Chapter 19



Service Details

Brian Cooper was born in East Perth, WA in 1933. He joined the RegularArmy on 1 October 1951. After Recruit Training he was posted to 2RAR at Puckapunyal andassigned to the MMG Platoon. He was promoted Corporal in 1952 and Sergeant in 1953. Afterhis Korean War service he remained in the Army until 1968 reaching the rank of WO1 (RSM).He had many postings including Exchange Duties with the US Army Infantry School at FortBenning, Georgia, USA. He wrote and rewrote numerous Infantry Training Manuals. He laterspecialized in heavy weapons and Nuclear, Biological & Chemical Warfare. Since leavingthe Army he held a number of senior executive appointments with National associations andorganizations. He established his own consultancy in 1988. He is active in community lifebeing the Secretary of the Geraldton Sub-Branch of the RSL and a member of the RoyalJustices Association. He is married and lives in Geraldton, Western Australia. Brian wasawarded the Military Medal (MM) for bravery whilst serving with 2 Battalion RAR.


After joining the regular army on 1 October, 1951, aged barely 18years, I completed recruit training in WA and eventually was posted to 2 Battalion RoyalAustralian Regiment (RAR) located at Puckapunyal Victoria where I was assigned to theMedium Machine Gun (MMG) Platoon. Following concentrated training at the School ofInfantry, Seymour Victoria, I was made a Corporal gun number one in 1952 and a SectionCommander, Sergeant by February 1953, still aged 19 years. We embarked for the Korean War,early March 1953. I believe I was appointed Sergeant because of the expertise I had shownwith the handling, employment and fire control of Medium Machine Guns. I could not havehad any idea of what commanding ten men in battle might have meant to me mentally, or, forthat matter, what close combat with a determined enemy would be like.

The first tour of duty in the line of " Hill 159" was not toostressful, with just a few skirmishes with the enemy. After some six weeks in the line wewere relieved and rested as Brigade reserve. It was June 1953 and we could hear theconstant pounding of heavy artillery on what we eventually learned was a feature called"The Hook". This notorious piece of Korea had a reputation for some of thebloodiest encounters of the Korean War. The United States (US) Marines had defended it atgreat cost, as had the United Kingdom Black Watch Regiment. Now it was the turn of TheDuke of Wellington Regiment to contest ownership of "The Hook". It was said thatmore men perished on its slopes than on any other single battleground in Korea.

2 RAR was warned to prepare for defence of "The Hook". Mysection was assigned to occupy Point 111, a small feature to the West from where we couldgive flanking fire to the forward company on the principal feature. When I went forward tofamiliarize myself with the tasks and ground, a section of the Kings Regiment had the 111position with the major defence left to elements of the Turkish Brigade. When I eventuallyarrived with my section and relieved The Kings, the main defenders were the US Marines. Ibelieve we arrived on the 8 or 9 July, I had eight gun numbers, two of whom werecorporals, a radio operator, a KATCOM (Korean assistant) and a cook located some 600metres to the rear in a more secure position. About 500 metres to our front was the enemy.The ground between was heavily cratered by shellfire. The forward Australians were some1100 meters to my right front (north) on the "The Hook" and Hill 121 was to myright flank (east). Between my position and the nearest Australian troops were US Marines,with the rest of the Marine Division extending westward to my left. My position had twomachine gun bunkers, with my small command bunker between. The defences were run down.With a single sand bag taken from my bunker wall, I was looking across no man's land.

My only contact with my countrymen was by radio. My only visitor was myCompany Sergeant Major (CSM) who brought ammunition and supplies to keep us fighting. TheUS Marines were engaged with ferocious battles on features to the West, known as Vegas,Carson, Reno, East/West Berlin and others.

It was obvious from the frequent rotations and the status of theMarines who came and went, that they were resting exhausted troops on Point 111, regardingit as an inactive area. We were well prepared and armed, including 50,000 rounds for theMMGs. We commanded the communication trench system from the rear of the feature todefences on the forward slopes of Point 111. There was no chance to get to know the USCommanders, since they came and went too frequently. Whilst my main task was the defenceof "The Hook", a secondary task was to liaise with the Marines about theirpatrol movements so that clashes of friendly forces could be avoided. The routine was tosleep by day, except my radio operator who rested at night, and repel the enemy at night.Things were relatively quiet, with only an occasional skirmish, until 19 July.

