FIRST PATROL INTO NO-MANS-LAND"
"BISON GAP" - May 9, 1953
On Saturday the 9th of May I rested all day and only wrote one letter back to Australia. It was to Bruce, the lad I went to school with at Normanhurst Public School and later at Hornsby Technical College. It was in answer to a letter received from him the day before. I was a bit apprehensive this day as tonight we were going on our first patrol outside the front line trenches. Out into "no-man's-land".
We were going on a standing patrol, consisting of the Lieutenant and about six of us soldiers. After we had walked about a mile up to "C" company at the front line, I picked up a bulletproof vest that was about my size and put it on. It was a jacket that covered your main torso from neck to hips, with no sleeves. It was made out of flat opaque, white plastic plates about five inches square, and about one quarter of an inch thick. They reminded me of the white mothballs we used to get in packets to place in cupboards to get rid of moths, silverfish and other creepies. These plates were covered with a khaki material and they buttoned or press studded up the front. The Americans had made them to stop small calibre bullets and some shrapnel from wounding you. At this stage there were only enough vests to be worn by the troops in the front line trenches, or when we were going out on an organised patrol. I had my favourite weapon with me, the Bren Machine gun, as well as two hand grenades. You could take more hand grenades with you if you wanted to, but the Bren and full magazines were enough weight for little me.
Sometime after dark we moved out, I was wearing my tin hat, complete with twigs and leaves. Each individual soldier decided if he wanted to wear his tin hat, or his balaclava rolled up to keep his head warm. I always chose my tin hat while at the front line. I would fold two handkerchiefs up inside to make the tin a little softer on my head, and finish it with twigs and leaves to make me "invisible". We went through the forward trenches and barbwire entanglements probably passing protective mine fields. We moved along - in line - about eight feet apart in the darkness. The Lieutenant out front with an experienced soldier to give him directions.
We tried to move along like our months of training had taught us to do, but we were very noisy, our heavy boots breaking and snapping small branches and twigs. I was near the front of the patrol. We stopped to rest and listen, someone started to cough lightly from the back of the patrol. The officer silently said back "STOP THAT COUGHING", the soldier didn't cough again. I always remembered this experience, and learnt how to muffle a cough at the wrong time. It's quite easy as long as it isn't a "coughing convulsion", which is hard to stop quickly.
We were all crouched down at "Bison Gap", watching for any movement of the Chinese enemy. If they were around they would have known we were there by the noise we were making on our first "no-man's-land" patrol. The Chinese always travelled silently and nimbly, they almost always wore soft sneakers on their patrols. In the middle of the night I heard these strange noises getting louder and louder overhead - coming from the south and going north. It was like noisy express trains going past close and at high speed. About one minute later we heard loud muffled explosions. This was my first experience with artillery shells going over our heads to explode on the Chinese held hills about one mile north of us. I was glad the artillery was from our side and not the Chinese sending a barrage into no-man's-land near where we were "silently" patrolling.
A light fog rolled in, and there was no more excitement for the night. We silently crept back to the safety of our trenches before first light. We got back at about 6 a.m., ate breakfast, showered, read for a while and then went to bed for a few hours before having dinner. During all the night patrols I went on for the next three weeks, we never ran into the Chinese enemy. The nights I didn't go on patrol my mates came across the enemy and exchanged gunfire. The Chinese must have known when Ernie was coming and stayed low these nights.
When patrolling in no man's land, we carried about two large roll-up bandages and two large safety pins to use as dressings if anyone was injured in action. If a mate was unconscious it was our job to push the safety pin through the man's tongue and then through the bandage. We then had to tie the bandage securely so he wouldn't swallow his tongue and choke to death. I was glad I didn't have the opportunity to practice this maneuver.
Ernie R. Holden.
|© Australian Album ©|