Major-General (Ret’d) Herb C. Pitts, 2897 (RRMC 1948-50, RMC 1950-52)
MGen (Ret’d) Pitts was born in Nelson, British Columbia in June of 1929. After graduating from high school, he entered a four-year program of the Canadian Services College at Royal Roads, graduating from the Royal Military College in June 1952. He was commissioned as a Lieutenant, in the Lord Strathcona’s Horse (Royal Canadians). On arrival in Korea in July, he served for a year as an Infantry Platoon Commander with 1st and 3rd Battalions of Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry. He was awarded the Military Cross for Gallantry and Leadership with that Regiment. Mr. Pitts remained in the Forces serving with The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada and the Canadian Airborne Regiment. He traveled extensively during his service, retiring as a Major General from National Defence Headquarters in 1978.
Biography taken from Heroes Remember on the Veterans Affairs Canada website. On that site you can hear MGen Pitts speaking about his experiences during the Korean War.
The following are excerpts from an interview which was conducted by Royal Roads University staff person, Karen Inkster in March 2008, and is part of the Royal Roads Oral History Project, a university initiative to preserve the military history of Royal Roads. Please contact Karen at [email protected] if you would like to contribute photos or stories to the project.
Herb – My name is Herb Pitts and I entered the college in 1948, graduated in 1952, went on to RMC and graduated from there two years later. My college number is 2897, which, by today’s standards, seems to be a fairly early time, like 20 B.C. or something like that. But, there’s a surprising number of us still around and still, we think, hale and hardy. I entered the college in September of ’48. I was born and raised in Nelson, in the interior of BC, was familiar with the coastal area to some degree, but had never really visited here other than an army cadet trip, which took me to the Duncan area and following that I came to visit my aunt and uncle who were stationed here, my uncle, being in an anti-aircraft battery at the time, during the war. This was about 1943, I think. In any event, I had also come down to the coast playing basketball from the high school, prior to coming here as a cadet.
So Victoria was not a strange place completely for me and I looked forward to coming here. It was sort of an accidental entry as far as I was concerned because my intention on finishing high school was to go into medicine or to teaching. But my father had just come back from the Second World War and money was really tight and he started a pharmacy in Castlegar and most of the money that the family had was going into getting that business underway. So I was looking for a way to get a degree and in those days, the college did not grant a degree, but I figured if I could muster credits enough for a four-year program, getting a degree after that would be relatively easy.
One of the attractions was that the fee for entry in the first year, if I remember correctly, was something like $655 and this included all your classroom materials, all your food, all your laundry, and provided for the uniforms that we would need as cadets. The second year fees were something in the neighbourhood of $300, having looked after the clothing side of it in the first year. So, compared to what university costs were, that was a very reasonable amount of money and could be brought together. So, we put together enough money to pay the initial fee and I ended up here, after having gone through a selection board and completed senior matric exams in the summer of ’48, I came here in September. My arrival here, I guess, is much like the arrival of a number of other people. We were picked up in Vancouver from all points across Canada and met at one of the CPR boat docks, I think, and the navy had a destroyer there to transfer us and our baggage from the dock in Vancouver to, I guess, Esquimalt and there we were met by a thing which became very familiar to us, called the liberty boat and the liberty boat was really somewhat akin to a cattle cart that had, was a semi-trailer or a truck and a, pulling unit in the front and a very large open trailer in the back with, in inclement weather, the ability to be covered by a tent, or canvas, rather, on wooden ribs.
And that became our way of getting to the college, but it also was the method used to get us into town for what breaks there were on Saturday afternoons and Sundays to visit movies and see girls, I guess, or walk the streets and… It became the cattle car, from our point of view, more formally the liberty boat, but that was the introduction, getting herded into this and getting out here and then arriving on the square to the yelling and shouting of seniors, who had been brought together to introduce us to college life.
And their introduction was very impersonal, I thought, rather callous in some ways, but looking back, it was really a very fun way and I didn’t think it was great fun at the time, but in hindsight, I think I appreciated that because I had come off a high school years in which I had been the Prime Minister and one of the star athletes and not only in school sports, but in town sports, too. So I was kind of, pretty high on what my, my abilities were and what experiences I had. And I was soon brought to realize that I was no different from the other 83 or 85 of us who came together off that cattle boat and were put together as the first tri-service class at Royal Roads.