Sunday 19 July, with my regular ammunition re-supply, came a sandbagfull of bottles of Scotch whiskey from officers and non commissioned officers (NCO's) ofmy Battalion to be exchanged for weapons and equipment from the Americans. AustralianOfficers and NCO's had a monthly ration of one bottle of Scotch. US troops were dry in thefield. I felt bad about what I was expected to do, because it was against US regulationsand against what I believed to be right. But I knew that I was a small pawn in the gameand outranked by almost all those who sent booze to trade. The Marines were very keen andwould have traded almost anything to get Scotch. The trading was done and we had someextra weapons and equipment..

At last light that night, a heavy bombardment commenced and wasfollowed by an attack on the Marine perimeter. A fierce fire fight followed with theMarine 60mm mortar on a rear position struggling to supply illumination with flares. I gotmy 2 inch mortar into action from the trench floor firing illuminating flares. The fightwas short but spirited; our first hard encounter with the enemy. Some of the woundedMarines ended in my command bunker. One of them was slightly wounded, but had a bottle ofwhiskey smashed in his hip pocket and his buttock was badly cut with slivers of glass, butsurely well sterilized. Those Marines rotated to one of the "Berlin" featuresand one of them had souvenired my 2 inch mortar. This might have meant a court martial forme, given the current, Australian Army policy about lost equipment. I was deeply concernedabout this possibility, so I decided to let one of my soldiers go to wherever the Marineshad gone and retrieve the mortar. The seriousness of my action struck me later. What if hewas killed or taken prisoner? How would I explain that, since I had not sought permission.I sweated out a couple of days delaying any report of my actions, but my man returned withthe stolen mortar. Routine activities resumed until Friday 24 July. In the meantime,another MMG section was warned to relieve my troops around the 30th of July (the war endedon the 27th).

Friday 24 July 1953, at last light, a very heavy bombardment of Point111 commenced and it was obvious that it would be followed by an attack. Subsequentbattalion intelligence reports showed the counted incoming enemy artillery pounding PointIII as 4500 rounds on the night 24/25 July alone. Bunkers and trenches caved in under theconcentrated blasting. Barbed wire and mines were neutralized. A number of rounds explodednear the parapet knocking me to the trench floor and wounding Pte Mudford and CorporalFranklin, both of whom were unfit to fight and needed evacuation. Platoon Sergeant"Doug" Jordan obtained a Canadian half - tracked vehicle and we saw to theirevacuation along with as many wounded Marines as the vehicle could fit on board. This wasall achieved under bombardment and attack. There was no other medical evacuation attemptedthat night from Point 111, to the best of my knowledge. The US 60mm mortar, so effectiveon Sunday 19 July, was one of the first targets to be neutralized by the accurate enemyfire, directed by a fire controller on Point 111 as we were to discover later.Fortunately, I had requested and received a large supply of illuminating rounds for thereturned 2 inch mortar and I was able to put up a steady stream of light for the Marinesto fight by. The fire fight was prolonged and furious before the flares ran out. Mymachine guns remained manned and pointed at their Defensive Fire SOS (Save our Souls), orprimary target, the defence of our fellow Australians on "The Hook". But theywere never attacked in strength. The enemy assault on our forward Company faltered undersevere artillery bombardment.

My part of Point 111 came under enemy infantry assault in strength.Just prior to this, some eleven Marines had made their escape back to our position, mostof them out of ammunition. We had kept the weapons of the evacuated and dead Marines,which the survivors now eagerly took to continue the fight with. We had also primed boxafter box of grenades, which were now being furiously thrown at the enemy around us.

