Don Harris

June 1953

Ron Cashman
Ron Cashman
Royal Australian Regiment

On the night of June 25/26th.1953, Lieutenant A.W. Gargate took out a fighting patrol of 15 men, with myself as second in command. Our destination was a hotly contested feature known to us as'The Mound'; it was on the Chinese side of a valley called 'The bowling alley' in what became the cease-fire line eventually.

En-route we were informed by radio, Chinese troops had been seen moving onto the highest knoll at last light; we were to attack them.The Mound was an elongated feature with the northern knoll the highest, and lightly covered by scrub; a saddle to a smaller and heavily wooded second knoll joined it.

Lieutenant Gargate (Slim) and myself tried to figure out the best way to do the attack, finally deciding that I would take four men with me and make sure the wooded knoll was free of Chinese. Meanwhile he would quietly take the rest of the men as far up the side of the main hill as possible, then spread out ready to attack. In the event that my group didn't run into trouble, at a given time we would both rush the Chinese from two different directions.My group had a nerve-wracking trip through the woods, visibility was next to nil amongst the trees; but fortunately it was clear of enemy troops.

At the agreed time both our groups rushed towards the Chinese on the main hill, when they saw and heard us coming they let fire with everything they had, automatics, rifles and grenades in plenty. The man on my right, Private Ballard (Tubby), was hurled into the air, probably by an anti-tank grenade; then Slim who appeared on my left went down to a burst of Burp-gun fire.Our charge was stopped in its tracks, so I called out an order to throw a barrage of grenades into the enemy; then rush them again. This was done and we had another go, getting to within a few yards of them before we were stopped once more by their fire-power and our casualties.

At this point a voice called out "Withdraw". And the men did so, taking the wounded with them as far as I could see.Slim was kneeling on the ground close by me, trying to pull the pin from a grenade, he was holding it with his two shattered hands and using his boot to try and drag the pin out. Much to my surprise, what seemed to be the Chinese commander and his radio man stood up right in front of us; about ten yards away. He was shouting orders, which I guess were to pursue us.I had the distinct pleasure of emptying my Owen gun into them, then tossed my last two grenades into the bushes where they had fallen.

By now I was alone with Slim but the enemy fire had suddenly stopped, thus I was able to get him to his feet; and with one of his arms around my neck we hobbled off.How long after I have no idea, but I heard something hit the ground behind us and automatically threw him and myself down. Looking behind I was just in time to see an anti-tank grenade before it exploded. Slim was screaming in agony as all of his weight had fallen onto wounded hands, also my Owen gun was caught beneath him.

Moments later to my horror, three Chinese with fixed bayonets charged at us; they were just a few paces from skewering the two of us. Slim was on top of my gun and I couldn't get it free, so we were gone for all money.

Suddenly Private Harris (Don) appeared from out of nearby bushes, dropped to one knee, and cut the three of them down with his Bren gun; they almost fell on top of Slim and I. Don then reloaded and after helping us to our feet, guarded our retreat back across the valley to the D company outpost, from where we had begun our patrol at dusk.Upon reaching there we found a few other members of our patrol, plus a stretcher party; I learnt that a number of our wounded had been evacuated, but upon doing a count found that we were five men short.

Also by this time, a Chinese machine gun was firing from The Mound and spraying about the valley; and also up the D Company hillside, which we would have to be withdrawing through. Haphazard fire in the hope of catching someone in the open.

During a lull in this shooting, we heard a very anguished voice calling for help, from out in the paddy fields; you could not be certain it was Australian due to the obvious agony. I asked who would come out with me to investigate, Don exchanged his unwieldy and heavy Bren gun for an Owen and joined me in the search. Together we crawled out towards the source of the voice, finally locating a very badly wounded man; Private Kennedy (John). Between the two of us we managed to get him back to the outpost and the stretcher party, a new one having just arrived.

By this time we are still four men short as best I can find out, so asked for any volunteers who would come back with me to search for them. Don was the only one so inclined, and together we set off back across the paddies towards The Mound, the machine gun had by now lifted its firing pattern from the valley up onto D Company positions.

