Operation 'Big Switch'
(from 5th August to mid-September 1953)
When the armistice came into effect I was surprised, as a mere
Lieutenant 3 RAR Platoon Commander to be appointed as the British
Commonwealth Division Liaison Officer for the POW exchange
operation at Panmunjom.
I was given a first class jeep and one of my Diggers (Don Harris)
( see THE MOUND) as a driver and assistant I was responsible for
furnishing ongoing reports on developments directly to Divisional
Headquarters and to satisfy any queries emanating from there.
My duties, in some detail, required me to observe and report upon
events as thousands of UN exPOWs streamed through a wide
checkpoint strictly in reverse order of seniority (Obviously so
in case hostilities might recommence)
The menacing presence of big Chinese and North Korean MPs was
suitably complemented by equally overbearing USMP-- (Shades of
Berlin's Check Point Charlie) Many men were conveyed on
stretchers. I was particularly impressed by the lads of the
Gloucestershire Regiment whose proud bearing and demeanour was a
great example of British pride and stoicism stemming from their
long and noble traditions. They marched as a unit-heads held
high-belying the harshness of the past 21/2 years of
incarceration. Many were 18/19 year old National Serviceman.
Their Commanding Officer Lt Col James Carne [ later V.C.] was the
last to emerge---.his inhumane treatment for constant defiance
clearly etched on his face.
On the morning after his release, the Colonel was requested to
give a detailed account of his unit's actions in the
24/25April1951 Castle Hill battle. Accordingly, he stood on the
site addressing selected officers in a most professional manner.
Whilst the other ranks of the Commonwealth were rapidly returned
to their home destinations, some selected officers including
Colonel Carne, were treated in grand style in huge hastily
erected tents with the best food, drink and entertainment. This
included a film of our Queen's visit to New Zealand. They
were warmly attended to by doctors, nurses, clerics and Red Cross
Among the happy freed men was an old mate of mine, Vance Drummond
whose Meteor jet was shot down by MIG15's in November 1951.
As they crossed the now defunct 'Freedom Bridge',
accessible from the main Panmunjom complex via 'Liberty
Lane' the Australians were whisked away to KIMPO Airport for
immediate return to Australia.
The last Australian out were Captain Phil Greville-1RAR and
Lieutenant Charles Yacopetti -3RAR, with whom I had the pleasure
of speaking before their departure. . Oddly enough, I was the
last officer who saw Charles prior to him being made a POW when
I, myself, was seriously wounded in a clash with a Chinese
fighting patrol, thus unable to help him when he, utterly
incapacitated from serious wounds and unable to stand or walk
.asked me to lead the survivors the best I can back to the top of
Thus I was the very last as well as the first to see him in a
rather worrying drama.
Charles was awarded the Military Cross in recognition of his
conduct in battle as well as for his defiance whilst a POW.
Sadly, conversation with our boys in the Panmunjom area was
forbidden, as interrogation by professional British Intelligence
Agents having absolute priority. To ascertain important
topographical details as well as aspects of treatment by the
enemy .Nevertheless, I was overjoyed to see them in the distance.
The harsh realities of the Australian POW incarceration are
covered in depth in Chapter 24 of Korea Remembered by Phil
Greville Also, this Album's "Aussie POW'S" details the ordeals,
humiliation and suffering endured by Tom Hollis and Billy Madden
[George Cross}-the latter dying in captivity.
Eric Donnelly's ordeal is also included
All British Commonwealth returning POW's were conveyed in
Chinese trucks to huge transfer tents where they could shave,
shower and were given haircuts.
New uniforms, complete with badges of rank and campaign ribbons,
were issued at the request of the Chinese and obtained from the
various Commonwealth Divisional units as based on the applicable
nominal rolls obtained from the enemy.
I was heavily involved in this mammoth logistical exercise, made
possible by their total cooperation and efficiency.
With the exchange completed, I was quartered with the Americans
in a vast Hospital complex in Seoul. Here, I witnessed the
arrival, by helicopter of hundreds of U.S .exchangees-each
receiving tumultuous applause as they were conveyed further for
detailed medical/dental / psychological examination.and
debriefing by CIA Officers.
Maj-General William Dean the, Commander US 24th Infantry Division
was the last to arrive. ( He reportedly had led his men 'from
the front') Thankfully, I was apparently forgotten by my
C.O,and so was able to enjoy the warm hospitality of the
Americans for a further six weeks.
Here the CIA officers uncovered some of the sadder and more
unsavoury aspects of some US POW,s who were labelled
"Progressives" by their captives. It appears they were
granted more favourable treatment for reporting on their Buddies
and for achieving higher marks in the Communist indoctrination
and brain washing sessions.
This was, of course reported to me, in addition to the cruel and
inhumane treatment which the good GIs had to suffer in addition
to well targeted psychological torture which had left its mark on
the unfortunate victims.
Finally, the spectacle of Chinese and North Korean exchangees
contemptuously discarding their Capitalist clothing into the
river, chanting in defiance as they crossed "Freedom
Bridge" bears mentioning.