I believe that the eleven Marines were the only fit survivors of whatmust have been 50 at the start of the battle. I also believe that my small area was theonly part of Point 111 not in enemy hands and that, as a result, I was in command of thehill and all the friendly forces that fought for it. To a man, we all believed we weredestined to die that night, and we were hell bent on taking the enemy with us. A strangething happened at that time. Despite the danger of the moment, it seemed to occur to allof us at once, that we might die with a man and not know his name. We all made sure thatwe learnt each unknown man's name, despite the obvious dangers of the battle. Still mymachine guns remained steadfastly aimed at "The Hook". We were losing thesituation and were completely overrun. Enemy infantry were attacking us on all sides. Theonly course of action I could see, given that we had some cover and the enemy none, was touse my radio to call friendly artillery fire down upon our own position, I did, and it wasdelivered with great accuracy and deadly effect. I repeated that action several times thatnight until the enemy assault had faltered and broken up. Friendly artillery fired 13500rounds in that battle and much of it fell on our position. I was personally stressed bythe blast that knocked me over. For all I know I was concussed. I was certainly feelingexhausted. The radio was also a stress in one sense since my own unit was constantly afterinformation about the state of the battle for Point 111. This pressure certainlycomplicated my ability to appreciate situations and command. I was informed that a companyof the Durham Light Infantry was amongst our unit reserves and preparing to counter attackour position should all seem lost, which gave rise to requests for information. There wasa real threat of being attacked by friendly troops, on ground unfamiliar to them. Duringthe action and in the dark, a figure moved slowly toward where I was located. Thesilhouette was unmistakably Asian with a characteristic bandy legged movement. I held apoint 45 calibre Colt pistol cocked and ready until his face came in to contact with themuzzle. A panicked voice gave out: "No Sergint! Me SOO." It as Soo Kyo Soong,South Korean Soldier (KATCOM) under my command. I came within an ace of blowing him tokingdom come. I found I was calm, my hand steady. At daylight, the tattered remnants of mycommand, including Marines, set about looking for wounded comrades. The Chinese had cometo stay and were occupying all strong points by this time. One bunker had a Chinesesoldier in it and he was armed and firing , but quite ineffectively. My men tried to coaxhim out, Pte Cranston suffering grenade fragments to his buttocks; but languages may haveconfused the messages. My men asked what to do. I ordered them to kill him. His fate wasdecided by grenades and the Owen gun. We found many corpses; enemy and friendly. Thegruesome sight of some live with me forever. Like the one hit with a flame-thrower andfrom which an occasional blister would burst and send up a puff of smoke. Another Marinecarcass had the top of the cranium sliced off to reveal the contents of his head. Otherswere headless, limbless or with large holes through the torso. Other US Marines arrivedbefore long and used the security of our position, and our 3.5 inch rocket launcher, tocommence retaking their lost defences, such as they now were. This was achieved by lastlight, still under bombardment.

On the night of 25/26 July 1953, the enemy once again mounted aconcerted attack on Point 111 and Hill 121, but the weight of artillery fire now given insupport and the reserves committed to the battle, meant the enemy infantry assault failed.By then, the Marines were also taking Point 111 more seriously. The enemy body count whendaylight came was about 300 on the forward slopes. The war came to end on July 27, abouttwo weeks before my 20th birthday.

Another incident I found quite distressing following the battle of"The Hook" was having to escort a private soldier from D Company to 90 daysimprisonment in Japan, to be followed by dishonourable discharge; his courts martialsentence for cowardice in the face of the enemy. I completed my recruit training with thisman and shared the same hut. He was a wonderful person. He had completed several patrolsin no man's land and on one, had to remain out all night with his mates, all of whom hadbeen either killed or wounded. On a subsequent patrol, he got to the wire and was unableto step once more into no man's land. His nerve had gone. One of the casualties of war. Tothis day I share the pain of his loss.

Australian author, Patsy Adam Smith was recently on radio claiming thatAustralia has always sent its boys off to war. This was certainly true in my case and mostof my comrades weren't very much older. But when boys are also given responsibilities forthe actions and lives of others, even though they accept it willingly, the outcomes canoften be a personal tragedy for them.

If most of what we are and the way we respond to the world is as aresult of learning, then in my case, I believe the experience I had of war in Korea, atthe age of 19 years, had a more profound effect on my personal life and subsequentbehaviour than any other event, before or since. That experience shaped my behaviour andpersonality in ways I think I would have preferred to have avoided, and much of what I waswhen I returned from Korea is still with me today. The past is unalterable, but to theextent it continues to invade the present and future, so will it dominate the quality ofmy life, as it has done for the past forty years.

