LAST DAYS ON THE "HOOK"- 1953
Ron Walker enlisted in the Australian Regular Army in July 1951 at Perth, WA at the age of 17 years and four months. One of his brothers had served with 3 Battalion RAR at the Battle of Kapyong and another was serving with 1 RAR then currently in Korea. He undertook Recruit Training at Guildford, WA., and then advanced infantry training at Puckapunyal, Victoria. On completion, he was posted to the MMG Platoon, Support Company of 2 Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment and sailed with the battalion to Korea and served there from March 1953 until April 1954. On his return to Australia he served with 2 RAR at Enoggera and Canungra, Queensland, and then with the 17th National Training Battalion at Wacol, Queensland from October 1955 till December 1956. From January 1957 until June 1957 he was with the Bomb Search & Disposal Squad, Brisbane. He was discharged on 1 July 1957 with the rank of Corporal. Ron is married to Joy (nee Wheeler) and they have five children and eight grandchildren. He now lives in Kelmscott, Western Australia., and is in active retirement which includes gem fossicking, camping. He also dabbles in photography and oil painting.
I have some vivid memories of songs of the times, which were: "Jumbalaya, Teresa Brewer, "Moving On"', Hank Snow, "Vaia Con Dios", Doris Day, "Too Young", Nat King Cole, "Seven Lonely Days", Teresa Brewer and Nagaski Butterfly.....? Our embarkation began when we boarded a train at Dysart siding, near Seymour, Victoria on 4 March 1953 bound for Sydney. It was just one month after my 19th birthday and I was a Corporal No.1 gunner on a Vickers medium machine gun. We traveled to Korea on the migrant liner "New Australia" to relieve 1 RAR which had by then spent a full year in Korea. Reinforcements of that unit yet to complete their time, were taken on strength with 2 RAR. I recall the ship docking at Pusan with an American band playing "Waltzing Matilda". A certain sergeant (Brian Cooper) was taken with the sight of a very large American Negro sergeant smoking an equally large cigar. It prompted him to shout, "say boy .... which is the seegar?"
After disembarking, we were taken to a British transit camp where we were kitted out with winter clothing and marveled at the quality of it all. Such things as zips on the trouser fly, which caught pubic hair in the zip after urinating. Also long underpants with a overlapping fly in the front and the back. This was to allow bowel movements in the cold wintry conditions, without exposing bare skin to the elements. Another novel item was a string vest, much like a shopping bag, to be worn under a woolen shirt to trap warm air next to the skin. Seams of clothing had to be treated with anti mite liquid to prevent getting Haemorrhagic fever. For the feet, boots cold wet weather, worn a size larger to take heavy socks and an insole of layered nylon mesh much like fly wire. We were allowed to blacken anklets and web belts, thus doing away with "Blanko" forever. The food was obviously tinned rations of British origin, dehydrated vegetables and a heavy Christmas like "Pusan Pudding".
We left Pusan by train headed for the Commonwealth Division which was now in reserve at Camp Casey having a brief respite from operations. I recall the hundreds of Korean Kids, many badly scarred or with limbs missing, clothed in rags and all begging. Some trying to sell watches or other items; some trying to steal the watches off of our arms. On the way north that night, we passed a train going south with 1 RAR heading home. My brother, Jack Walker, was on board that train. At Camp Casey we had a chance to make contact with other units of the Commonwealth Division; the Durham Light Infantry, Kings Own Regiment, Royal Fusiliers, Canadian and French Canadian battalions. Whilst at Camp Casey some mates and I went absent without leave one night to "Little Chicago" in the local town of Ichon nearby. It was all beer halls, brothels and black market stalls (I didn't do anything, just looked). Whilst there American Military Police raided the place and began shooting the place up. We took off for Camp Casey along the railway line and soon we ran into a South Korean guard post. We managed to convince them we were not being apprehended by pommy redcaps (MP's), but, spun them a yarn about being out on night map reading exercises. After giving them false names and units, we headed off to Camp Casey again. Life was getting serious. Closer to the front line, we took over a camp site from French Canadians and spent many hours cleaning up and burying human excrement they had left where they had dropped it. Dirty bastards.
