As soon as we were running the shower units on a regular basis, we found that the boilers were hard on electrodes. (Electrodes are like a spark plug in a gas engine – they ignite the fuel) It would be weeks before we could get replacement parts using the Canadian supply system. In fact, it might be much longer, because the bath trailers had been manufactured in the USA. The answer was to scrounge the electrodes from the always-generous Americans. I located a US Quartermaster unit that seemed to have a plentiful supply. Typically, they didn’t hesitate to give me what was needed. How could I repay them? Knowing that there was little or no liquor available in the US Army, on one of my visits I quietly left a couple of bottles of gin behind, in a bag on the floor.
Canadians were fortunate in that we had privileges with the Americans and with the British. We were in the American pipeline for rations, which was a blessing because Brit rations, fresh or pack, were not up to the American standard. On the other hand, we had access to the British Navy, Army and Airforce Institutes. The NAAFI had a limitless supply of booze, which was just as well, since otherwise we Canadians would have exhausted their stocks. Our access to the supply made us very popular with our allies. Surreptitious sales to willing buyers made some of our officers and NCO’s a lot of money. I doubt that the trade in alcohol was ever documented, since it wasn’t supposed to exist, but it was extensive.
A case of liquor, bought tax-free for twelve bucks, sold for a hundred dollars. I bought an officers’ trench coat with winter liner, a pair of binoculars and an M1 carbine from the Americans for one bottle each. The trench coat lasted me for years, and the rifle, which has “Molly Darling” carved in its stock, resides today in the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa. I still have and use the 7 by 50 power, M15A1 binoculars, and hope that the statute of limitations for “possession” has run out.
In the Commonwealth forces, only officers and senior NCO’s were allowed to have liquor in their messes. The men’s canteens served only beer. This, of course, led some of our boys to try to obtain liquor by other means, with unpleasant consequences. One day, I found the OFP cook unconscious on the kitchen floor. The odour of banana oil permeated the room. Near his outstretched hand was a bottle labeled “Two Lions Whiskey.” It carried the prompt, “Please drink this whiskey.” The cook had obliged but, fortunately, survived the experience.
"Danger" sign in Seoul
There was one other commodity that we thought might have some trading value – soap/detergent. When we left North America for Korea we made sure that we had ample supplies of the stuff to keep the laundries running and perhaps a small quantity for trade. My sergeant major remembered the value of soap to French women when he was with an MLBU in WWII, and he said to me, back in Fort Lewis, “You never know what we might get in exchange!” (wink wink).
One day, soon after we arrived in Korea, he engaged a passing woman in pidgin English, “Hey Momma-san you dooey washy washy?” He then pantomimed washing clothes in a tub. The woman looked at him suspiciously, since it was obvious she didn’t know what he was talking about. He then beckoned her closer and showed her a barrel of detergent. She looked at the contents and her face lightened. Thinking it was a sort of millet or grain, she took a handful and tasted it. She quickly hawked it out, gave an extra spit at his feet and muttered the newly acquired expletive, “Numbah ten.” (The jargon of the day in Korea was the use of numbers where number one was very good and number ten was bad. Native Koreans picked this up from their liberators)
Later, as we watched women washing clothes by a stream, we realized that they never used soap. They pounded the fabric and flipped it over repeatedly, but never touched it with soap of any kind. When the dirt had been walloped out, the clothes were spread out on bushes or on the bank to dry and bleach in the sun. It must have been a slow, difficult process on cold winter days.