I was among the first army cadets to be welcomed to the college here, it being, the name of the place was changed from HMCS Royal Roads, which it had been during the previous years, in which it had been principally a naval college, but the year before us also had an air force term in it, but when we entered in 1948, the place was called The Canadian Services College. Half came here to Royal Roads. The other half of our class entered RMC at the same time. We came together with that class in 1950, so we were probably at RMC, then, about a hundred and, I don’t know, about 120 strong, something like that. There had been quite a wastage over the two years from both sides of the class, so the initial intake was something like 183 or 186 and we were whittled down through failures of various kinds or health problems to somewhere in the neighbourhood of 110 to 120. And that, also, was whittled down before graduation considerably, which, in the cases of those combined classes, was from RMC in 1952.
Life here, though, was one in which we all entered on a very even level. We were under the supervision of these seniors, many who became very good friends as years, as the year went by. We were only going to spend a year with them. And those of us who played sports made friends among the senior class made friends among the senior class, perhaps just a little bit faster because we were, we were competing for positions on the teams to start with, but then we were also playing together. I have some very fond memories of a number of people, in particular, one of whom I ran into in Kingston at an RMC reunion last year, a fellow by the name of Hank Tamowski (RRA 31), who became a university professor back east and with whom I played both rugby and basketball and volleyball, as it turns out.
But the life here was one in which dormitories were provided for us, very little privacy. It seemed the days started off very early and ended quite late, but the days were full of classes and parades and physical education and sports. Time passed more quickly than I would have imagined, after the first couple of days here, which seemed interminable. The rest of that first year seemed to go by very quickly. A number of us were selected to be cadet officers in our second year here, which meant that we would welcome our junior class on the square much the same as we had been welcomed by our seniors. One of the highlights of both years, both is having it inflicted on us and then second year inflicting it upon others, was the initiation, sort of an obstacle course was set up here, which had some almost impossible physical challenges placed before you, which really meant that you were going to end up in water or mud or slime or garbage or something as you went through this course, which, if you know the grounds here, you’ve got lots of possibilities for water and hills and ditches.
And, and it was memorable, both, going through it and then having been part of the design for the second year. I wouldn’t have missed either of them for all the tea in China. I would look back on it, our classmates at RMC were given individual rooms because of the size of the college and the fact that it had been established, both before the war and during the war. Royal Roads was getting a sudden expansion and the dormitories which had been used previously were still being used for us. And that, in a sense, brought our class, I think, very close together as a group.
And I can recall many instances when somebody would pull a skylark, like going and dumping a senior out of bed, thinking it was a great, a great trick, and then of course, what would happen is the seniors would retaliate, by not worrying about who did it so much as the fact that he was one of us, so they’d get us all out and the circle, which was outside the castle out here today, is a place of many memories for most of us who went through because the punishment, the term punishment in particular, and the individual punishment, devolved around the award of a number of circles for whatever the offence was.
And, to go back to the business of dumping a senior out of bed, or, you know bothering an individual in the senior class, particularly the cadet officers, resulted in our term being brought all out of bed, all put together, all 83 of us or whatever it was, and given circles. But we ran it under the supervision of the senior class in the middle of the night, around and around and around. Nobody knew how long it was going to last, but what they were really hoping to do, was to see some of us fall out. Well, that was beneath our dignity to do that, so we didn’t satisfy them in that regard. Eventually, either the cadet senior who was the cadet wing commander at that time, would call a halt, or somebody of the staff would call him up and tell him to call a halt. It couldn’t go on, you know, all night, but it seemed to go on an awful long time, some of the time.
One of my jobs on this day of initiation was to swim in Neptune’s pool, which is that statue that’s below the, the square. Two of us were selected by a senior to go in and swim in the pool, but the idea was really not swimming, but to scrub the walls of the pool in the water, and that was a memory, too, of being told, you know, “get in the pool, you need to swim” and it was going to be fun until they brought the scrub brushes out and said “get to work.” [laughs] So there were sort of jobs like that were inflicted upon us and all of us grew to expect that that’s was what was going to happen sooner or later. You might just as well go with it.
It was not demeaning, I didn’t think. I’m not sure you’d get away with it today, but in those days, the discipline standards were a little different and we accepted it. This was a great place to get to know people and many of us have been friends all our professional lives, because many of us joined the army or the navy or the air force, as the case may be, maintained contact there, but we’ve also come back pretty regularly to any special reunions, which have been planned, and some of us are coming back together for the 60th year of graduation in May 2008. We expect that a couple of our instructors will also be back. Our instructors in those days, professors today, but, hopefully 20 or 30 of us will gather and, with our spouses and guests… people who come with us to that reunion are widows of classmates who are able to get here. And, in one case, the widow of an instructor who lives here who’s always maintained a very close connection with the group.