Our first active tour of duty was at Hill 159 where we took over from the Royal Fusiliers. We had to access our position via a camouflaged road which was under constant observation by the enemy and frequently shelled. Whilst carrying out a daylight inspection of the position on arrival, with a rifle company non commissioned officer (NCO), there was a loud "whack" of a sniper bullet striking a sandbag nearby. On another day we watched as the Assault Pioneer commander, Lieutenant P.O.G. Forbes MC casually mooched along the front of the wire emplacement inspecting its condition. Yet another occasion, a rifleman spotted movement over near the enemy lines and asked if we could send over a few bursts. I asked the Section Sergeant for the okay to do so and he referred the request to the Company Commander. Two hours later I got the okay to fire a single burst (25 rounds) I couldn't see any movement any more, but I fired the burst anyway.
A personality clash with the Section Sergeant saw me put on a "Fizzer" (charge sheet) and reprimanded. I seriously considered transfer to a rifle Platoon but in the end I was seconded by Sergeant Cooper to his section at "Vickers Village", a platoon position of four guns. There I was a gun number one, Corporal, with a crew of three men one of whom was a driver. Kevin Power from Queensland was the other number one in the section. Whilst there, my number two, Dan Mudford, accidentally shot himself between the toes one wet night. There was a big fuss about this because it was something done on occasions by people who wanted to get away from the front line. What actually happened, Dan was guilty of leaving the safety slide on his Owen gun disengaged. He slipped in the mud whilst descending into his sleeping bunker, fell against the wall causing the weapon to chamber and fire a round between his toes. On another day I was test firing Owen Guns into a pit and accidentally blasted the heel off my left boot. I didn't report it. "Vickers Village", as we called ourselves, had four guns firing down a valley known as the "Bowling Alley" because of the echo of the big guns at our rear (US 240mm guns). At night we could hear the "Lily of the Valley" on the enemy power amplified (PA) system sending out her propaganda messages. We had a grandstand of air strikes carried out by Sea Fury, carrier borne aircraft dropping deep penetration bombs and napalm. We also had a good view of Hill 355, "Little Gibraltar". Our bunkers were set up beside the gun and at intermittent times during the night we'd sit up and fire bursts of harassing fire at given targets. One night we had to give covering fire to our anti tank platoon, who were acting as a rifle platoon and had struck trouble whilst on patrol. I worried about my mate "Laurie" Tilbrook, who later said that our rounds were like bees buzzing around them.
There was a general election in Australia whilst we were at 159 and we were allowed to vote. Similarly, the coronation of the Queen took place with red, white and blue smoke rounds plastered all over "Charlie's" lines. Six weeks later we were relieved and went into rest before going into the line at Hill 111, next to the notorious HOOK, to be defended by the rest of 2 RAR. It was about the same time President Syngman Rhee of Korea was releasing North Koreans POW's. Lingering memories of my time there include the United States (US) Marines, combat ice cream delivered by chopper, Lucky Strike and Camel cigarettes, 'C' (Combat) rations. Lots of dead bodies, laid out waiting to be picked by half track or trucks. Having to walk through these on our way to the field kitchen for meals.
One our blokes, Cranston, would keep seeing trees and other objects moving out to the front and would wake the rest of us up to "stand to". One day I went up to the Yank (United States of America) lines and had a fire of the quadruple mounted .50 cal machine guns. It was great stuff. In return, I let a couple of Yanks fire the Vickers gun. One guy said, in real southern drawl, "dear mon, I fired the Vickers gun". We lived it up on combat rations, which the Yanks rejected. They believed we had it made with our field kitchen, frozen beef, dehydrated spuds and eggs, tinned bacon and 'Pusan Pud'. The RSL gift packs were terrific. They contained a bottle of beer, writing materials and Wrigley's PK chewing gum. The issue tin of 50 Players cigarettes we gave to the KATCOMS (Korean troops). Platoon Sergeant, "Doug" Jordan used to deliver these items. On the night of 24/25 July when we came under strong attack and bombardment, I was blown out of my bunk by a shell burst. Later investigation showed that all the soil on top of the bunker had blown away, exposing the supporting logs.
Everyone was "standing to" (in positions of battle readiness) and under constant and intense barrage. The U.S. marine positions to our left were being heavily attacked and survivors were moving about. We called for flares and didn't get them so we had to make do with our 2 inch mortar fired from the bottom of the trench. At one stage, a U.S. medical attendant came and asked for cover and assistance, so two of us went with him into the marine positions to check for and recover and wounded. I entered the first bunker. It was pitch black inside. I cautiously called out and felt around. I contacted a dead body, cold and covered in blood. Further along the trench we met a group of marines moving out and they informed us that the 'Gooks' ( North Korean or Chinese enemy forces) had taken over. We decided that we shouldn't be there and returned to our own position.
