3/1538 "Slim" Cotton was born 1924 and first posted to Korea in 1951. He was the soldier's soldier and gained the distinction of being the first Lance Corporal to command 8 Platoon C Company 3 RAR, a platoon in battle in Korea. His success in this role, dedicated service and initiative was typical of many of the Regiment's soldiers in Korea. He reflects the true spirit of mateship, courage and leadership which has contributed to the Regiment's success. He is now retired happily with his family in Cobden Victoria and retains an interest in Veterans' affairs.
I will see what I can write about my service in Korea. I hope you can make sense of it and can put a story together from it. I was in Korea from June 1951 to July 1952 so you can see and understand it was some years ago and we are all getting older and forgetting things. One thing, I am not like the Government. I will never forget Korea and the boys I served with. Firstly some of the officers. I served under Major Gerke, Captain Saunders, Major White and I think his name was Major Farquarson. We called him "guts and gaiters", not to his face though. Then there were Lieutenant Battersby, McWilliam, Hone and Stewart and Captain Greville.
When I first went to Korea I was posted to 8 Platoon C Company. There I stayed.
I forget the names of the Hills and Ridges I was on. Dare say this will make it hard to put a story together. I will always remember 355 and 127. I think we called them the "Hell Box" and "Shrapnel Valley". You were saying you did not remember my substantive rank. I was Lance Corporal, temporary Sergeant, acting Platoon Commander of 8 Platoon. I also had a go as acting Company Sergeant Major, C Company under Major White.
Now for some of the patrols we went on. Captain Greville took us out in company strength on a night patrol.. No one knew where we were. You could hear the enemy giving signals to one another, like cockatoos screeching. We were all glad to get back to our own lines.
Lieutenant Battersby out on day patrol. We finished up at the back of 355. You could see the Yanks on the hill quite plainly. I don't think they knew we were there. I thought we would never get back to our lines. Seems like we walked 20 miles or so.
Major Gerke took us out on the longest patrol ever. We had to secure a position until the Canadian battalion moved into these positions. I think we were out three days. It was the first time I ever hit an officer and got away with it. It was night time and some guy beside me went to light up a cigarette. I hit the match out of his hand and abused him. When I had a closer look it was Major Gerke. All he said was " you are on the ball Sergeant."
I will never forget the day Lieutenant McWilliam was killed, 7 November 1951. Our signaler D'Arcy O'Keefe was wounded badly in the head at the same time and all we had was our issue rum to pour over the wound, then. sit tight until some one came to carry Lieutenant McWilliam and D'Arcy out on stretchers. Lieutenant McWilliam's last words before he died were "take over Sergeant". As I am writing this I can still see the stretchers being carried away. Lieutenant McWilliam was a good soldier and a gentleman. I then took over the platoon for a period of about five weeks until relieved by Lieutenant Stewart.
I remember the day on Hill 127 (John) just down from the ridge of 355. We were supporting 7 Platoon and Lieutenant Hone and things got a bit hot. We were ordered to come back down. Our platoon medic, "Sleepy" Harkness was bending over dressing a wounded digger when one of the mongrels on the hill shot him in the back and killed him. That hurt me more than anything I had seen in Korea. I made up my mind to be a good platoon commander and do as much damage to the enemy as possible.
In time Lieutenant Stewart took over 8 Platoon. He was straight from Duntroon and went by the book. I don't think he liked it when I told him to throw away the book. Them little buggers out there don't go by the book. He was a good guy and later won the Military Cross.
I took a night patrol out. It was to be a standing patrol for so many hours. I had three reo's ( reinforcements) left behind at base. I said, "check your time, we will be back at a certain time on a certain track". Unbeknown to me, their watch had stopped. I was leading our patrol back when I heard weapons being cocked. Then someone said "fire the first burst!" It took the pocket out of my jacket. It also smashed all the cough lollies we carried in case some one wanted to cough. Those three digs were later taken down the back of the ridge for additional target practice. I said to them "if you miss a target my size you have no hope of hitting those enemy. They are much smaller than me."