(For the above action Brian Cooper was awarded the Military Medal -

Some Laughs at Vickers Village

It was in May 1953 that 2RAR went into action for the first time atHill 159, a line of relatively low hills next to 355, or "Little Gibraltar". MyMMG section was assigned to a lightly wooded spur line running east toward 355, and partof a platoon of four guns. Our task was to give defensive fire to rifle Companies andprotect patrol movements when they ran into the enemy in no man's land. We had clear lineof sight to the main enemy feature, 227, or "John" as it was known. Other enemy"Apostles, Luke, Mark and Matthew" stretched westwards. One dark night, thelistening post down the spur from our Command Post, telephoned to say that there was enemymovement to their front. Sergeant "Barry" Maxwell was sent to investigate. Hestayed a while with the two men there and observed; but could discern no movement. He didhear some rustling noises around the barbed wire, but this was not unusual because earlieroccupants had thrown empty food tins to the wire to give way enemy movement. The rats thatnow foraged amongst them made equally as much noise. Barry had noticed a dark tree stumpand cautioned the men not to stare at it as the eyes might create movement. Some timelater, the phone rang again with the same duo reporting enemy movement. They were advisedto keep watch and call again if there was further enemy activity. It wasn't long beforethe Bren LMG at the listening post burst into life and several grenades exploded down theslope toward the wire. Maxwell took some reinforcements to the listening post to help beatoff any attack. Meanwhile, Battalion Headquarters and the nearby Rifle CompanyHeadquarters were on the radio trying to find out how serious the enemy incursion was.Maxwell changed sentries and the rest of the night passed without incident. First lightrevealed the true extent of the damage: a tight group of fresh .303 holes and bullets inthe middle of that stump. A true testimony to the renowned accuracy of the Bren!

One too many

"Vickers Village", as we called our position, could only bereached on foot and re-supply was by 'Noggy Train', the colloquial name for the Koreanporters who trudged each evening and morning with Herculean loads of food, water andammunition from the jeep head to our gun lines. We always provided an armed escort becauseit was not unknown for the enemy to infiltrate by adding one or two 'extras' onto theNoggy Train. The escort had to know how many carriers he started and finished with. Not aneasy task since the only Korean language we knew was some of the unmentionable terms andthe Koreans could speak only broken English, mostly for begging purposes. One night juston dusk, the area behind us was punctured with the unmistakable sound of a burst ofautomatic fire from an Owen gun. A few of us sped toward the sound and came upon one ofour soldiers menacing a number of Korean porters, who had jettisoned their loads and werecringing in fear of this seemingly enraged Australian about to end their careers. Hisexplanation was that he had started with eight porters and now he had nine. There wasobviously a 'Gook' (enemy) among them and he would get him even if he had to shoot thelot. Such was his indignation. With a combination of sign language, broken English andeven worse Korean, and with the seriousness of the situation in mind, we discovered thatthe ninth man was the cook for the porters. It seemed that there was just too many storesfor eight porters and he had volunteered to help his mates out this time by carrying aload too. I doubt that he ever volunteered again.

Don't Get Snaky

Late one afternoon after checking that all posts and guns were mannedand that troops were properly equipped for the long night, I headed up the communicationtrench toward my post at the command bunker. The communication trench was deep enough forall but the tallest of men to walk erect without being seen. I carried my 9mm Owen gun andplenty of spare magazines, all filled with 32 rounds. Up ahead of me I sighted a snake ofsmall size by Australian standards, coming down the trench-line. We were on collisioncourse in the narrow confines of the trench. I had no idea if it was venomous or if it waslikely to attack in the circumstances. In a moment, I had slid aside the safety slide ofmy trusty Owen and fired down upon the slithering form of the reptile. It wriggled out thelast of its life as I hastily reloaded and troops came running from bunkers to find outwhat all the shooting was about. Of the 32 rounds I had fired, the score was 2 hits and 30misses, which brought peels of laughter. Then someone suggested that I come down from ontop of the communication trench where I was standing in full view of the enemy. I hastilydid as suggested. To this day, I cannot remember getting out of the trench, which I musthave done with lightening speed. Yet it was over six feet deep!

Watch Our for Thieves

We arrived in Pusan, the Southern Korean port city and the UnitedNations (UN) toehold on the Korean peninsula for many of the early battles. There we wereequipped with clothing and other material for the battle ground ahead. In that briefencounter at a British transit camp, we quickly learned that the Korean people had next tonothing and would steal anything they thought they could get away with. The risks weregreat. Getting caught for a Korean could mean losing their life if the Police took a fancyto that notion. Soon we were bundled onto a train and heading north toward what was formost of us, our first experience of battle. At one point along the way at someindecipherable siding, a large number of Korean youths and men emerged as the trainslowed, almost as though it was planned to do. Running alongside the carriages, just outof reach of the troops, the Koreans held up pornographic pictures of almost endlessvariety. Eager hands soon reached out for them, but when they did so, the watches theywore were quickly torn from the wrist and the culprit sped away into the distance.Soldiers quickly learned that an offer was not always as it seemed to be in a country tornapart by war and its people driven to desperation. The perpetrators of this deed had awell rehearsed routine carefully nurtured with the passage of a thousand troop trains. Thetrain crew probably came in for a cut too. There seemed no other reason for the trainslowing at that point. Perhaps the thieves just had time on their hands?