Alan Casey, a platoon signaler, went out to try and restore the telephone lines. He didn't have a 'flak jacket' (light body armour) so I gave him mine. There wasn't enough for everyone to have one. As fast as Casey could repair the lines in one place, a shell burst would break it in another. A marine sergeant came down the communication trench and informed us that he was the last one out and to shoot anything that moved from then on. He had a silver .45 pistol and stood on top of the trench line blasting away with it. I thought to myself, "Mister, if you get bumped off, that gun is mine". He didn't and it wasn't. Some activity was seen on the skyline near the marine bunkers and we fired at these with our Owen guns. Noises were heard near the wire to our front and although it was too dark to see anyone, we engaged the area with grenades. We barricaded the trench line and set up firing positions facing outwards. During the brief lull, which was a rarity, I went to Corporal Power's gun position to see how he was holding out. I found a couple of blokes intent on taking cover in a 'hoochi' (defensive bunker) so I rooted them out and put them in a firing position between Kevin Power's gun and the Command Post (CP) bunker. I went up to the U,S. tank position and borrowed their .30 cal machine gun. After setting that up the blokes reckoned they didn't know how to operate it; so I showed them how to load and fire it and instructed them to use grenades if need be. You don't give away your position when throwing grenades.
Back at my own gun position, we started receiving incoming bombardment again and copped a direct hit on the "ammo" (ammunition) bay. I was blown axle over apex and winded. "Dan" Mudford was staggering around and was wounded. He was bleeding from the ears and his face was sand blasted. I sent him to the CP. All the ammo reserve was gone but a fair bit was at the guns. A little later, Corporal "Kipper" Franklyn, who was there as advance NCO of the reserve section due to relieve us, received a shrapnel wound to his left arm which severed an artery. Blood was squirting 18 inches high. I sent him to the CP as well. I was still requesting illumination (flares) when Sergeant "Coop" Cooper warns that he has called our own artillery directly onto us. SHIT! I could see the 'daisy cutters' bursting above the ground everywhere. Casey was back from his useless mission by this time and that left him and the KATCOM to fire the Vickers at any movement near the American bunkers. The Owens were okay up close, but not much good over 100 yards. An y more and they would bounce off the enemy winter jackets. We also kept up a steady stream of grenades thrown to our front. I covered an extra field of fire that now took in a 180 degree arc across the gun bunker, the CP, then to the rear skyline and across the former ammo bay.
The KATCOM, Soo Kyo Soong, was in the bunker manning the Vickers Gun and I made sure he knew how to disable it if we had to pull out in a hurry. Casey and I discussed the possibility of a 'bug out' and I asked him to cover me while I ducked into the remains of my 'hoochi' to get the photo of my Fiancee (now wife), Joy, which I still have. Near first light, things started to quieten down. At daylight, the marines came back on a 'turkey shoot' to recover their lost positions, a task that took them all day, They used flame throwers and 3.5 rocket launcher (bazooka) to root out the Chinese and re occupy their trenches, such as they were. I remember sitting in the doorway of the CP feeling very numb, bloody tired and having a feeling of detachment, watching the stream of stretcher borne bodies (U.S. Marines) going past, some still smouldering from the effects of the flame throwers. Others with limbs and bits missing and all of them so very dead. And Casey still had my bloody flak jacket. I realised that, during the night, I'd taken up smoking.
Post Scripts: Feelings and Emotions
A couple of years ago, I was on a prospecting trip in the goldfields near Sandstone in Western Australia (WA), accompanied by my eldest son John. Around the camp fire one clear, starry night, imbibing with a drop of port to combat the bitter cold, I happened to comment on the similarity on the night to some of those I had experienced whilst in Korea. Eventually John asked; "What does it feel like when you are under fire?" I tried to tell him then how I actually felt on that night (24/25 July 1953) on Hill 111, but I felt that my words were inadequate and that I really failed to convey the true emotion of being in battle. Since that time, I have often pondered about those feelings and how I might record them. I take the time now to put them down on paper in the hope that an astute writer of military history might express them more fully for those poor souls who are yet to experience their brush with hell. The feelings I express all relate to the events that took place during the Chinese attack on Hill 111, 24/25th of July, Korea, 1953.
