A LUST FOR TRAVEL
Keith Mildner (5/400215 A Company 3 RAR) enlisted in the Special K Force at Perth, W.A. in October 1951. Initial Training (rookie) was undertaken at Guildford, W.A. and from there to Ingleburn in NSW. Then to No. 1 Reinforcement Holding Unit at Hiro, near Kure in southern Japan with further training at the Commonwealth Battle School at Haramura before being posted to 3 RAR. He completed the mandatory 12 months service in Korea, mostly all of it under combat conditions. He lives at Yanchep, W.A., with his wife Peggy.
I was born on the 12th April, 1929 in the Sydney suburb of Glebe where I spent my early youth and was educated. Towards the end of 1945 and early 1946, at the age of 17 years, I thought that I knew everything. Sydney was full of servicemen returning from fighting the Germans, Italians and Japanese, in foreign countries all over the world. Wild and exciting stories were being told by servicemen, on street corners, in homes, shopping centres and hotels, that made my hair stand on end, I listened with mouth wide open to hair raising tales and decided "This is the Life for me." My father had told me that I had a mind of my own, I was the master of my own destiny, and would get out of life, what I put into it. The Second World War had ended, there was no likely-hood of another one starting, or I would have joined then and there. My mind was made up. I was born to travel, to see the world, no desk job for me, or dull work in a factory or warehouse where I would be tied down. I had to travel and see the world.
A great ambition, but where did I start? I had no job and no money, I thought that I knew everything, so wouldn't turn to my parents for advice. Fate took a hand, a, whilst listening to a group of army bods telling fantastic stories in a pub, I asked an old digger after telling him my life history, what he thought I should do. He didn't hesitate, but simply said "Join the Navy or Merchant Navy". The Australian Navy didn't want me, as they were disbanding crews on ships no longer required in the services, but by fast talking, it was only a matter of weeks before I was on board the motor vessel (M.V). Taroona, as a merchant seaman steward. I was on top of the world, and my ambition to travel was coming to fruition.
By October 1951, I had spent five enjoyable, satisfying and exciting years, visiting foreign countries and Islands throughout the world, and I had partly filled by ambition. October 1951, I was almost 23 years of age, when the ship that I was serving on "The Westralia", berthed at Fremantle to discharge its cargo. Perth and Fremantle appealed to me, and I had met a lovely girl named Peggy who turned my head. I decided to marry her. We were married while the ship was still in port. But I still had this urge to travel. While having a few ales in the bar at the Savoy Hotel in Perth, fate played another important part in my life. The bar was crowded with some Western Australian Servicemen who had just returned from the War in Korea. They were telling exciting stories about the war in Korea, what the Australians were doing, and of clashes with the Communist Forces, besides the fun that they had in Japan after twelve months service in Korea.
The stories that I listened to must have turned my head again, and I realized what I was missing out on. Another war, and I wasn't there. I must have been pretty full when I left the hotel that night. I was living with my wife Peg in a house in North Perth and had quit my ship, some weeks prior to getting married. Peg woke me to tell me that there were some Military Policemen at the door, who were there to escort me to the recruiting office, as I had arranged the day before? I didn't remember. I hurriedly dressed, went without breakfast, and told Peg that I would explain everything when I returned home.
Within eight hours, I had been medically examined, issued with clothing, boots and a slouch hat, and at the age of 23, I was a member of "K" Force. Private K. Mildner 5/400215 selected for active service in Korea. I was again on top of the world, but what a shock was in store for me. I had to report to an Army Camp at Guildford, a suburb of Perth, situated 10 kilometres (five miles in those days) from the city, where with a number of other "K" Force enlistments we were to under-go a "Rooky" (recruit) course of training. While I was there, I was given some leave to visit my wife. A very young officer named Lieutenant C.P. "Charlie" Yacopetti, with no previous active service experience, made life quite difficult for us, with his stand over authority, or that is what we thought at that time as new chums. We didn't realise this was the Army way to prepare us for battle. It was some months later when I was serving in Korea with 3 Battalion RAR that Lieutenant Yacopetti arrived as a reinforcement. He was wounded not long after his arrival, but after a stint in hospital he was back with us again. While he was out on a patrol forward of our positions, he was taken a Prisoner of War (POW) by the Chinese. He was a good soldier, very efficient and was awarded a Military Cross, and Mentioned in Despatches, for outstanding leadership and bravery.
