            Quarters were primitive as I lived on the seventh floor of an apartment building with no operating elevator, no laundry facilities, cots with tin cans filled with liquid to deter creatures from climbing in to bed with you and ants continuously streaming up and down the building, foraging for everything they could carry away. Our laundry was collectively stomped on in a bath tub by a houseboy and sun dried on the roof of our quarters. There was no need for starch when they were ironed because of the residual salt they contained.
            Elizabethville, being a city at an elevation of 1208 m, some 1570 km by air inland to the East of Leopoldville, and 1300 km south of the Equator, was cooler and drier than Leopoldville. Life there was quite different and getting there and back was hair-raising. On the flight to Elizabethville it took the pilot three tries to get the plane airborne; that is to say he roared it down the runway, realized that he could not lift it off, aborted the takeoff and taxied back to his starting point and tried again.  On the return flight some months later, on a stop at one of the other detachments, the plane came in to land, bounced when it hit the runway, took off again and circled around before making a safe landing. As I recall, the plane was a Douglas DC-3 flown by civilian pilots hired by the UN.
Once in Elizabethville life became routine once again, but in a different way. I lived with other detachment members in a ground level villa. We had our own French Canadian cook and the houseboy, and his family, lived in a small dwelling behind the villa. The local UN Headquarters building was a short walk away and getting there and back offered an opportunity to interact with the local community and practice basic Kiswahili such as Jambo, habari gani, habari nzuri, misouri kapisa, umke na watoto howa jambo. The houseboy was not adverse to inviting me into his family home and introducing me to a local dish of manioc and beef in Pili-Pili sauce. Since practising my trade did not occupy all my time, my secondary duty was to assist our cook on ration runs. This involved trips with him to the local market to buy fresh food using our own transportation, and dealings with Indian and Pakistani troops who collectively ran the local UN Rations Depot and provided transportation to the Depot and back. What was most interesting about this situation was that, notwithstanding the hostility that then existed between India and Pakistan, the troops got along very well. Often, after a ration run our cook would wind up bartering the UN supplied food, e.g. canned bully beef, for local produce. Local sights included giant ant hills, malachite mines, and the local zoo and its chain smoking chimpanzee.
            I arrived back in Trenton on Thursday, 28 May 1964. Rather than quarantine us  for the weekend at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto, Ontario we were told to report back on the following Monday for post deployment medical examination for, among other things, parasites. I think we all welcomed the chance to immediately see our family, however, It made no sense then, and it still doesn't. At the time, June and Stephen were staying in Preston, Ontario with my brother and his wife so I hitchhiked there for the weekend. When I was dropped off on the highway outside Preston I was hungry so, before heading off on foot to find my brother's house, I stopped at a restaurant and bought a piece of cherry pie to satisfy a craving I had.
            During my post deployment leave, June, Stephen and I stayed with June's parents in Chatham. Shortly after we started staying with them my barrack box arrived at the local Customs Office. After clearing customs, and bringing It to June's parent's house, I opened my barrack box and, lo and behold, out wafted the smell of Africa. From the money we saved during my deployment to the Congo June and I purchased a used Volkswagen Beetle and a Vilas kitchen table and four chairs. We still have the table.
So endeth the story.

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