First was the initial shock of being on the receiving end of an intense artillery barrage. All I could do was to crouch in a trench trying to bury myself in the dirt wall and cope with the inner tension building up within my body. The scream and thud of incoming artillery and mortar fire was constant, the only difference being the closeness of the burst. Whilst being showered with lumps of dirt and debris I waited for the one burst that might be destined to silence me forever. My thoughts drifted to what our grandfathers might have experienced in France during World War 1 and our fathers later at places like Tobruk during World War 2. (2 RAR intelligence reports gave a count of 4500 hostile rounds falling on Hill 111 during the night).
Then there was the feelings of despair and hopelessness when, during short lulls in the fall of shot, I peered over the parapet and could see the vertical searchlight beam over Panmunjon where the Generals were "TALKING PEACE".
There was also the feeling of being 'let down' when I saw what was left of the US Marines filing past and what might be, pulling out. (Land of the brave, The Halls of Montezuma etc., etc). All the awe built up over the years by the movies and characters like John Wayne vanished in a matter of moments; now they were pulling out. Then there was the realization that when they were gone, there was just us!
As I watched the Marine Sergeant standing above the trench line firing his pistol at the enemy, I had the dreadful feeling of vulnerability in our defensive position if we had to expose ourselves as he had to get at the enemy.
After the ammo bay was destroyed, the feelings of fear and panic at the apparent hopelessness of our position and the desire to take flight from this whole nightmare. Reality returned when I looked up and saw a mate staggering out of the dust and smoke, both hands clasped to his head; trying to comfort him in his moment of need and helping him to the relative safety of the CP until he could be evacuated.
After checking the rest of the crew and myself, I recall taking a couple of deep breaths, standing up a bit straighter and having a new feeling within of being more positive, adapting to the circumstances, feeling different about the self and the job in hand; a strange sensation of being more mature, older maybe. Being prepared to make the rudest of gestures at the devil in defiance of his efforts to kill us.
Finding Chinese 'potato masher' grenades that had failed to explode, just feet from our position, brought home the realization of how close the enemy and possibly death had been.
In the aftermath, the totally detached and emotionally numbing experience observing the carnage of the night before with bodies of friend and foe littering the Hill and its slopes. The feeling of looking down upon the whole scene from afar; being totally numbed by the brutality of it all. Perhaps in a state of shock?
Then when the relief section came, the wanting to get the hell out of there even though the whole evacuation had to be done constantly under fire. Yet there was a certain reluctance to leave; as if a certain something had been left behind and more time should be spent looking for it.
These feelings have never left me completely and are as vivid now as they were then.
Poems and Anecdotes- "Getting Your Own Back"
When vacating a bivouac area it was common practice to clean up with an 'Emu Bob', (manual pick up of waste) and to burn the toilet pit before backfilling it. This way the area was left clean and sanitary for users who might follow. On one such occasion we were mounted in vehicles ready to depart and watched the lone soldier whose duty it was to administer last rites to the pit. He had applied fuel to the hole (petrol) and was attempting to ignite it with matches. His ranging shots began from a distance of about six feet (2 metres), but the match extinguished before reaching the petrol vapour. He advanced to three feet (1 metre) and tried again with similar results. Finally, he took up position at the edge of the pit, struck a match and dropped it in the hole. There was a muffled 'thump' accompanied by a bright flash and a very thick cloud of mud like substance hurtled skywards. My last recollections are of this soldier as a solitary figure, standing erect, eyes as wide as saucers, mouth tightly closed and covered in a dripping brown/black substance. He was to remain alone for some time to come.
A Yarn Often Spun
"There we were; three against a thousand. We fought them for seven days and nights as the battle waxed and waned; neither side yielding. We exhausted our ammunition and were too far out to get support, so we fixed bayonets and charged. The fighting that ensued was fierce hand to hand combat and finally we overwhelmed them. They would have to be the toughest three we ever fought."
Spit It Out for Safety Sake!
After the cease fire our major task was to re-construct a solid line of defences called the 'Kansas Line'. This involved building heavily reinforced gun pits and bunkers with communication trenches linking them The digging was never easy, but ours proved to be located over a very rocky area and explosives were constantly needed to penetrate a few inches at a time. We were assigned an assault pioneer to do the blasting. A peculiar characteristic of his was to stutter when he got excited.
Our erstwhile "powder monkey" would, after igniting a fuse, scramble toward a safe position all the while shouting "Fer - Fer - Fer fire one". More often than not, those working in adjacent sites had little time to take cover themselves and more than once were caught in exposed ground.
