Chapter 20



Service Details

We have resisted publishing anonymous articles. The Editorial Advisershave recommended that we include this one as it encapsulates some of the experiences andattitudes of Australian soldiers in Korea. The basics have been confirmed by some whoserved with Snowy. He is well known to many Korea War veterans. He did not complete his12 months obligatory tour of Korea, being seriously wounded some 10 months after hisbaptism of fire. Prayers for the dying were administered to him by an Army Chaplain. Hewas evacuated via a number of United Nations MASH units and eventually to the BritishCommonwealth Hospital in Kure, Japan. After many months, he was one of the last of thewounded to be repatriated to Australia and spent months in the Repatriation Hospital,Concord. He was discharged with rank of Sergeant. He is still in full time employment anddevotes much of his time to veterans and community organizations in a voluntary capacity.For reasons of his own, his post war friends and business associates are not aware that heis a military veteran and this is way he wants it.


I think I always wanted be a soldier. My father and his 4 brothersserved on Gallipoli and on the Western Front in World War 1. As a very young boy my Dadwould take me into Sydney each Anzac Day to watch the March. He did not march, never worehis 3 medals (which we only found after his death), never joined the Returned SoldiersLeague (RSL) but did make regular donations to his Battalion's Welfare Fund. Sometimesthis was difficult in the depression years coupled with the fact that he had a largefamily to care for.

After the march he would meet with his brothers and other members ofhis battalion, and standing on street corners would reminisce about "old times".Never in my presence would they talk of their combat experiences. It was usually the funnyand the humorous. Their escapades with British officers, their confrontations with theMilitary Police, their occasional leaves in France and England and sometimes (withdiscretion) their relationships with English and French girls.

Came World War 2 and again my father and progressively, as they becameof age, four of his five sons served as combatants. Being the youngest I was deniedmilitary service, I did make some clumsy attempts to enlist (under age) and spent 6 weeksin the 2nd AIF at Greta Camp in New South Wales before I was "sprung". I wasescorted home by two burly Military Police officers who gave me a hard time as theirweekend leave had been canceled for my escort duty, Some months later I managed to enlistin what was then known as the American Small Ships. I was issued with some kind of auniform, given very basic training in seaman's duties and allocated to an old "rustbucket" berthed at Darling Harbour. We eventually set sail for New Zealand but after2 days were re-routed to Brisbane. On arrival, at the dockside an officer of theDepartment of Manpower, a rather oldish army officer and a social worker greeted me. AgainI had been "sprung". I assumed (in later years) that for a variety of reasons itwas obvious that I was much younger than I claimed. At ablutions I was the only one whodid not shave. I did not even own a razor. I was escorted home by the social worker.

On the odd occasions when my father and my brothers were home on leaveat the same time I would listen in awe to their stories. Like my uncles and their fatherbefore them, it was always the humorous and the comical. Never their combat experience. Tome they were all heroes. World War 2 finished and my mother's prayers were answered. Her"baby" would not have to serve. She had already lost one son over Europe and myfather had been seriously wounded in the Middle East.

My opportunity to be a fighting soldier came with the Korean War of1950-1953. When the call for volunteers went out I enlisted in the Army. I was not a goodsoldier. Just average, I guess. Along with hundreds of others I underwent basic trainingat Puckapunyal then to the Commonwealth Battle School at Haramura in Japan and finallyposted as a reinforcement (usually referred to as REOS) to the Royal Australian Regimentthen fighting in Korea. My moment of truth had come. The "playing" at soldierswas over. This was the real thing.

As a reinforcement one was most conscious of the fact that you werereplacing someone who had been killed or seriously wounded. Would you complete your 12months obligatory service in Korea or would you also be replaced due to death or wounds?The alternative was not attractive to me. I was in a group of nine REOS and as we wereescorted progressively through the Battalion's positions we were individually"dropped off" at platoons or sections where we were needed. I was the last one.I don't remember drawing straws but obviously I must have had the shortest. We weregreeted by those who had preceded us with calls such as:

"you will be sorry"

"have trouble getting your tourist visa?"

"did you miss the bus?"

"catch the wrong tram - did you?"

"you didn't hear the bugle - only the bloody echo"

"wrong place mate. The Holiday Camp is a 100 miles to the rear?"

All "reos" received the same or similar greetings.

