This took place during the last few days of the battle for the Hook, that
notorious feature on the very western extremity of the Commonwealth
Division Lines and adjacent to the Ist Marine Division of which I have spoken
in an earlier story. My mate Peter Crowe and I were put into an observation
pit at the very top of the Hook Feature. I think a photograph taken post war of
this pit is shown in my earlier story. Our responsibility was to ensure that we
maintained good vision towards the northern approaches to the Hook, while
the main thrust of the Chinese was expected from the west. At least this is
how I can recall events leading up to this story. Pete and I took turns at the
slit of the observation pit, keen to do the right thing but ever fearful of the
need arising to defend our position.
We managed to light a cigarette quite frequently by pulling a blanket over our
heads to shield any reflective light, but in cases where one of us was already
smoking, it was a simple matter to light one from the other while simply
keeping low and out of any sight of any potential enemy. Sometime during the
night, someone even brought us a mug of coffee. At around 3-OOam I think,
Peter was reporting all quiet by phone to Company Headquarters, when I
sensed movement next to me. It was an Asian accent that asked me for a
cigarette, I replied something like "Go to Hell!" thinking it was one of the
Koreans who were attached to all Commonwealth units and which we called
KATCOMS. They were under their own unit's jurisdiction and pay conditions
and were frequently asking us for cigarettes. They also, on this occasion, were
not permitted to be so close to the action for reasons obvious in that they could
be mistaken for enemy. In the heat of the moment however, I assumed that
maybe they were being used to resupply forward positions or take around
coffee or whatever. I eventually handed over a cigarette, saying "Keep down
and get a light from Peter's smoke!" Off he went, and I quietly said to Peter,
"Bloody "katcoms" don't they know to stay away from forward areas?" Peter
agreed so we thought we would bring it up in the morning.
Following the night's activities (and inactivities,) I casually mentioned to a
NCO from Company Headquarters about the "katcom" being up in the
observation pit during the night, burning cigarettes, and his reply stunned me.
"There would have been no katcoms near you last night as they had all been
moved to a rear position pending any attack!" (which eventuated a day or so
later) Peter and I just looked at one another and we often spoke about it
between ourselves...Had we unwittingly had a smoke with a Chinese soldier?
Had he been lost and stumbled into our nearby trenches? Was it an
intentional attempt at an intelligence finding mission? We didn't pursue the
matter any more and rarely mentioned it to others, neither being willing to
admit to "fraternisation", nor stupidity, nor naively, even to this day, I can
only ask, "Who the hell was it ?"