Which Way Did They Go?

For Sergeants and Warrant Officers, when your unit was in reserve, itwas not unusual to go visiting other unit Sergeants' Messes. This was usually just amarquee or two set aside from the main camp area, with a few 'acquired' comforts to makeit seem more civilized. A makeshift bar, a few improvised chairs and the faithful 44gallon drum filled with ice from who knows where and Japanese beer. The evenings wereoften long and inebriating. After all, none of us was sure just how long life mightcontinue with the next tour of duty into the line. On one particular night I can recalltraveling to the Mess of The Kings Regiment in the company of my Company Sergeant Major,"Les" Foale, and our Regimental Sergeant Major and ex Coldstream Guard Sergeant,"Peter" Steere. We left our hosts in good spirits and rather full of good cheerourselves. Peter drove his own jeep; a most ungainly sight with his six feet six inchescoiled in the front seat. We came to a 'Y' junction in a gravel road (they were all gravelor worse) and Peter asked which way to go. I asserted to the left whilst Les urged goright. The debate continued for some seconds between the two back seat drivers whilst thevehicle continued straight ahead, down an embankment, over rough ground, coming to restwith some barbed wire across the windshield and a small metal triangle (the universal signfor a minefield) clanking against the glass. Silence prevailed. Les shone a torch. As wehad suspected, we were in a minefield. Not a word was spoken. Peter put the jeep intoreverse gear and without turning the wheel, took the same line out as we had taken in.From that moment onwards, it was an amazing transformation form inebriation to sobriety.The silence was deafening for the rest of our journey.

Taking Ways

Taking souvenirs on visits to friendly units was all part of the ethosof calling on friends. If you could get away with something to take back to your unit, itwas a mark of your daring and skill, as well as one up for your unit. On one visit to themess of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, I noticed some kerosene heaters in the messwarming the interior of the marquees. I let my companions, Steere and Foale, knowing thatI intended to acquire one. Of course getting caught meant quite a roughing up at the handsof the owners. My companions created a diversion whilst I pretended to go to the toilet. Iwas actually strapping one of these units still alight onto the back of Steere's Jeep whenI was discovered. With the onset of the rough stuff, my companions jumped into the jeepand were speeding on their way. I was thrown bodily onto the top of the canopy and spentsome anxious moments at high speed until my friends discovered my plight.

Words of Wisdom from Trash

To support the forward troops of 2 Battalion RAR, on The Hook, in July1953, my section of Medium Machine Guns was attached to the US Marine Corps located onHill 111. From there I could deliver flanking machine gun fire across the forwardpositions of our Australian mates. A secondary task for me was to make liaison with thelocal US commander to find out patrol movements and relay this information back to 2 RARHQ so that friendly forces avoided shooting one another in the darkness. A favouritemethod of patrol action of the marines was to make enough noise to attract enemyinvestigation. Then, sitting back to back in a circle formation, await the arrival ofenemy and blast them at close range with the pump action shot guns they carried.

Like all such patrols, the marines were checked off when passingthrough a guarded point on their way out and then back in. It was not unknown for theenemy to attach one or two troops to a returning patrol as a means of infiltration. Forsome reason, the marines on 111 seemed to use a particular check point guarded by aNegroid American character known as "Trash". I believe it stood for Black Trash,in a good humoured way. This character was held in high esteem and the name was used withrespect and good humour, the way it was received. Trash guarded the route out and in withhis trusty A4, a .30 cal machine gun on a bipod, belt fed and with a butt stock. Oneparticular evening I approached a group of marines obviously getting themselves and theirweapons ready for patrol action. Trash was smoking a cigar and cleaning his A4. I askedhow many men would be going out on this patrol. One marine reckoned it to be eight.Another asserted that to be wrong and said that it was definitely ten. Yet a third claimedthat they were both wrong and that the number was nine. Trash carefully ashed his cigarand said, "you guys better get a good count of yourselves cos I am shooting every sonof a bitch I counts over eight."

I withdrew and headed for the marine command post.

"Trash" Sees the Light

Early one morning the reverse slope of Hill 111 was bathed in warmsunlight and men stood casually around relaxing and sunning themselves after some tensenights. In a shallow bunker Trash lay on a bunk reading some ancient paper or magazine. Afellow marine casually approached the doorway to the bunker and used the framework for aleaning post. A laconic voice came from within the bunker as Trash said: "Hey buddy.This here light takes fifty thousand light years to get to me and you have to stop it inthe last three feet." The intruder moved away.


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