Chapter 35



Service Details

Patricia M Oliver commenced service with the RAAF station in East Salebefore posting to the 30th Transport Unit, RAAF, Korea in 1951. She returned to Australiain 1953 logging 684 hours flying medical evacuation. She shared her Korean service withfellow nurses Cathy Thompson , Nathalie Wittman and Gay Halstead. She now lives withhusband 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 totransfer casualties of the British Commonwealth Division from Korea to Japan. From Iwakunithe casualties, after being sponged, changed into pyjamas, and lunched in our Red CrossWard, would be transferred by launch or train to the British Army hospital in Kure in thecompany of an Australian Army sister.

My earliest memory of Korea is the winter of 1951 - sipping boiling teaprepared continuously by British Army cooks with no shelter but a canvas fence aroundtheir cooking fire to reduce the piercing wind cutting across the Kimpo airfield. Soonthree ambulances arrived from a United States Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (US MASH). TheAmerican ground staff heated our DC3 with a hot air machine whilst I did a round with anAmerican 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 piercedsteel plate) and heading through the dark snow clouds to Iwakuni. These patients wouldhave been suffering mainly from wounds, illness and burns. Frostbite was less frequent by1952 with improved winter clothing issued.

The cold was so intense that soldiers on watch would work in pairs. Ifone rested the other must stay awake to protect his mate from the elements. To fall asleepalone one might never awaken. A Korean veteran told me he was so cold he cried and wishedhe was a child in his mother's arms. "The conditions experienced by the troops in theKorean winter had not been equaled by any other campaign since The Somme in 1916" wasthe 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 onboard. As we rumbled and bumped down the airstrip on takeoff a young officer of the Guardslying on his litter beside me looked away through the port to the Korean hills and tearscoursed down his cheeks. Who knows what he was feeling or thinking?

Private Speakman VC (Victoria Cross) from Lancashire was my patient onthe DC3's. He returned to Korea later in the year and was soon once again on my medicalevacuation (medevac) having added a bar to his VC. I remember he was a big chap, quitetall. He must have scared the dickens out of the enemy.

Whilst returning from a medevac to Australia I was over-nighting in aHong Kong hotel chaperoned by Flight Lieutenant (Flt Lt) Warwick Addison and SergeantNavigator Pierre de Verteau. They kindly invited me into the bar for a drink where abearded English sea captain and his wife joined us and insisted on buying drinks. Thedrinks arrived and the Englishman asked us to be upstanding. He then proposed a toast tothe 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 thesunshine waiting for my patients and for the crew to return from the control tower andwatching American soldiers in a very long single file boarding Rest & Recreationtransports. There was a United States Air Force (USAF) Globemaster close by and fourimmaculately attired military policemen (M.P's) were in attendance. Within minutes severalambulances arrived and a large military bus, windows screened, drew up alongside. TheHonour Guard took up position near the gangway and the transfer of the litters carryingthe remains of these poor chaps lost in Korea began. The Guard of Honour came to attentionand 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 wasthere including a Senior Sister. During my tour of duty I logged 55 Korean medevacs. Thisnumber 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 veilbehind, don flying gear and do a medevac escort. There were also long hauls to Singaporeand to Australia. Our own RAAF medical orderlies or RAF medical orderlies accompanied ussometimes 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 troopsof all ranks and services from many parts of the world. I came to know the Japanese andKoreans who worked for us. Edwina, Countess Mountbatten did a full and constructive tourof Korea for the Saint Johns Ambulance Brigade and before leaving the Far East requestedthat available RAAF sisters join her for lunch with the Air Officer Commanding, theStation Commander and the Senior Medical Officer. I was present and for me it was a veryspecial occasion.

The soldiers from the British battalions, including the various Guardsregiments, the

Canadian troops, Norwegian and Swedish members of the United Nationsforces, 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 onceairborne were ready with a smile to give a little cheek whilst they relaxed with a cup oftea and sandwiches.


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 andThird Battalions of The Royal Australian Regiment. At the outset 77 Squadron, the RAAFfighter 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 tothe United Nations effort. (The story of their very significant contribution to thesuccessful 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 inaviation medicine, medical air evacuation and ditching procedures prior to being posted tothe war. Thanks to the skill of the RAAF air and ground crews the latter never had to betranslated into reality for me.

The first medevacs to Australia of Australian and New Zealandcasualties on chartered Qantas DC4's commenced in July 1950 and continued on a regularbasis with a RAAFNS sister in attendance; at first routed through Manila and Darwin toMascot and later via Guam and Port Moresby to Mascot. On these flights there were usuallyonly two hour breaks at ports of call. It seemed, at times, we walked all the way toMascot

I was posted to the Korean War in November 1951 and posted back toAustralia in March 1953. During my extended tour of duty I logged a total of 684 hoursflying time on medevac duty. These flying hours were typical of those logged by otherSisters working during that period. Korean airfields which my flights operated into andout of were Kimpo, Yong Dong Po, Py Yong Tak and Pusan plus Haneda (Tokyo).

I escorted one medevac to Changi (Singapore), by RAF Valetta aircraftvia Okinawa, Clark Field (Manila) Kai Tak (Hong Kong), and Saigon returning by RAFHastings through Labuan and Clark Field to Iwakuni.

A typical day in the life of a sister on medevac duty would have beensomething like this.......Awakened at 0330 hours by the duty Japanese jeep driver callingout 'Leeming san, Leeming san, jeepu", and at times reinforced by him throwing smallpebbles at my first floor bedroom window. A quick breakfast at the hospital, a jeep rideto the strip, check the blankets and other equipment on the aircraft for take off at 0430hours for, say on this occasion, Kimpo (K14). In winter the outside air temperature duringthe flight at 8000' or whatever would reach was minus many degrees centrigade. The cabintemperature in these unlined Dakotas was freezing, to say the least.

At times the weather conditions were atrocious and the traffic overKorea very heavy and stacked over the strips in smog with aircraft waiting for their turnto attempt a landing; this was more than exciting on occasions but somehow or other theboys sorted things out and we would eventually land without mishap. However I vividlyrecall one occasion we landed on the third attempt after taking 6.05 hours from Iwakuni toYong Dong Po (normally a two to three hour flight).

The wounded were brought down from the MASHs and were held in a hut bythe strip. I would do a round with the US Army Doctor. If fit enough, the patients wereloaded aboard the aircraft for the return trip to Iwakuni. There were certain dangersinvolved in transporting wounded in freezing conditions in un-pressurised aeroplanes; alsoquestions such as secondary shock had to be considered. The condition of the patients wasnever ideal for evacuation but it was considered preferable to return them to Japan ratherthan have them remain in Korea any longer. Only on one occasion did I have to refuse apatient as being unsafe to fly. As the war progressed further measures were introduced inKorea to make more certain the safe transportation of these fine men. On the whole theytraveled well.

On one occasion we had to fly so high because of weather that I becamesemi-conscious from lack of oxygen.

In the normal course of events, with reasonable traffic conditions onthe 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 transportaircraft were lost on medevac duty in Korea this being in no small way attributable to theskill of the air and ground crews operating our reliable Dakotas.

It is worth noting that during my service with the RAAFNS in the Koreantheatre never a cross word passed between the RAAF Sisters; the teamwork was outstandingand the friendships we developed have endured to this day. Special mention must be made ofour Matron in Chief, then Group Officer Joan McCrae, RRC, QHNS, FRCNA(Hon.) who remains atreasured friend to all of us. She watched over and took good care of us. She still does.


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