Don and I reached the base of The Mound without finding any wounded in the fields; there we saw that the machine gun was positioned in, and firing from the cover of the trees on the smaller hill. Obviously our missing men had to be back on or around the main hill, where we had fought our battle; and not far from where the Chinese machine gun was blazing awayIt was out of the question to try and sneak up the hill unseen, so after a bit of thinking things over, I had an idea which I sincerely hoped would work; I asked Don to cover me while I gave it a try.Thus I stood up in full view of the Chinese, and with my Owen gun held above my head in fully outstretched arms; shouted.'Scoshi Towshong' loudly and often. Towshong was Chinese for surrender, and Scoshi was Japanese for small or little.The machine gun ceased firing, and I then called in English, in the faint hope that one of them may understand. 'I am only coming for my wounded and am unarmed.'I then hurled the Owen behind me into the paddy field and walked towards them repeating.'Scoshi Towshong' and with hands held very high.

I was also hoping like hell that they knew what I meant by Scoshi, or that it meant the same in Chinese; and that they understood mine was just a 'little surrender'.In any event they held their fire and let me approach them, then two came out of the woods with bayonets fixed and got behind, and on either side of me. They prodded me towards the gun, which was pointing at my stomach.There were five of them as best I could tell, and they conducted a seemingly heated conversation amongst themselves; none obviously spoke English so I repeated my 'Scoshi Towshong' several times.

After what seemed an awfully long time but probably wasn't, they sent me on my way with a bit of a kick. I headed off up the main hill and began shouting out.' Are there any six platoon wounded around here?' The Chinese resumed firing again and it was some time before I woke up to the fact, that while I was up there the Chinese were safe from our Mortars and Artillery.Don saw me allowed to go on my way, so he followed suit and tried the same trick; he wasn't supposed to but I was glad of his company. The Chinese ignored him when they saw he was unarmed I guess!

Both together and separately we scoured the area of our fight, the main Chinese force had left the hilltop; up there we found a considerable number of field-dressing wrappers and blood stains. Indicating that they had suffered quite a few casualties also, there were no sign of bodies of either side though.Eventually I remembered seeing Tubby blown down the rear slope during our clash, so leaving Don to carry on his search I headed off in that direction; and after reaching the bottom and crossing a small creek I found him.Shouting out I caught Don's attention and he joined me, Tubby was badly wounded in the head and appeared to have one knee smashed as well as other wounds. He was going in and out of delirious turns, shouting or moaning, then going silent.

Together Don and I patched him up as best we could with our field-dressings, then decided that as the man weighed 17 stone (108 kilos); there was no way we could carry him without a stretcher. Don offered to return to the D company outpost and fetch one, we agreed that he must come back alone or the machine gun would get the lot of them. Thus he set off on his long and lonely journey.I then settled down to nurse Tubby as best I could, he kept going in and out of his 'turns' and would call out in pain or moan. I had to take off my shirt and cover him, to try and keep the swarms of mosquitoes from feasting off him.

Some time after Don had departed I heard a noise approaching me from the paddy fields, and to my great surprise saw a file of Chinese troops coming towards where we lay. Tubby chose this time to go into one of his 'turns', I was forced to stuff the sleeve of my shirt in his mouth and lay on top of him to prevent him tossing around.The Chinese were getting close enough for me to make out the features of the leading man, by now the moonlight was quite bright; and I was resigning myself to an unwanted trip to a prisoner of war camp as escape was out of the question.

Right on cue from out of nowhere one of our Vickers machine guns opened fire, the bullets were zipping around between the Chinese and us. The Chinese dived into the paddy fields for cover, we were lying behind the creek bank so were safe from harm.

This gun that was firing was one of ours sited further along the valley, where the front line curved to join a mountain called 'Little Gibraltar'. It was performing the task of firing unexpectedly into Chinese territory, in the hope of catching someone out in the open; and it just had.When it had finished its firing task, the Chinese decided to bolt back where they came from thus saving Tubby and I from an unhappy experience in a P.O.W. camp.

I learnt many years later that the Chinese had carried Tubby to where I found him, he must have been too heavy for them so they left him. The group that almost collected the pair of us was very likely a fresh party coming to pick him up again!

In any event Don soon returned with a stretcher and we loaded Tubby onboard, then tried in vain to get back across The Mound, we soon learnt that it was both too steep and slippery for us to carry our burden that way. That left us with only one way out which meant a long trip around the end of the hill, and back to D company via Chinese country; a not too welcome idea.

Hopeless is the only way to describe our journey; the weight of Tubby was dreadful after a short period carrying. We had to stop and exchange ends of the stretcher frequently as the man carrying the end where his torso lay; was having the muscles almost pulled out from his shoulders. Then there was the slog through the paddy fields, - over a bank across the field, then over another bank; and so it went on and on.