I considered it to be a real privilege to have been selected to come to Royal Roads. I regarded it that way before I got here because the competition was very fierce at that particular time. I don’t know how much truth there is in it, but they chose about 180-odd of us to go to RMC and to Royal Roads from an applicant body of over 900, so that the selection was about, what, 1 in 4 or 1 in 5. 1 in 4. And to get here, I felt great.
It proved to be that, by having gone through what Royal Roads had to offer, I regarded it as a privilege to be here and I still regard it as a privilege to have come here. It afforded us an opportunity to get an education at not a great cost. There was absolutely no obligation for us to serve when we entered. We did not have to take a commission and, similarly, we did not get subsidized. In other words, we had to pay an entry fee. Now, one can say we were subsidized because we got food and lodging and a number of things from that, and that’s true, but there was a cash outlay to get in here, which had to be met. I financed my second, third, and fourth year by the summer training periods which were, for me, were done in Camp Borden, Ontario and in Aldershot, Nova Scotia. We were on three months summer training attachments for each of the first three years. And of course we graduated and I went to Korea. But two years were spent in Camp Borden and one year in Aldershot, Nova Scotia, but we were paid as second lieutenants for those periods of time and that was enough to pay the 300 or 350 bucks for the second, third, and fourth year.
Now, that’s sort of my first impressions of the college. As time progressed, I got into the sports end and the leadership end in the second year, very much one of the cadet officers who was selected to run the cadet wing. I was not the cadet wing commander, but I was a squadron leader for a term and a flight leader for two terms. Graduating from here with that background placed me in the cadet officer position at RMC for the two years following, in which I was a squadron leader almost throughout. So, I had charge of about 80 or 90 cadets in RMC and I attribute much of that to the kind of nurturing and upbringing and experience that we had gathered here at Royal Roads. It stood me in good stead then, and looking back on the time at RMC and the time at Royal Roads, the two have had a very profound impact on my life. Mainly, I think, through accepting the idea that leadership means that you have done or would do what you would expect others to do. In other words, you’ve been through it, or wouldn’t object to going through it.
Cadet life has changed considerably, but I came from a generation that grew up during the war, with many memories of friends and friends’ relatives who perished during that war. My father was overseas for 5 years, so I didn’t see him from the time I was 10, to fifteen, which is a big gap in a young man’s life. But he came back safely; many didn’t and many of the fellows that I played sports with or sang in choirs with or went to scouts with, ended up being killed in the Second War, so I guess, the idea of service came kind of naturally to me. And once I got into the swing of things here at Royal Roads, I had no doubt that my medicine and teaching aspirations were going to be set aside. So I had decided, I guess almost from the end of the first year, that the army was going to be my career for when I graduated. My particular army classmates, on, graduation from RMC were told that if they wanted a regular commission, they would be going to Korea, there was no volunteering. We, as a group, were required to serve in Korea because there was a dreadful shortage of junior officers in the 1952-53 period. And our class of army cadets went to Korea in 1952 and were on our way home in July 1953, when the ceasefire was declared there. So, our time was one of 12 months in combat in various places in that theatre. And that, too, I think stamped a number of us for subsequent good army careers. There was a mark of a Korea veteran in the ‘50s and ‘60s, which seemed to carry the day, provided you did your job and did your duty and you demonstrated that you had the ability. So the combination between time here, and time at RMC, and then the early break to get into the army through the Korean War, I think, marked many of us for pretty successful military careers from that point on.
The following anecdotes are taken from “As You Were! Ex-Cadets Remember” Volume II, published by the R.M.C. Club of Canada
The Korean Adventure (A Year in the Life of a Subaltern)
By No. 2897, Maj. Gen. H.C. Pitts, M.C., C.D.
This account of operation in Korea in 1952-53 is not intended to be an “official” treatise on the campaign but rather a Lieutenant’s recollection of his first year of commissioned service. Historically, geographically and factually there are probably errors and omissions which should be admitted here – at the outset. To the best of my memory, however, all this is related is true!
In the early spring of 1952, seventy-two fourth year cadets were preparing for final exams. These young men were the residue (some may have said “distillate”) of 186 who entered R.M.C. and R.R.M.C. in 1948 as the inaugural tri-service class (the New Hundred and the First Eighy-Six). A few of the originals had gone into the Navy as midshipmen at the end of their second year, others had dropped back and others had dropped out. The Colleges’ first graduating class since the war was busy studying, ordering uniforms, arranging marriages, choosing cars, looking at other universities or hoping to go to work. Graduation ceremonies, the parade and the Ball were eagerly awaited. Even our cadet subordinates were rooting for us – to leave – because many had had us as seniors for three years! (At that time there was no obligation to accept “regular” commissions, the cadets drew no pay while at the Colleges expect during their summer training).