The Battalion at that stage was "dug in" in a static positionwith several battalions (some claimed that it was 3 Brigades or a Division) of Chinesecommunists a few hundred yards to our front. I was escorted to a "foxhole" whichI later found out was the furthest outpost of the Battalion's defence. Accompanied by thePlatoon Sergeant, I crawled the last 75 yards loaded down with equipment including an Owengun, ammunition and entrenching tool (shovel). I slid into the "hole" andpropped in the corner was another soldier with a cigarette stuck to his bottom lip. TheSergeant popped his head over the rim of the "hole" and said, "Mumbles -this is Snowy - show him the ropes" and then crawling away said to me "and you.......... start digging!!" After the minimum of courtesies with my new mate Istarted digging in my part of the hole. Being over 6 feet tall, when I stood erect myhead, shoulders and part of my chest protruded over the rim. I needed no encouragement todig. Even though it was very cold I was soon sweating. Having deepened my part of the holeconsiderably, I turned to "Mumbles" and said "What do you think?" If Iexpected any sort of compliment for my efforts, it was not forthcoming. "Bloodyidiot" said Mumbles "If it rains we will both drown. If I wanted a watery deathI would have joined the f..... navy." Mumbles, whose nickname originated from hismanner of speech, was a man of few words but when he did speak you were never left indoubt as to what he meant. All the time I was digging he sat propped in his cornercontinually rolling and smoking cigarettes. I did suggest that maybe he should be lookingto our front for any sign of enemy movement. He nonchalantly replied that "you willhear the bastards before you bloody well see them", I was soon to find out what hemeant.

As I said before, we were literally out front. Our nearest support wasat least 75 yards to our left and right rear. I don't know what prompted me to think ofthe old Australian expression of being "like a shag on rock" but that is exactlyhow I felt and very vulnerable at the same time. Night approached and we took it in turnsof "standing to" but I had very little faith in Mumbles ability to stay awakefor any length of time. My fears were unfounded, as I soon realized, that, when appearingto be asleep or dozing, Mumbles could be awake and on the alert in a flash with an instantappraisal of the situation. He in some ways resembled a cat and later proved to be a goodmate and was instrumental in me surviving the war. Darkness fell. I spent a very anxiousand fearful night. After darkness we lost our communication with our support to our rear,which in the main consisted of hand signals and the odd shout. Just before first light weheard movement to our immediate and left front. Then all hell broke loose. Mortars,artillery and flares rained down on our positions. This lasted for about 20 minutes.Mumbles and I "stood to" checking our Owen guns and placing ammunition clips onthe rim of our hole. Mumbles turned to me and said "Good luck Snowy - they are ontheir way ." Then we heard them. Bugles, rattles, screams and yells and then theyappeared out of the smoke and mist. They charged up the slight rise packed shoulder toshoulder. Our mates to our rear opened up first, firing over our heads, but only just. Wethen followed suit. As the enemy were hit they would fall backwards, knocking over thosewho were following. Despite our withering fire they still came. To us they appeared to be"doped" up to the eyeballs. I do not know if this was ever substantiated. Theyappeared to have interminable numbers to throw into the battle. Casualties did not concernthem. They just kept coming up the slope. Eventually our mortars ranged in on them -sometimes horribly close to our hole.

After what seemed like hours - but in actual fact was about 40 or 50minutes - the Chinese withdrew. Mumbles and I took the odd shot at those retreating butreally did not take any specific aim. We slumped to the bottom on our hole - exhausted. Hehad six rounds of ammunition left and I had four. Mumbles said " You OK.""I think so" said I, looking at my hands which were both blistered frominadvertently grabbing the hot barrel of my Owen gun. I then patted myself all over -looked at my hands again and found that they were covered in blood. Christ - I thought -I'm mortally wounded but am feeling no pain. I had visions of my body being placed in ashallow grave, covered only by my poncho - there were no Body Bags in those days - thensnow placed over it - which would eventually melt and expose my mortal remains to theelements. I looked up and hanging over the rim of our hole was a Chinese soldier - no morethan 16 or 17 years of age - his head, right arm and shoulders dangling inside our refuge.His blood had been dripping onto my outer clothing which was the blood on my hands. Hiseyes were staring blankly into the coming dawn. I reached up and closed his eyes as gentlyas I could and pushed the body away. All I could mutter to myself as "Poor bastard -thank Christ it was not me."

