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"Life" In The Frontline In Korea

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Major Alec Weaver, Royal Australian Regiment, (Ret)

Life in the company of death

In order to appreciate the situations in which I found myself whilst serving as a platoon commander in an infantry battalion during the Korean conflict, the following summary of events and conditions might be of use.

Until the armistice came into effect on 27 July 1953, I commanded two front line platoons at various times. Initially, my platoon occupied a position at the foot of a long spur jutting into the minestrewn valley opposite the well fortified enemy fortifications. It was situated at the right flank of the mighty Hill 355 with the Korean First Division on my right flank.

The Australian battalions had to hold the front along the most dangerous sector of the 155-mile long contested frontline.

Because the Canadians who previously occupied the Hill failed to patrol no-man's-land, a part of their position was overrun with all vital fortifications (wire, bunkers, mines) destroyed. This made it absolutely necessary for us to engage in an aggressive patrol programme, which involved me in taking fighting or reconnaissance patrols into the valley on a continuous basis by night.

After experiencing untold physical and mental hardships on such occasions with having to overcome mushy, sodden paddy fields, small streams which had been fed with human excreta over countless years, I was finally wounded whilst accompanying a patrol commanded by a neighbouring leader. It was a close quarter contact resulting in the death of many of our soldiers and the leader of the patrol and his signalman becoming POWs. I was able to lead the survivors through the minefield and to the top of the Hill before collapsing with loss of blood.

The discomforts experienced on such patrols were countless with soaking boots, socks, feet and trousers not to speak of the constant apprehension of being ambushed.

Bunker life was particularly unsavory with having to share one's abode with rats, mice and other vermin and being inundated with various insecticides and smells of petroleum-burning heaters in a confined underground situation.

Our rations were carried to us by Korean bearers under cover of darkness after having negotiated a long and precarious communication trench leading from the top of the Hill to our position.

As the safe lane through the minefield situated in front of my position was extensively used by outgoing patrols or working parties, additional burdens were heaped upon my shoulders involving them in protection tasks.

Most of the time of my platoon's occupation of that position we were under constant mortar and artillery bombardment which involved me in having to move from trench to trench and dugouts to reassure my soldiers.

After a brief convalescence in Japan, nursing my wounds, I was returned to the frontline inspite of my poor state of health. On that occasion the position my platoon occupied was situated facing open ground which was hotly contested, particularly in view of an imminent cease fire when the enemy made desperate attempts to gain as much ground as possible.

My position was placed under constant heavy fire whilst the enemy launched 'human sea' attacks against the crucial ' 'Hook' sector occupied by the Australian battalions.

This was met by a furious barrage of our artillery which fired over 23000 rounds over a relatively short period, resulting in the entire area in front of my position being covered in bloated, flyblown, bloodied bodies, often covered with lime to hasten decomposition in the hot sun.

It had been estimated that there were 3000 bodies in front of our positions.

Finally, the cease-fire came into effect and I was required to meet my 'opposite number' in the body-strewn valley. The carnage was awe inspiring and the stench overbearing! It was a great relief to be able to leave our battered trenches and the horrific scene.

Prior to the grand offensive by the enemy, I was again required to take patrols into the valley by night which, after my previous experience, was a most daunting task. To maintain morale amongst my soldiers was always a most demanding task and placed great burdens on my personal resources.

Major Alec Weaver, Royal Australian Regiment (Ret)

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