From Guildford we were sent to Ingleburn for more Infantry Training, where it was far more severe than Guildford, but we were now a step nearer towards getting to Korea. The Army had arranged the movement of my wife to Sydney, where she stayed with my parents and I was able to see her from time to time. Almost twelve months had elapsed, when I received pre-embarkation leave, then off to Japan by air, via the Philippines. We were taken to a training Unit at Hiro, near the Naval shipyards at Kure. This camp was named 1 Reinforcement Holding Unit (RHU), which was staffed entirely by Australians who had recently returned from fighting the Chinese Communist Forces in Korea. They were a very tough but efficient mob, and the Officer in Charge Major "Jack" Gerke saw that there was no slacking in the training which we had to under-go. They were as hard as nails, physically fit, and made sure that we were to be the same before leaving Japan for Korea. My nick name of "Mary" followed me to Hiro and I was commonly known as "Mary Mildner". Training at Hiro consisted mainly of Weapon Training, the importance of looking after them, Map reading and the use of the prismatic compass, health and hygiene and all that we should know about Korea, as well as the tactics adopted by the Chinese troops (CCF). These points brought out in numerous lectures were of great interest, but most of us were more interested in getting leave from the camp, and getting over to Korea.
Field training with supporting arms and the use of tanks and artillery or mortars, using live ammunition, was carried out at an old Japanese camp at Haramura, 1 Commonwealth Division Battle School, situated a days march from Hiro up in the mountains. This training appealed to all of us, it was realistic which gave us some idea of the noise we would expect from the enemy in Korea, but what a bloody shock was in store for us when we got there. We got weekend leave or some evening leave from time to time while at Hiro, but had to be back in camp by 2359 hours (midnight). Facilities on leave were quite adequate, there were beer halls, shopping centres, clubs and dance halls, where we could mix with Canadians, British and Yanks, who were all stationed around the Kure area. Asahi and Kirin were the two types of Japanese beer available and Saki, a rice wine, just as plentiful but they didn't appeal to me. A red wine called Nakadama (made from potatoes?) had an appeal, and also a kick, which got me into trouble quite frequently. with it Red Lines in the Pay Book, as well as Pack Drill out on the Parade Ground in front of everyone in the camp. Forty two years later in 1994, I look back and realise what little sense I displayed while in Japan, but I wasn't alone in this regard. We finally learnt the hard way when posted to Korea.
A little over 12 months after enlistment, I moved to Korea to become a member of A Company 3 Battalion RAR. Again I felt I was on top of the world. The position that I went to was on top of a huge mountain or feature named Kowang San, but known as feature 355 or "Little Gibraltar" which was A Company Headquarters The Chinese must have know of my arrival for down came the enemy shelling. Hundreds and hundreds of shells and mortar bombs were landing and exploding all over the feature, all around me, I had taken up refuge in the Company Headquarters bunker, but it must have been 30 minutes before it stopped and I sheepishly took my head from between my hands to look around, to find the Officer Commanding Major "Jim" Norrie talking over the radio to someone giving them a bearing on where the shelling was coming from. What a great soldier and understanding man Jim Norrie turned out to be, he looked about after finishing his conversation, gave his new recruits that had just arrived a quick glance, asked each of us a few questions and allocated each of us to the various platoons in the company. I was to remain on Company Headquarters strength, with the Company Sergeant Major telling me what I would be expected to learn and carry out.
I had to operate the radio and telephone, take down messages and even deliver them, as well as carrying out guard or sentry duties and going out on patrols when required. I thought at the time "God, what have I let myself in for here."