Making An Opening
The interested, but ill informed visitor to our machine gun position would ask all sorts of questions about the effectiveness of our Vickers Gun against enemy targets. A legitimate question, but asked often enough was prone to get a response like the one that follows:
"To get "Charlie" (Chinese) to expose himself from his highly concealed and heavily covered position, the machine gunners had devised a trick. The first three rounds in the ammunition belt were specially made with wooden bullets, but the remaining were ball ammunition. The trick was to fire the first three rounds, pause, then follow with a 25 round burst.
At the target end, "Charlie" would hear a "knock, knock, knock," on his door and on opening it to see who was calling. He would be greeted with 25 rounds of .303 bullets. Truly!
A Korean HillsideThere is blood on the hills of Korea
'tis the blood of the brave and the true.
Where the nations they battle together
beneath the banners of red white and blue.
As we marched o'er the hills of Korea
to the hills where the enemy lay.
We remember our general's orders
those hills must be taken today.
So forward we went into battle
our faces unsmiling and stern,
for we know as we charge that hillside
there are many who shall not return.
Some thought of their wives and sweethearts,
some thought of their mothers so fair.
Yet others who plodded and stumbled
were softly saying a prayer.
There is blood on the hills of Korea
'tis the cost of the freedom we love.
May their names live in glory forever,
while their souls rest in heaven above.
Dear Mum it seems like ages since I came over here, to battle for glory in this land they call Korea. I've had the time to settle in and time to look around, I've had my chance to make my mark upon this battle ground.
But Mum; it's hard to battle on, it's hard to make a show, when you're frozen to the marrow and sleeping in the snow. Then cobbers all round you are dropping off like flies, and blindness comes to get you from snow glare in your eyes.
When water in your bottle is a frozen lump of ice and your tuckers always frozen and your head full of lice. When you grab your gun to fire at some advancing 'chink' and the heel leaves a blister, well, it kinda makes you think.
Of summers heat in Aussie where there's heat enough to spare and the lively dancin heat waves cut a caper in the air. When the sound of trickling water in a quiet forest dell, takes the place of screaming 'Banzai' well, that knocks your nerves to hell.
When a man can live in plenty and find a helping hand, yes, I'd give a lot to be there in my blessed native land. But, first there's a war to win to keep old Aussie free, to make the world around us like one big family.
So I'll spit on my bayonet and prime a new grenade, I'll never let those bastards know I ever was afraid. One day it'll all be over; one day we'll all be free, from the threat of Communism and that's the day for me.
I hope that I'll be good enough to see the job well done. I'm sending you this letter, Mum, from your ever-loving Son.
Korean LamentJust over the Manchurian border, Korea is the spot.
We are doomed to our lifetime, in this land that God forgot.
Down with the snakes and lizards, down where the men are few.
Right in the middle of nowhere and a helluva way from home too.
We swear, we sweat, we grumble; it's more than we can stand.
We're not a bunch of convicts, but defenders of our land.
We are soldiers of an active force drawing our monthly pay,
defending our people and country for thirty three bob a day.
Living on our memories or our waiting gals,
hoping that while we're away they haven't married pals.
The time we spent in the Army, the good times that we missed,
Boys, we hope the draft don't get you, for God's sake don't enlist.
Now when we get to heaven, St. Peter will surely yell:
they're REOS from Korea Lord and they've seen enough of hell.
Picture the scene if you will. A busy Korean road with military traffic of all kinds busily dodging pot holes and each other, going where ever they are headed. Suddenly, without signal, two such vehicles, traveling in opposite directions stop side by side. A cascade of water engulfs both vehicles as their occupants trade contents of various water containers. Other road users can't believe their eyes at what they have seen! Shortly the vehicles continue their various journeys with much gesticulating and exchange of friendly taunts by their respective occupants. Fear not. The enemy has not invaded; just another friendly meeting between Aussies and Kiwis.
Nobody seemed to know how or when this challenge originated; or even care for that matter. But the sport of water fighting (substituting snow in winter) became so prevalent that whenever a vehicle had to make a journey on open roads, it became necessary to load up with any suitable containers available with water. Technology was enlisted eventually when drivers emptied their vehicle hand pump type fire extinguishers, filling them with water because they made an excellent water pistol. The game must have caused a stir amongst allied forces resulting in an order coming down from Brigade Headquarters ordering the practice to cease.
|© Australian Album ©|