Patricia M Oliver commenced service with the RAAF station in East Sale before posting to the 30th Transport Unit, RAAF, Korea in 1951. She returned to Australia in 1953 logging 684 hours flying medical evacuation. She shared her Korean service with fellow nurses Cathy Thompson , Nathalie Wittman and Gay Halstead. She now lives with husband John in Scone New South Wales and is active in retirement with community work.
Whilst serving in the Royal Australian Air Force Nursing Service (RAAFNS) at RAAF Station, East Sale, I was posted in November, 1951, to the Korean War. With 30 Transport Unit, RAAF,(Kimpo-Iwakuni-Japan and Korea). Our main duties were to transfer casualties of the British Commonwealth Division from Korea to Japan. From Iwakuni the casualties, after being sponged, changed into pyjamas, and lunched in our Red Cross Ward, would be transferred by launch or train to the British Army hospital in Kure in the company of an Australian Army sister.
My earliest memory of Korea is the winter of 1951 - sipping boiling tea prepared continuously by British Army cooks with no shelter but a canvas fence around their cooking fire to reduce the piercing wind cutting across the Kimpo airfield. Soon three ambulances arrived from a United States Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (US MASH). The American ground staff heated our DC3 with a hot air machine whilst I did a round with an American doctor. We soon had the boys strapped into their litters - plenty of blankets - door locked firmly, engines on and were rolling down the metal airstrip ( PSP pierced steel plate) and heading through the dark snow clouds to Iwakuni. These patients would have been suffering mainly from wounds, illness and burns. Frostbite was less frequent by 1952 with improved winter clothing issued.
The cold was so intense that soldiers on watch would work in pairs. If one rested the other must stay awake to protect his mate from the elements. To fall asleep alone one might never awaken. A Korean veteran told me he was so cold he cried and wished he was a child in his mother's arms. "The conditions experienced by the troops in the Korean winter had not been equaled by any other campaign since The Somme in 1916" was the statement of a French war correspondent during the British television series on the "Story of the Korean War".
Early in 1952 we had a full load of seriously wounded patients on board. As we rumbled and bumped down the airstrip on takeoff a young officer of the Guards lying on his litter beside me looked away through the port to the Korean hills and tears coursed down his cheeks. Who knows what he was feeling or thinking?
Private Speakman VC (Victoria Cross) from Lancashire was my patient on the DC3's. He returned to Korea later in the year and was soon once again on my medical evacuation (medevac) having added a bar to his VC. I remember he was a big chap, quite tall. He must have scared the dickens out of the enemy.
Whilst returning from a medevac to Australia I was over-nighting in a Hong Kong hotel chaperoned by Flight Lieutenant (Flt Lt) Warwick Addison and Sergeant Navigator Pierre de Verteau. They kindly invited me into the bar for a drink where a bearded English sea captain and his wife joined us and insisted on buying drinks. The drinks arrived and the Englishman asked us to be upstanding. He then proposed a toast to the young Queen Elizabeth II; our first news of the death of King George VI.
One morning in Korea in the summer of 1952 I was standing in the sunshine waiting for my patients and for the crew to return from the control tower and watching American soldiers in a very long single file boarding Rest & Recreation transports. There was a United States Air Force (USAF) Globemaster close by and four immaculately attired military policemen (M.P's) were in attendance. Within minutes several ambulances arrived and a large military bus, windows screened, drew up alongside. The Honour Guard took up position near the gangway and the transfer of the litters carrying the remains of these poor chaps lost in Korea began. The Guard of Honour came to attention and saluted each litter as it was lifted of the soil of Korea.
We had six RAAF Nursing Sisters based in Iwakuni most of the time I was there including a Senior Sister. During my tour of duty I logged 55 Korean medevacs. This number would be typical of those logged by other RAAF sisters serving with me at the time. Landings were made at Kimpo, Yong Dong Po, Py Yong Tak, and Pusan.
At times we were very busy and our Senior Sister would leave her veil behind, don flying gear and do a medevac escort. There were also long hauls to Singapore and to Australia. Our own RAAF medical orderlies or RAF medical orderlies accompanied us sometimes when they could be spared from other duties at Iwakuni or 77 Squadron.
There were many good times; we met a tremendous cross-section of troops of all ranks and services from many parts of the world. I came to know the Japanese and Koreans who worked for us. Edwina, Countess Mountbatten did a full and constructive tour of Korea for the Saint Johns Ambulance Brigade and before leaving the Far East requested that available RAAF sisters join her for lunch with the Air Officer Commanding, the Station Commander and the Senior Medical Officer. I was present and for me it was a very special occasion.