However, everyone on the Headquarters staff, including Jim Norrie showed me what to do and within days, I was an old hand at the game, but frightened like hell, in case I did something wrong and result in a casualty of some kind. I look back now and realise how fortunate I was being posted to A Company, which consisted of a great bunch of blokes, excellent soldiers in action, and ones who could be depended on to help if required. Amongst them were two great soldiers whose names will never be forgotten, they were Warrant Officer Jack Morrison Distinguished Conduct Medal and Bar (DCM) and Sergeant "Ray" Simpson DCM. who later won a Victoria Cross in Vietnam. At the end of my tour of duty I had a fair idea of what enemy concentrated shelling and mortar bombing was all about, and the damage to human beings had to be seen to be believed, it is nerve shattering. How I ever stood up to it I never know.
A very humorous incident occurred one day that involved myself. I had made my way down to the rear of a spur behind which our dunny was situated. I had just dropped my dacks and seated myself on the "thunder box" as it is known, when "Charlie the Chow" (the enemy) sent down a barrage on the company position. Unfortunately for me there was one shell that was over the target area, landing near the thunder box, blowing it to pieces and me down the bottom of the spur. It would have been 10 minutes before the shelling stopped, I remained flat out on the ground slowly felt myself all over, wiping the shit (everybody's) away as I did so. The smell was awful but this wasn't my main concern. I felt as though every bone in my body was broken I must have remained in the same position for at least 30 minutes before a stretcher bearer's party arrived, placed me on the stretcher and carried me back to the Regimental Aid Post (RAP). I heard them talking and one rude bastard made a remark " what a way to go, Mary, covered in shit". At the RAP I was washed down after being stripped of all my clothing before the Doctor would examine me. There were no bones broken. I had been badly shaken and would remain under observation for the next 48 hours. Several of the boys from the company came to see me and the O.C. Jim Norrie phoned and enquired about my condition. While lying on a stretcher and recuperating, I thought how lucky I was, and what a great crowd of blokes there were in the battalion when it came to a crisis. On reporting back to the company position two days later, Jim Norrie, said "Don't bring your body around here Mary, you stink." It has been an incident in my life that someone always drags up.
On two occasions while on "Little Gibralter" we were relieved and taken to the rest area, "Camp Casey", where hot meals were served three times a day, showers whenever required, swimming and an occasional concert party or a picture show. This came to an end all too quickly, because we were no sooner resting and enjoying ourselves, than we were back on 355 again, and doing our best to hold onto the feature. I would never try to inflict on any person, the frightening time that was experienced during my tour of duty. To witness men, young healthy Australians blown to pieces and killed, or minus legs or arms, for life, or to see them being taken away as nervous wrecks, has changed my mind about War. October 1952 came, and I read on Battalion Routine Orders that I was included amongst the names of blokes to go on leave to Japan, and to be sent home. My Tour in Korea was about to end and it couldn't come quickly enough for me. I had money in my Pay Book and had risen to the rank of Corporal.
The day came when I said goodbye to my mates that I was leaving behind, there was a lump in my throat as I shook their hands, but it wasn't long before I was on a ship sailing for Japan, some leave, then home. I finally left Japan on a Qantas flight for Australia, via Guam and Port Moresby, then onto Sydney and out to the Marrickville Camp, before entraining for Perth where my darling wife was waiting for me. On the 11th November 1953 I was discharged from the Army, I had learnt the hard way, War isn't a picnic, it is Hell and those that think or talk otherwise can't be of sound mind, and they are talking utter rubbish. I can now look back with pride, to think of the many staunch friends that I have made during my Army career of two years and 92 days, I am 65 years of age, happily married to the sweetest girl in the world "My Peggy" and can hold my head high as I served my country in the greatest Infantry Battalion of them all. "Old Faithful" 3 Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment.
I conclude on a very happy note by saying that after discharge I traveled once more. My wife Peggy and I went on a World Tour, which completed my ambition, which was made with little thought as a 17-18 year old boy, A LUST FOR TRAVEL.
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