"Bushy" graduated from the Royal Military College in 1950 with the Sword of Honour. He was awarded a Military Cross for outstanding courage under fire in Korea. On his return to Australia he completed a long and distinguished military career, finally retiring in Sydney where he and his family now reside.
I arrived in Korea in July 1951, having graduated from Duntroon in December 1950. I was in Korea, therefore, some 10 weeks before Operation Commando. As can be expected, for a raw young infantry graduate from Duntroon, these were weeks of contradictions, surprises, boredom, fear, elation, activity and self-doubt. It was artillery in front of the infantry lines!; the nearest enemy miles away; hard physical work on defences, company cooks preparing hot meals, long range patrols into "no man's land" with the knot in the stomach as one experienced the first enemy shells and mortar bombs landing ( remotely!) nearby; the first deaths - assault pioneers blown-up in our own lines (mines); trying to understand and communicate with one's NCOs, gnarled veterans of World War 11; coping with a fiery and overactive Company Commander; routine administration a bottle of Asahi beer with one's batman in the twilight who said "War was Hell"?
Somehow the briefing for Operation Commando seemed like just another long-range patrol. I didn't feel that I was about to enter my first major battle. Lots of stuff about1 Corps, Brigade objectives, enemy intentions etc. None of it seemed particularly immediate or relevant to 9 Platoon. Just another long hot walk with nothing exciting likely to happen.
The first three days confirmed the initial impression. Crossing the Imjin, days of following the point platoon, along ridge lines, across paddy fields men carrying enormous loads struggling to their feet to "continue the advance"; taking up defensive positions for the night, organizing sentries; the eerie feeling of being above the clouds as the morning fog covered the valleys; the occasional shell and mortar bomb; trying to follow the "battle" from the Platoon radio. Where was the Company Commander? Where were Maurie and Jimmy? What a strange battle! Not what I learnt in Military History.
The 4th of October - at last some action. C Company is to attack the rear of 355 to assist the KOSB. Maurie Pears 7 Platoon is to take the first 220 feature in Phase 1. 9 Platoon is to be in reserve with Sergeant Jack Morrison's Vickers Section. Again the feeling of remoteness from reality as 7 Platoon and Company Headquarters move forward through the fog.
Suddenly for the first time in days Operation Commando becomes real. Bursts of small arms fire, the crump of mortar bombs, the explosion of grenades signified that 7 Platoon was heavily involved. A major memory is of the irrepressible Jack Morrison firing his machine guns at the Chinese running down the back of 355. He was so professional, so calm and actually enjoying himself. Then, the first reports of casualties. Maurie Pears has lost a whole section! - 9 Platoon to move forward immediately to the 220 feature. It must be 9 Platoon's turn - will I do as well as Maurie?
More small arms fire, mortar bombs, grenades, our artillery shelling the rear of 355 - suddenly it seems all over. 9 Platoon has not contributed very much. I will never forget a tired, blackened Maurie Pears coming back later that day and saying " Arthur, war IS hell". I felt rather ashamed.
Next morning we moved back to the main battalion area. The main attack on 317 was to go in next morning, with C Company in reserve. The 5th October was a repeat of the 4th except on a much bigger scale. Through the fog, sounds of very heavy fighting along the valley - our artillery pounding objectives, air strikes, mortar bombs exploding, tanks blazing away. The constant rattle of small arms fire. Again not much information- Basil Hardiman hit, Geoff Leary hit, calls for medical evacuation by helicopter ( rather rare then). Still C Company sat and watched.
Suddenly Jack Gerke appeared full of urgency as usual. C Company to move forward at last to pass through D Company and take 317. However, Baldy had to be cleared first by 8 Platoon. Waiting once again whilst Baldy was cleared, then late in the afternoon the order came to take 317. Despite being prepared, the reality of having to attack 317 at the end of a long day came as a shock. I remember being worried about my Platoon's packs, and how they would get forward to us that night. Jack Gerke soon set me straight. We were to get 317 as fast as possible and hold it at all costs, nothing else mattered.
In the attack on 317 the Chinese were "beaten for pace" - we were moving too fast for them. I shall never forget the sight of a wild, red eyed, blackened Jim Young giving us some quick information as we moved through; the tremendous bombardment of 317 as we advanced; small groups of dazed Chinese moving down past us. Strangely we ignored each other - they were intent on avoiding our murderous shelling; we were conscious of our own orders not to let anything hold us up. We finally scrambled up the last precipitous few yards and 317 was ours. Probably I was aware at the time, but I have no memory of 7 Platoon assaulting with 9 Platoon. My memories of 317 are of Jack Gerke, CSM Arthur Stanley, and
9 Platoon. Our packs did not arrive that night, we spent a rather hungry and cold night in our trenches under desultory shelling and mortaring.
During these days, the men were phlegmatic. Despite days of constant movement, the heavy loads, the "fog of war", I can't remember any serious grumbles. When the order finally came to go, they moved fast and professionally to take 317.
Late that night Jack Gerke briefed me to secure at first light a heavily wooded knoll about half way to the Hinge. This was not an attack but rather an expansion of the Company's defended area. As usual a heavy fog covered the area as we moved down the slope of 317 then up the steep incline to the wooded knoll. Corporal Danny Powell's section was in the lead. I sent him forward to reconnoitre the knoll, while the remainder of us went to ground. After some time he reported back that there was a large number of enemy on the knoll, some cooking breakfast, apparently feeling safe because of the thick fog. In whispers we quickly decided a plan of attack, with one section left of the track and the other right. We decided on a grenade assault with Danny Powell, who knew the exact location, to give the signal for all to throw grenades. The result was devastating for the main part of the Chinese force huddled over their cooking fires. We then charged forward firing rifles and Owen guns.