The soldiers from the British battalions, including the various Guards regiments, the
Canadian troops, Norwegian and Swedish members of the United Nations forces, the New Zealanders and our own three battalions of the Royal Australian Regiment (RAR) were all wonderful chaps. Occasionally they were not too keen about flying but once airborne were ready with a smile to give a little cheek whilst they relaxed with a cup of tea and sandwiches.
A PERSONAL PERSPECTIVE
Early in the war the RAAF (with 30 Transport Unit operating C47 "Dakota" aircraft) became responsible for the medical air evacuation (medevac) of British Commonwealth Division casualties who included members of the First, Second and Third Battalions of The Royal Australian Regiment. At the outset 77 Squadron, the RAAF fighter squadron which had been deployed with British Commonwealth Occupation Unit (BCOF), instead of going home, as planned, was transferred to Korea as part of our contribution to the United Nations effort. (The story of their very significant contribution to the successful outcome of the Korean War has been told by others).
More than 12000 casualties were flown out of Korea by the RAAF, including members of the RAR.
Those of us who served on the Korean medevacs had received training in aviation medicine, medical air evacuation and ditching procedures prior to being posted to the war. Thanks to the skill of the RAAF air and ground crews the latter never had to be translated into reality for me.
The first medevacs to Australia of Australian and New Zealand casualties on chartered Qantas DC4's commenced in July 1950 and continued on a regular basis with a RAAFNS sister in attendance; at first routed through Manila and Darwin to Mascot and later via Guam and Port Moresby to Mascot. On these flights there were usually only two hour breaks at ports of call. It seemed, at times, we walked all the way to Mascot
I was posted to the Korean War in November 1951 and posted back to Australia in March 1953. During my extended tour of duty I logged a total of 684 hours flying time on medevac duty. These flying hours were typical of those logged by other Sisters working during that period. Korean airfields which my flights operated into and out of were Kimpo, Yong Dong Po, Py Yong Tak and Pusan plus Haneda (Tokyo).
I escorted one medevac to Changi (Singapore), by RAF Valetta aircraft via Okinawa, Clark Field (Manila) Kai Tak (Hong Kong), and Saigon returning by RAF Hastings through Labuan and Clark Field to Iwakuni.
A typical day in the life of a sister on medevac duty would have been something like this.......Awakened at 0330 hours by the duty Japanese jeep driver calling out 'Leeming san, Leeming san, jeepu", and at times reinforced by him throwing small pebbles at my first floor bedroom window. A quick breakfast at the hospital, a jeep ride to the strip, check the blankets and other equipment on the aircraft for take off at 0430 hours for, say on this occasion, Kimpo (K14). In winter the outside air temperature during the flight at 8000' or whatever would reach was minus many degrees centrigade. The cabin temperature in these unlined Dakotas was freezing, to say the least.
At times the weather conditions were atrocious and the traffic over Korea very heavy and stacked over the strips in smog with aircraft waiting for their turn to attempt a landing; this was more than exciting on occasions but somehow or other the boys sorted things out and we would eventually land without mishap. However I vividly recall one occasion we landed on the third attempt after taking 6.05 hours from Iwakuni to Yong Dong Po (normally a two to three hour flight).
The wounded were brought down from the MASHs and were held in a hut by the strip. I would do a round with the US Army Doctor. If fit enough, the patients were loaded aboard the aircraft for the return trip to Iwakuni. There were certain dangers involved in transporting wounded in freezing conditions in un-pressurised aeroplanes; also questions such as secondary shock had to be considered. The condition of the patients was never ideal for evacuation but it was considered preferable to return them to Japan rather than have them remain in Korea any longer. Only on one occasion did I have to refuse a patient as being unsafe to fly. As the war progressed further measures were introduced in Korea to make more certain the safe transportation of these fine men. On the whole they traveled well.
On one occasion we had to fly so high because of weather that I became semi-conscious from lack of oxygen.
In the normal course of events, with reasonable traffic conditions on the ground and in the air we would arrive back at Iwakuni sometime early in the afternoon. However, all timings were contingent on many factors. The good news was no transport aircraft were lost on medevac duty in Korea this being in no small way attributable to the skill of the air and ground crews operating our reliable Dakotas.
It is worth noting that during my service with the RAAFNS in the Korean theatre never a cross word passed between the RAAF Sisters; the teamwork was outstanding and the friendships we developed have endured to this day. Special mention must be made of our Matron in Chief, then Group Officer Joan McCrae, RRC, QHNS, FRCNA(Hon.) who remains a treasured friend to all of us. She watched over and took good care of us. She still does.
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