Chapter 16a

Man on the Skyline

Peter 'Doc, Wesley

Service Details

Peter Wesley joined the 2nd AIF in 1945. Served with British Commonwealth Occupation Forces (BCOF) (Signals) till March 1947. Re-enlisted in K Force (Korea) in January 1952 and completed two tours of duty in Korea, later transferring to the Australian Regular Army (ARA). Discharged in 1960 with the rank of Corporal. Married Kazue Kato (Kay) in Japan 1953, has two grown up children. Formerly a senior officer with the Australian Taxation Office (ATO), he established his own chartered accountancy practice in Sydney and Canberra, with associated and correspondent firms throughout Australia and New Zealand. Although past mandatory retiring age, Peter continues to work and devotes much of his time, in a voluntary capacity to Veterans'associations.
Peter Wesley
It was August 1952, summer in Korea. 1 was a very new Digger in C Company, 3 Battalion Royal Australian Regiment (3 RAR), who were forward on Hill 97, a few hundred yards across the valley of paddy fields from 'Charlie', the nickname for the Chinese communist troops. In front of our position were minefields; on our left was D Company and on our right was 1 Battalion RAR. Both were separated from us by narrow valleys. Behind us, on a higher feature, Hill 187, was A Company 3 RAR, whom we had relieved as forward company of the battalion a few days previously. The war had become static. We were dug in on the rear slopes of the steep hilly features. Back home in Aussie,'civvies'(civilians) would call these hills mountains.

During the day, activity was at a minimum, as far as we in the company were concemed. Nevertheless, Charlie continued to brighten up our lives with his accurate mortar fire. At night we did patrols in the valley in front of us, manned outposts at the mine gaps, or manned monotonous picquets in fighting pits on the hill. As we were under strength, these picquets were rather long, lasting for nearly four hours.

During the early part of my shift on this particular night, I had shown several of the boys, who were a little'stinko', the way to their'hoochies', as we called our dug-outs. They had been relieved of all duties, as they were going home next day and in celebration had scrounged some extra beer. In the early hours of the morning, as my picquet was drawing to a close, I was thinking of the information given by a prisoner. It was that several nights previously a small enemy patrol had sneaked up'Happy'Valley', which separated us from D Company next door, to look at the new jeep head which was being built. I was really tired and looking forward to a brew of coffee, then bed.

The thought made me turn towards my hoochi. I saw the form of a man on the skyline. I called out to him. There was a reply, but I could not understand it. Assuming it was another of the lads going home that day and a little drunk, I strolled up to the communication trench, or crawl trench, as we described them, to help him find his way back to his hoochi. Suddenly, I froze in my tracks. I was looking at a yellow, slant-eyed man dressed in a green uniform.

Knowing that all the Korean Houseboys were in reserve and did not leave their hoochies at night, I thought I was seeing my first Red soldier at really close range. For a moment, as frightened as hell, I stood in the crawl trench looking a him, not sure what to do. I had no weapon of any kind with me; everything was in the fighting pit. I stared at him, and he stared at me. Somehow, I managed to call out to my mate, who was sleeping in my nearby hoochi. Clad only in underpants, he came running out, cursing at having his sleep interrupted. He broke the tension, just as I was about to grapple with the stranger. 'You silly ................... Why aren't you in your hoochi? You'll get your ............. self shot walking around, at this time'. Then to me: 'You know him, don't you? Lieutenant Soong's interpreter.' I did; and breathed again.

Lieutenant Soong was a South Korean officer who had been attached to the battalion for nearly two years. He used a wireless set to intercept the Chinese Red's messages, and this 'interloper' was his interpreter. The interpreter would translate the signals from Chinese to Korean, then Lieutenant Soong would write them down in English, These two men, who were always with the most forward company of the battalion when we were in the line, proved to be a great help to the Aussie battalions, as well a to other United Nations units. The interpreter, now a merchant in Seoul, never left his hoochi again at night, and a rum ration not authorised by Lieutenant Colonel Hughes then Commanding Officer of the battalion, was drunk by one badlyscared Digger, who was lucky enough to be in charge of the company's rum at the tirne.

Lieutenant Soong was later stationed at the Ist Commonwealth Divisional Head Quarters, helping with the administration of South Korean soldiers, integrated with all Commonwealth Units during the last months of the war. He said he hopes, some day, to visit Australia, to continue university studies commenced before the war in Korea. He is sure of a good welcome by me if he ever makes the trip.

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