We were getting ready to pull off our position when we were visited by Danny Kay the American comedian. He said; "how far away are the enemy?" When I replied "just over there," he did the disappearing act quick time.
The Filipino battalion had taken up their [position further down the ridge. As we were getting near them, I, once again heard weapons being cocked. I yelled out "Australianos coming through" and I started swearing at them. When we did reach them, their officer greeted us in English. I asked him how he knew we were Australians, and he answered, " Only an Aussie can swear like an Aussie!" Isn't it lucky I learnt plenty of swear words in my younger days?
8 Platoon was then on a ridge with the Imjin River running at the back of us. This is where I was hit in the head with a lump of shrapnel. I was standing near my pit, when artillery came at us. I knew it was high because you can tell by the sound. Some enemy idiot had dropped one short! The blast picked me up and threw me in my pit, right on top of our new signaler "Flash" Howarth. He was having a nap and I landed right on top of him. He started to cut crook when he noticed the blood running down my face. "Hell" he said, "you've been hit. You OK?" They put a field dressing on my head and bandaged it. When they were through it looked like I had my head blown off.. "Sailor" Hawkins had also been hit in the shoulder. They fixed him up and loaded me up with all my gear and "Sailor's" as he couldn't carry anything. I could hardly see because of the dressing. "Sailor" Hawkins led me out. Talk about "the blind leading the blind."
I could go on and on Maurie, but I must be giving you a touch of the trots by now.
I remember losing some good men. To me, 8 Platoon was the best. They were a rough and tough crew, but, boy, we stuck together. Every time one of the boys was killed, and this may sound childish, but, I am sure a part of me died too. I think I used up my nine lives in Korea. I was lucky.
I went on R&R to Japan at the end of October and the Sergeant who relieved me Sergeant Barker, stood on a land mine taking his first patrol out and was killed. That could easily have been me Maurie. Another mate, Sergeant Eccles was also killed. We used to call them "Heckle and Jeckle".
It was not all Doom and Gloom in Korea.
We were on the 38th parallel when Mr. Francis, Minister of the Army, came to visit us and have Xmas dinner 1951. He was saying how far he had come to see us when one smartie from the rear yelled "How far to you think we've come". Much laughter from the ranks!
Major "Guts and Gaiters" had a bottle of whiskey to have a drink with Mr. Francis. He had the whiskey on the table with his hand on the bottle. He later took his hand off and asked the Minister " would you like a drink, Sir?' Back went the hand but the whiskey was gone. Boy was the Major mad. I'm not saying who Knocked it off but it came into good hands!
One of my men was carrying a crate of beer ration down the hill for us when a sniper put one into the box. Beer poured everywhere over the digger. He pit the crate down and started waving and jumping up and down. I yelled out "get down you may be next." But there were no more shots. I'll bet the sniper was laughing his head off.
I got an order from above to get the boys to tidy things up and clean their boots. They grudgingly agreed but said, "if we clean our boots and get attacked we won't have time to fight and we'll get killed. "Don't worry ", I said " if they do get into our trenches they will do us over 'all cleaned up with clean boots'. At least we'll look like soldiers.
We had a young "reo". Hell he was nervous. One day we were cleaning and drying the fuses in our grenades, when the lad said, " excuse me sergeant, the grenade is smoking!" Being the idiot I was I replied, "Well it's old enough isn't it!" But I grabbed the grenade, placed it on the sandbags in front of the pit and pulled the lad down and yelled out "grenade!", and everyone, except me, hit the bottom of their pits. The grenade burst and blew off one of my gloves into the air. Everyone thought my hand had been blown off!
After my battle school at Haramura my report said, "He will make a good NCO but his sense of humor will get him into trouble."
I am now 72 years old and I still have a sense of humor, and I haven't been in trouble yet? That's how much the Poms know.
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