A few minutes later we heard yells and screams from our rear. Itappears that during the engagement our rear echelons had called in for air support. Thiswas forthcoming albeit 20 to 30 minutes too late. The American aircraft either misreadtheir map grid references or mistook our positions for the enemy and off loaded napalm andphosphorous. Our fellows had the choice of being burnt alive or exposing themselves toenemy fire. They chose the latter as did Mumbles and I. I hid behind what I thought was aboulder but in actual fact was not much bigger than a piece of rock candy. Mumbles foundsomething similar about 30 yards to my left. As the smoke began to clear this apparitionappeared, lumbering towards me with arms outstretched and his outer clothing smouldering.It was grotesque. At this stage I was lying on my back and then sat upright. It was likesomething out of a modern day horror movie. He stood immediately to my front and stareddown at me. His nose, both ears and upper lip were missing. What skin was left on his facewas visibly blistering. I vividly remember his gleaming white youthful teeth. He thumpeddown beside me and stared intently into my eyes. He then put his arm around my shoulderand said "we are not having the best of days - are we Snowy." We sat like thatfor what appeared to be an eternity but was only a few minutes. The stench from hisburning flesh was overpowering. I was powerless to do anything to assist him and under theimmediate circumstances there was nothing that I could do. He then staggered to his feet,looked down at me, stiffened in a death throe, spun 180 degrees and fell prone on hisback. His arms were outstretched, his ankles crossed and his head titled slightly onto hischest. A Christ like pose. In a space of 15 minutes, I again closed the eyes of anothersoldier. I don't know who he was. I do not want to know, but he certainly knew me.Possibly someone that had trained with me at the Commonwealth Battle School at Haramura.

A short time later Mumbles and I again sought the protection of ourhole. The Platoon Commander and the Platoon Sergeant crawled down to our position."You two OK" asked the Commander. We nodded in the affirmative. I did note anair of concern in his voice but it was obvious (to me) that what we had just experiencedwas to be regarded as an every day event in the life of an infantry soldier. They pushed arucksack of ammunition into our hole. The Sergeant advised that Mumbles and I were goingto be pulled back 75 yards in line with our other forward positions. This gave me somecomfort. We were then told that this was not to be regarded as a retreat - but awithdrawal - or an attack in a different direction. Australian soldiers never retreat -they retire. As they crawled away the Sergeant looked back and in a loud voice said"and you two - shave - now" Jesus Christ. I thought, there is death anddestruction all around us and the bastard wants us to shave. I was later to learn that thesimple act of a shave and a wash can do wonders for morale.

Mumbles and I remained in our hole for another few hours. We exchangeda few words. I was more than impressed with his coolness and only by his example was Iable to survive my baptism of fire. Believing him to be a hardened, experienced combatsoldier I innocently asked "How long have you been over here". "Four daysbefore you" replied Mumbles. Christ Almighty - I had placed my very life in the handsof someone who only had 4 days experience more than I. You learn fast in the infantry. Youhave to if you are to survive.

We were eventually withdrawn to the main Platoon positions.Reinforcements were led into the area to replace our dead and wounded. They were greetedby the usual shouts of

"Where have you been"

"You will be sorry"

"Have trouble getting your tourist visa"

"Did you miss the bus"

"Catch the wrong tram -did you"

"You didn't hear the bugle - only the bloody echo"

"Wrong place mate. The Holiday Camp is a 100 miles to the rear"

I was shouting as loud as the others. I had been blooded. I was now areal soldier. However I soon realized that real soldiers were made of sterner stuff thanme. A civilian in uniform.

Obviously I survived the war. Not through any skills or expertise of myown but only through the individual and combined efforts of my fellow "diggers".Some were "as rough as guts" but underneath their various facades they showed acaring, a compassion and even a love of their fellows which I have never experienced incivilian life. On more occasions than I care to remember I have seen them lay their liveson the line for their mates. I have seen and heard them attempting to comfort the dying -tenderly, if somewhat clumsily - and with tears in their eyes.

The conditions under which we served were primitive in the extreme. Thewildest of animals could not be expected to survive the circumstances that we endured.Most people in Australia were not even aware that Australia had forces in Korea and in1994 it is even less. Approximately 17,000 Australians (RAN, Army, RAAF) served in theKorea War. Fight and survive most of us did. In the 3 year war the Australian casualtieswere nearly 400 dead and thousands wounded and sick. Most of the time we had insufficientor inappropriate clothing. Food on most occasions was basic and sparse. Our weapons wereinferior to that of our then enemy and our allies. Temperatures of 30 degrees below zerowere recorded and I have seen and heard grown men cry with the pain of the cold. The deathand carnage has never been fully recorded of the civilian casualties but estimates run totwo and a half million. At some periods it was Dante's Inferno, circa 1950.

