I am Les’s nephew. Les and my mother Lorna Ruby Kemp were twins and were born in Tamaranui, North Island, New Zealand on the 22 November 1925.
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 national radio. The troop broadcast used to be about 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 hear Les. The broadcast was only about 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 ladies 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 that was sent to Les in Korea. Mum would bake a large fruit cake, about 25-30cm, square and about 5 cm deep. That just fitted into a cake tin, was taped down and addressed to be 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 recall about the Korean War, I was 14-16 at the time. Les was driving in a convoy of trucks taking ammunition to the front. Included in the convoy was a large amount of artillery shells. 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 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. After Les had been there a few minutes 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 but right to the edge of the road were rice paddy fields. The truck immediately got bogged. Les now in total panic took off as fast as he could across the paddy fields and as far away from the convoy as possible. That is Les’s story, however it didn’t stop there. An officer saw what he thought happened and recommended Les for a military decoration. Les was “mentioned in dispatches” which read something like.
“Driver Kemp, while in convoy?? On date ?? Was driving a lorry loaded with high explosives? The vehicle was somewhere in the middle of the convoy which came 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 listen 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 to what they saw?