Australian POWs in the Korean War

January 20th. 1951 was not going to be a pleasant memory for Tom Hollis, a patrol member of 3 Btn. Royal Australian Regiment. Along with his mates, Tom had ended a long - range patrol behind enemy lines and was homeward bound.

The patrol had been to Ich'on and when returning, sighted a large party of enemy troops when about 600 yards from reaching their own lines. This caused a change in plans and it was decided to 'lay-up' in an empty house, there was however an occupant in a rear room, who unbeknown to the Australians; alerted the Chinese forces to their presence. At about 0300 the large enemy force surrounded and took prisoners, the small group of Diggers.

They were moved back about 8 miles that night, then marched a further 25 the following one. Surprisingly, three members were detached to an Indoctrination- school then later repatriated. Tom and Cpl. Buck were kept in the area for three weeks, then moved back over the Han river where they were joined by 44 United States prisoners.

This group were then marched 15 miles to an unidentified location, and held there for another 4 weeks. The prisoners of war were then marched for about two weeks to a camp at Suan, known as The Bean Camp. This notorious place had been an old Japanese mining camp and from there, Tom left in a group of about 350 POWs. on April 24th. followed two days later by a similar size batch of men, these parties marched to a small town north of Pyongyang.

From there they entrained to Sinan jou, a large town near the coast, Tom and 60 other sick POWs. were detached to the North Korean Security Police, where 15 prisoners died in three days. Following this the remainder were moved by truck, to Chong san (camp one). Of the approximately 700 men that began the journey, only 112 made it to the final camp. Tom was the only Australian on this journey, and later met up with Buck and Privates Parker and Gwyther in mid 1952. All were 3RAR soldiers.

There at what became notorious as camp 5 as the Chinese knew it; Tom underwent routine interrogation. He was also given intensive indoctrination lectures, (brain washing), by Chinese lecturers. One who was known as 'Blood on your hands.' stated at one lecture that the American War Mongers, had established Naval and Air bases, in all non-communist countries.

Unable to resist the opportunity, Tom called out "They haven't got any bases in my country." Terrible mistake, he was rushed off to HQ. where he was finally told that he could avoid further punishment, providing he wrote a letter stating that he now realized the unbeatable qualities of the Chinese Volunteer Army.

He was given time to ponder the error of his ways, and finally agreed to write from the view point of a Bren gunner. The statement he made was. "And as for the mass attacks of large bodies of infantry, it was great, a Bren gunners' dream come true."

Tom was obliged to write another letter to pardon his sin, it was to the Peace Congress at Vienna, and was penned on rice paper. This was dictated to him by an interpreter, but when he left to fetch his superior; Tom took the chance and hid the paper inside his pen. This was a fountain pen he had carried from Japan, and which the Chinese had failed to find and steal.

Upon their return, they asked for the letter, Tom said that he thought the interpreter had it with him!. That not being the case, one of the soldiers who had passed through must have picked it up. This set in motion a series of heated arguments, between a number of Chinese and Tom was returned to the camp. Long after upon his release from POW status, and return to Japan for medical treatment, he still had the letter in the fountain pen.

An act such as this shows the fortitude of the man , and his control of himself under difficult circumstances, in the harsh world of the Korean prisoner of war life.

Later on 25th. June 1952, Buck, Parker, Hollis, and two others escaped from camp 5, their liberty was short lived. After only four days they were re captured due to the traitorous act of a fellow UN prisoner, who withdrew from the escape group just a few hours before they took off. Their party together with other parties, all met at an agreed point, there they were met by the waiting Chinese who had been alerted of the plan. Every escapee was incarcerated in the notorious and cruel ‘Sweat Box.'

The focal point for ill treatment in camp 5 was a cell about 12 x 12 x 8 feet, with only tiny windows placed high in three of the walls. The remaining wall had a heavy door with a grill set in it. This block was built up off the ground, and a guard was in position on a verandah outside the door. The usual treatment for the prisoners was to be forced to sit or stand to attention, from 4.30 am until 11pm each day. The sleeping period in between was often broken by a vindictive guard, and there were no cots or bedding available for the prisoners, and no talking between the men was allowed.

The head guard at Pyoktong by the name of Tong, visited the prisoners often, he amused himself by battering the captives with a club, rifle butt or pistol. Often his treatment left the victim unconscious, and on one occasion when Gwyther and Parker were caught talking, they were forced to squat and balance on their toes. This they had to do on round saplings that made up the floor, when they lost their balance and fell from this position, they were beaten with rifle butts and clubs. Tong hated Americans as he had been forced to leave that country previously, they suffered most from him.

The rations given these men was less than the usual limited diet, and they were only allowed to collect drinking water from the nearby Yalu River. Many bodies were buried in shallow graves on the beaches there, and they often washed out of position and floated nearby. Dysentery was prevalent amongst the men, but they were permitted to leave the cell only once each day. This was at the whim of the duty guard, and the needs of the men mattered not. Thus they were forced to lay in their own filth, day and night. One Australian used his Chairman Mao cap, as his toilet container, then emptied it when let outside.

Tong had yet another hobby with the prisoners, this was to force one to hold a pencil like piece of wood between his teeth, and push it through the wall of the cell. Then a guard would unexpectedly knock the wood from the outside, in a sideways swipe, the result of this was broken teeth and torn mouths. Another trick would be to ram the stick straight into the prisoners throat, a dangerous and painful act of cruelty.

The roof was also fitted with a special cross beam, this was used to raise a prisoner up by the wrists which had been tied behind his back. He was raised until his toes were just touching the floor, and then left hanging there. Yet another cruel torture was to tie the man with his hands and feet together, then make a hangman's noose about his neck and heave him up until he was just on his toes. The other end of the rope was then attached to his ankles. The prisoner suffering this treatment was told, if you slip you are committing suicide.

Methods such as these were used to obtain false confessions. Cpl. Buck was taken from the prison once when it was thought he was the leader of the escape attempt. His penalty was to be taken to the guards barracks, where they subjected him to regular beatings over a period of two weeks, in a vain endeavor to get him to confess.

This and many other types of inhuman treatment were the regular lot of the UN prisoners, and it took men strong in both body and mind to survive, only one Australian died in captivity. He was awarded The George Medal for his defiance of the enemy, and his work to protect and feed his less fortunate prisoners, at the final cost of his own life. This was Private 'Billy' Madden of 3 RAR.

R.I.P. Billy.

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