It was not uncommon to go for weeks without a proper wash or shower. Onoccasions troops would urinate or defecate in their clothing. To expose oneself for suchbasic calls of nature could mean instant death. We stank, we were dirty but at all timeswe remained human beings, still instilled with the basics of normal and acceptable codesof human behaviour.

Visits from VIPs from Australia were rare but on odd occasions they didcome. I remember on one occasion a politician who was also a Cabinet Minister arrived toaddress us. The Battalion had been "in the line" for months and the nightpreviously we had just been withdrawn to a reserve position. It was usual practice thatthe day after withdrawal arrangements with the Americans would be made for their hygienecaravan to come to our area. It was a massive trailer like construction, fitted withdelousing equipment (DDT), showers etc. The diggers would line up, section by section,platoon by platoon, company by company until the whole Battalion passed through. At theentrance at the rear, we would strip naked and pass through the various sections of thecaravan being deloused, showering and even having your head shaved - but this was notobligatory for the Australians. On exiting one was handed a complete set of clothing,usually recycled - including underwear and outer garments which had to last for months. Intypical Army fashion the clothing that we were issued with came in two sizes - too big ortoo small. The next thirty six hours was spent by the soldiers wandering through thereserve area attempting to exchange more appropriate sized clothing with their fellows.Some of the deals that were made would put many of the current crop of entrepreneurs toshame. The timetable of this particular politician was such that we did not have time togo through the delousing process. A makeshift platform had been erected from which he wasto address us. We were paraded before the platform and ordered to sit on the ground.Naturally we did not sit very close to one another as we all smelt liked a garbage dump ora sewage treatment works. The great man appeared on the stage, large and corpulent withwhat is generally referred to as a "beer gut". None of us in any way could beregarded as being terrific but we were trim and taut. He was resplendent in brand newKhaki Drills (KD's), starched and immaculately pressed, webbing belt with polished brass,shiny boots complete with gaiters.

This was crowned with a fur felt (slouch hat) which many of us wouldhave like to have "souvenired" as we could get at least US$25 for it off theYanks. To his credit he did not wear any insignia or honorary badges of rank. I cannotremember much of the details of his speech. It was the usual political rhetoric -"how proud we are of you - the support that you have from Australia. You are thetorchbearers of the ANZAC spirit" etc. We were all too busy scratching and attemptingto eliminate bugs from our outer clothing to absorb much of the thrust of his speech. Hefinished with a typical political promise (probably never honoured) and with an upwardflourish of both arms in Richard Nixon style, obviously expecting wild applause from hiscaptive audience. Deathly silence. Then, a real Ocker voice from the middle of theBattalion "Careful there Josh - you could be charged with impersonating asoldier". In the terms of the Thespians it brought the house down. The offendingdigger was immediately placed under arrest by MP's and we understand that the charge was"using offensive language to a Minister of the Crown". Our Company Commandersoon had the charge dropped and we believe that the offender was promoted to Corporal. TheMinister went on to strut the International political stage extolling the contributionsmade by Australia to the United Nations in Korea.

Service in Korea affected us all in some way for the rest of our lives.We had some joys and we had some fun and we certainly had our season in the sun butmingled with it was considerable darkness. When I finally returned to Australia I wasoften asked what was it like. I remembered my Father, his brothers and my brothers. I nowunderstood why they never spoke of their combat experience. This is the first and it willbe last time I have spoken or written of mine. If it ever gets to print I shall not readit. Besides, most people will not believe me.

I vividly remember my baptism of fire but many other similar incidentsfortunately have faded with time and memory. Most Australians of the Korea War regardthemselves as the forgotten veterans of a forgotten war. Unlike our gallant youngerbrothers and sisters and in some cases our sons and daughters who later fought in Vietnam,we never had a Welcome Home Parade. There was no such thing as a Counseling Service forthose who suffered traumas. Any entitlements that we had from the Veterans'Entitlement Act (the Old Repatriation Act) had to be justified and fought for, for yearsafter our return. Many in high positions of the RSL saw us as new comers. Until recently,1995, no Federal government has believed that our 400 dead are worthy of a NationalMemorial in Canberra or to recognise our service with an Australian medal. They left thatto the Brits or the United Nations.

Forgotten veterans from a forgotten war.

Maybe that is how it should be!!

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