The Korean War had been in progress since June 1950. The early Canadian commitment of the destroyers Athabaskan, Cayuga, and Sioux plus No. 426 (Transport) Squadron RCAF preceded the raising of 25th Canadian Infantry Brigade Group. The Brigade, as an entity, did not enter operations in Korea until june 1951. 2nd Battalion Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry had seen action in the theatre since mid-February 1951 as part of a Commonwealth Brigade or US formation.
It came as somewhat of a surprise during the hectic 1952 spring countdown when the Army declared its intention of sending 24* of its graduates to Korea – after giving them 30 days embarkation leave. We were commissioned on 3 Jun and by early July were assembled at Jericho Beach in Vancouver for the airlift to Tokyo, train to Kure then by air to Kimpo (Seoul). We were split into three groups and then booked on CP Air flights spread over 14 Days. Before the last group left Canada we had news back from Korea that one of our classmates in the first group had been wounded! Some start.
Our arrival in the theatre coincided with the period that 25th Brigade was in First Commonwealth Division reserve. This provided an opportunity to get acquainted with our units which were doing refresher training and improving defence works on the Wyoming and Kansas lines (fall-back defence positions). In the case of the five Armoured Corps ex-cadets it was probably a godsend. It so happened that there was room for only one of us at a time to serve with the squadron of tanks, on a three-month rotational tour basis. The other nine months in Korea was to spent as infantry platoon commanders with either the RCR or PPCLI. Four of them made it to the Squadron and then back to the trenches – the other, being last in alphabetical order, (No. 2897) saw the light and transferred to the “legs”.
For the year that we were “in the line”, commencing in early August 1952 and ending about the 24th of July 1953 (three days before the armistice), our main focus of operations could best be described as “holding the line”. Activities were generally reminiscent of trench life in the First World War or at least some of the more routine parts of it. There were, however, some notable events. Chinese attacks were made on “Little Gibraltar” (Hill 355) held by 1 RCR which required reinforcement by a company of 1 PPCLI on 23 Oct. 1952, on “The Hook” held by the British 1st Black Watch which involved 3 PPCLI in counter-attack plans and company reinforcement on 19 Nov. 1952; on Point 123 & 97 held by 3 RCR requiring 3 PPCLI mortar and machine-gun support on 2-3 May 1953.
Young officers starting out on Army careers could hardly have been given a better introduction to the Service. In many respects the Korea we stepped into was a subalterns’ theatre. There was, at times, a great deal of emphasis on officer-led patrols and patrolling generally, on the building, repair and maintenance of defence works, on Sapper jobs of all sorts, on gunner support, on communications to dispersed elements and, finally, on man management. All of us came away from the tour with the feeling that something unique had been done – by us for us.
One ex-cadet from our original intake was killed in Korea. He was No. 2996 Arthur Herman, an infantry officer serving with 2 R 22e R. It may be appropriate to record that four of us received Military Crosses (probably among the last Canadians to be so recognized) and a number of our hides were “holed” by one means or another. Following is the roster:
Rick Bell – 2942 (RRMC 1948-50, RMC 1950-52)
Ken Black – 2929 (RRMC 1948-50, RMC 1950-52)
Bob Bull – 2973 (RRMC 1948-50, RMC 1950-52)
Chuck Carter, MC
Joe Devlin – 2875 (RRMC 1948-50, RMC 1950-52)
Garry Hammond – 2932 (RRMC 1948-50, RMC 1950-52)
Andy King, MC
Dan Loomis, MC – 2861 (RRMC 1948-50, RMC 1950-52)
Monte Moffat – 2981 (RRMC 1948-50, RMC 1950-52)
Don Patterson – 2949 (RRMC 1948-50, RMC 1950-52)
Bob Peacock – 3003 (RRMC 1948-50, RMC 1950-52)
Herb Pitts, MC – 2897 (RRMC 1948-50, RMC 1950-52)
Brian Simons – 2939 (RRMC 1948-50, RMC 1950-52)
Ramsay Withers – 2951 (RRMC 1948-50)
(Armd 5/4, Arty 6, Inf 4/5, Engr 4, Sigs 3, RCEME 1, RCOC 1)
Not bad for the first off the new mold!!