I know that it got to the stage with me where I was hoping Tubby would die, so that I could leave him with a clear conscience; he didn't however so we kept on going. Each time we stopped it was difficult to even open our hands, they were so tightly clenched around the stretcher handles to avoid dropping it.

It was during one of our frequent rest breaks when we heard the soft tinkle of a field telephone, the type used in outposts. That was soon followed by a faint glimmer of light, the sort made by a soldier lighting a cigarette under cover in the bottom of a fighting pit. We were it seemed, heading straight towards a Chinese outpost; and had they not been so careless we would have blundered into a hail of bullets. Outpost people invariably shoot first and check up later, on both sides.

As best I can recall now, we had Tubby permanently gagged during this trip; we could not take the chance that he may suddenly begin shouting or even moaning; and give us away to the Chinese.

So the grind on our arms carried on as we slugged it out in a different direction, until we came to a steep creek bank; it was too sharp for us to get the stretcher down by normal means. Eventually we figured out that the only way to get across was for us to put it down on the edge of the bank, me to get in the creek; and between us slide it out until only the rear pair of handles remained on the bank of the creek. With me supporting the front handles on my shoulders, Don could then join me in the creek and lift the rear end onto his shoulders; we could then cross to the other side and roll the lot onto that bank. Rough on Tubby of course, but the only thing we could do.

That plan was working reasonably well, I was in mid-stream and thigh deep in water with the handles on my shoulders; Don was just about to join me. Then a group of nine Chinese came into sight; walking along the opposite bank from the direction of The Mound. They hadn't seen us as yet and I froze, Don lay on top of Tubby with his hand over his mouth and I had the extra weight to hold. The leading soldier was carrying a Burp gun cradled in his arms, the others had a mixture of weapons but the most worrying thing about them was that some were wearing field-dressings.

The thought was in my mind that these may be some of the lot we had fought on The Mound earlier in the night, it was a worrying idea to have! They were now close enough for me to start considering a call of Towshong in their direction and hope for the best. Yet again someone was looking over us I suspect, at the crucial moment when they couldn't help but see us; they veered off away from us on a paddy bund. That is a wide track which runs through the fields, and upon which the farmers can trundle their carts.

It is difficult to describe the fear that both Don and I felt, and we could go no further. When we crossed the creek soon after, and found a clump of bulrushes we decided that was it; the decision was that I hide withTubby and for Don to make his way unencumbered back to our lines.

The plan was for him to try for the outpost again, but this time to bring back a strong patrol that could both carry Tubby and protect us. Away went Don yet again, and I once more settled down to nurse my burden; now I was able to remove his gag and give him water which he badly needed at this stage.

Time dragged on and I began to worry that Don might have gotten lost, then I heard the crunch of people moving through the dry rice stalks; my main worry was what people! Soon after that I saw a Slouch hat coming my way, and then I saw Don leading a patrol of some strength; sixteen I believe. The man had even retrieved our Owen guns along the way, apparently he had hidden them before joining me in our search of The Mound all those hours before! Thus our problems appeared to be over, the new men took over the stretcher carrying and we set off back toward D company outpost; and the track up into their positions and home to B company.

Soon enough we reached the outpost and began the zigzag climb up the hillside and through the barbed-wire defenses, Don as happy as I was I expect! We lead the way, it was no small task threading your way through the barbed wire carrying a stretcher, and we wanted to get back into our lines as soon as possible; mostly for a hot mug of tea.

Then our luck held good yet again, the Chinese picked that time and place to drop a couple of random mortars on D company; one landed just behind us and killed the man carrying the leading end of the stretcher, another was wounded I think! Tubby was hit yet again by more fragments, but lived. Don and I made a frantic dash to the safety of the nearby trench and fell into the closest Bunker and that was us for the night.

Later that day I had four small grenade fragments removed from various places on my person, picked up during our action on The Mound but unknown to me at the time. Those fragments gave me my third 'wounded in action', a small price to pay to get back home to our lines with our casualties.

The end of the story was that all of our men got back, the main one whom I was really hoping to find was my old mate, Eddy Wright; he got back on his own after coming to grief with a grenade I learnt later. - We are 'Mates' to this day, with a lot of shared memories of two years together; in and out of combat.


Nov 28, 1999.
R. K. Cashman

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