Almost immediately a Chinese sentry emerged from thick scrub right beside Platoon Headquarters, firing a machine gun from the hip. Poor Lance Corporal Yeo fell dead, shot through the head. Further machine gun fire came from another position up the knoll towards the Hinge. I sent a section forward, and after a brief firefight the enemy was eliminated. Meanwhile the remainder of the Platoon moved through to clear the enemy position. We found nineteen enemy dead, many more badly wounded and took seven totally shocked and bewildered Chinese prisoners. As I recall, because every man was essential to defence, I asked Company Headquarters to send forward men to escort the prisoners back and help with the wounded.
Meanwhile the Platoon prepared a defensive position covering the main dangers - the saddle leading up to the Hinge and the northern spur running down to the valley. Most of the Chinese bodies were pushed into the steep wooded re-entrants leading off the spur. Throughout the early part of the action, my batman Pete Barlow gave great assistance as radio operator. He spoke quietly to Company Headquarters as if a radio commentator reporting the action; the move to the knoll, the assault, the Chinese reaction, the enemy casualties and our own. He was totally calm the whole time, and performed the invaluable service of keeping Jack Gerke fully informed whilst I was busy with more urgent matters.
The rest of the day was a confused picture of digging in, reorganizing, coping with the many enemy dead, repelling small counter-attacks, all under constant shelling, mortaring and small arms fire. I shall never forget the calmness and professionalism of my seasoned section commanders as they dealt with each situation in turn. I can still see Sergeant Mickey Newell calmly and cheerfully going from pit to pit issuing rations, ammunition and checking on casualties. The knoll was unusual because it was so heavily wooded. It was not to remain that way for long. I am still not sure whether the trees helped by providing cover or increased our casualties because the shells burst in the treetops.
9 Platoon heaved a collective sigh of relief when towards dusk Captain Arthur Rofe's A/Tk Platoon arrived to boost our reduced numbers overnight, until B Company passed through next morning. As it was then getting too dark for a thorough reconnaissance of the position, and movement was difficult because of the shelling and mortaring, he decided that I should retain overall command and jointly we agreed on the best way to position his Platoon to cover my areas of defensive weakness.
Compared with the previous day the night was relatively uneventful. At first light B Company moved through in preparation for its attack on the Hinge. The successful but costly attack by B Company took the pressure off 9 Platoon but the enemy quickly realized that the way to defeat B Company was to interdict the route from 317 through 9 Platoons knoll to the Hinge. All day he kept up a barrage of shells and mortar bombs on this lifeline. 9 Platoon no longer felt isolated but felt it was playing a key part in the final battle of Commando.
Towards afternoon the battle faded away. It seemed the worst was over and all I'm sure were congratulating themselves on having survived. Then came the moment of Commando, which is sharpest in my memory. I was in my weapon pit hoping for a quiet night. I glanced at my watch. It was exactly 2000 hrs. Suddenly in a great arc to the front the sky lit up with an incredible series of flashes. Some thirty seconds later the area from 317 to the Hinge received an immense concentration of shells and mortar bombs which lasted for what seemed an eternity. Movement was impossible and for the first time I understood what artillery neutralization of an area really meant.
The main Chinese regimental counter attack struck B Company but 9 Platoon also received its share of attention. It was dark and the knoll was heavily wooded with the sections relatively dispersed; control was therefore difficult, particularly with shells and mortar bombs constantly bursting amongst the trees. The situation brought home to me the difficulty under such conditions of actually "seeing" the enemy. There is movement in that re-entrant but exactly where and how many? Opportunities to get a group of enemy clearly in one's sights and fire effectively are few and far between. This emphasizes the importance of clearly appreciating lines of approach and sticking to the pre-determined fire plan.
Under the circumstances the effectiveness of our own artillery and mortar fire was paramount. I have no doubt that B Company and 9 Platoon would have been overrun that night if the many hundreds of Chinese who died in the re-entrants and on the spur lines from our artillery and mortar fire, had been able to reach the forward section positions. However in war things are never one sided. Amongst the many tribulations from the Chinese fire, 9 Platoon's morale was visibility shaken for a while when a shell scored a direct hit on a weapon pit killing all three occupants. Throughout that long night, from the radio and those passing through to B Company, I learned of the hazardous situation of B Company and the incredible bravery of those parties who struggled forward to keep B Company supplied. Then, after a night of feverish activity, it was dawn and Operation Commando was over. My final memory was moving back to 317 and seeing Jack Gerke, gray with fatigue and the pain of his wound, but with the glint of victory in his eye
It's so difficult to sum up my impressions after 40 years. Perhaps among the main ones were a feeling of inadequacy compared with the competent, experienced NCOs. Difficulty in understanding how 9 Platoon's part fitted into the overall plan. An initial sense of not really being part of the battle; the look on the faces of the men as they stood over their fallen mates; the comradeship and steadfastness of the men on 9 Platoon who uncomplainingly did everything that was asked of them and more. Above all a frightening but most humbling experience. I shall never forget what the NCOs and men of 9 Platoon taught me about soldiering and the essential human values of living and dying.
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