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Indo China Commission Identity Card delivered to Sergeant Lionel Bourboing on September 26th 1955. Place: Saigon.
(Courtesy of The Memory Project)
Once I arrived- one can’t forget that Laos was in the jungle, it wasn’t Montreal- the rain season hadn’t finished.
Instead of eating supper, the four of us were going to Laos (in 1955-1956, for an international observation mission during the civil war in Laos that took place from 1953 to 1975). Before taking the plane at midnight, we decided to go eat, not a Quebec meal but a Canadian meal, in a restaurant in Ottawa. We asked the depot guard on Montreal Road in Ottawa. He said: “Yes, between here and the next street corner, there’s an Italian restaurant.” So we went to the restaurant. We entered and reserved a table for four. We sat down quietly and each ordered a beer and then we ordered our supper. Finally the waiter asked us: “What’s going on with you fellows? Usually when servicemen from the depot come here, they speak loudly, they tell stories. You’re all pretty quiet.” Quietly, I replied to the man: “It’s not hard. At midnight, we’re taking the plane to Laos, a small country in Asia. I can’t tell you exactly where it is, but I know that’s where I’m going. That’s where we’re going.”
So when the waiter brought us our spaghetti, it wasn’t the spaghetti that we ordered, it was spaghetti with mushrooms and a generous helping of sauce. Then he brought a bottle of wine for us, and set it on the table with four glasses. “We didn’t order anything to drink.” He replied: “It’s ok, it comes with the meal.” He set the wine down on the table. When it was time for dessert, he brought out a huge slice of cake with ice cream. When we finished, the owner came to our table with a small tray. He placed the tray on the table, and upon it were five glasses of cognac. The owner tapped the bottle and invited everyone who was in the restaurant to raise their glasses and salute the four of us Canadians who were leaving on a mission to represent Canada in the small country of Laos. Everyone stood up. They wished us a good trip. They all came and shook our hands before leaving. When it was time to pay the owner, he told us: “No, it’s on the house.” That’s the most beautiful memory I had before I left for Indochina.
Even if I was a weapons instructor, it was mandatory for me to take medical classes. Then one day, they wanted to send a man to Indochina, a man who was qualified in several fields. Since I was qualified in hygiene, and qualified medically, they said: “That’ll work, send him to Laos, he’ll be able to do two jobs at the same time.” So that’s one of the reasons. Colonel Tremblay was a fellow who knew me and who knew my father (a former company sergeant major and a veteran of World War I with the 22ndFrench Canadian Battalion). He said, “It’s true that your son would be a good fellow to send there.” And so, bingo, they shipped me there.
Once I arrived- one can’t forget that Laos was in the jungle, it wasn’t Montreal- the rain season hadn’t finished. They called it the “monsoon.” When I arrived there, there was almost six inches of water in my bedroom. So I went to the office and I refused my room. The major who was my boss said: “Come see my room.” He took me to his room and said: “So can we both change rooms?” I looked around and it was the same thing; six inches of water in his bedroom. So that put an end that. But for the remainder of the time, it was clear to see from the beginning that my work as a medic wasn’t enough to keep me occupied for eight hours a day. So they gave me a lot of little jobs to fill the time. Since I was in charge of the guards, I was in charge of the kitchens. I was responsible for the ambassador’s home, for ensuring that all of the food was in order and that the boys were cleaning up like they should. I acted as a liaison with the French. When they needed a French interpreter, 65% of the time it was me who went, to interpret between two parties.
The French were pretty happy to get back. I made a lot of friends among them. I was always welcomed wherever I went amongst the French. I was always invited to eat with them, to have a drink with them, to take the morning break with them. There were even some who when they saw me, holy! They thought I was a Breton, and not a Canadian, all dressed up in my military garb. The rapport between the French and the Canadians never posed any problems; there were never any issues, nothing. It was always great.
Almost every night, I went and did a little tour of the airport to see the ambulance aircraft bringing back the injured from the north of Laos. Laos was at war the entire time that I was there. The north Laotians were communists, both provinces, the Vallée des Jarres and (…) that was the communist side, but there were Canadians there as well, there were two Canadians in those two provinces. Except that there was always fighting. So, each night, there was an ambulance aircraft that brought back the injured. I went to see and to discuss with them. At the same time, I checked if there was any mail from our Canadians and I took it to the office. That was part of my tasks, getting the mail. I went to get the ambassador’s mail, among others, and I dropped off our outgoing mail.
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