First Prisoners of War

An excerpt  from the recently published book

M*L*B*U Fully Monty in Korea
by

Bob Ringma

 

 

25 Canadian Infantry Brigade Group was placed under the operational control of 1 US Corps, or “I” Corps, on 19 May 1951, the day of our recce into no man’s land.  The Brigade was ordered to a concentration area near Haech’on ready to participate in a Corps offensive scheduled for 21 May.  On 24 May the Brigade was put under command of 25 US Division. For the formation and most of its members, the ensuing advance to contact was to be our first taste of action.

The pressure for me to get operational came from three sources: one, the country itself which was without amenities for the troops; two, a senior staff officer at Brigade HQ and three, the motivation of my NCOs, men and me to do well.

The Brigade “DAQ”, Major Hamilton, an infantryman, was even more anxious than I was to give the troops a shower.  I kept getting messages from him, “When and where will you open?”  I could give him the where but not the when, since we had logistics problems of our own.  My soldiers and I wanted to show our stuff too and had moved to a location on the bank of the Han River, but we lacked towels, duckboards and electrodes to fire the boilers.  

The DAQ had waited long enough and had heard too many excuses; he finally sent me a pre-emptive message: “I am sending two companies of infantry to your location for showers at 1400 today.”  Panic set in.  We got to work and set up as best we could and sure enough, the troops started arriving at 1400.  You have never seen such a long line of bare-naked men in your life. And I have to share the blame for the lineup with the HQ since a 24-showerhead rig cannot accommodate 200 men at the same time. Fortunately it was a warm spring day so they got a sunbath while waiting for the shower.  I was embarrassed that our soldiers had to wait but they didn’t seem to mind too much but I swore it wouldn’t happen again.

Things went smoother after that, including relations with Brigade Headquarters.  If I had had the time I should have done some liaison with the Americans to see how their shower units made out in the forward areas. I did see one operating in the vicinity of I Corps Headquarters a good distance from the front lines. Their shower units were probably divisional or corps troops and were kept in rear areas and assigned forward as circumstances permitted.  My w.0arrant officer, NCOs and I were very combat support oriented so we kept our unit well forward in the Brigade lines near the troops it serviced. Sometimes we were too close and we got complaints about that too. There were always double takes as soldiers saw one of our semi-trailers winding around narrow dirt roads near the FDLs (forward defended localities).

As soon as we started providing laundry and bath services, we realized that it was one of the very few amenities available in Korea. The MLBU was not a luxury but at the same time it was.  Not only did it help the troops keep clean, but it also gave them a bit of respite.  The shower and change of clothes were appreciated but so was the break away from unit lines.  Korea itself had virtually nothing to offer the soldier. It was a desolate, barren country. And I became particularly proud of our Canadian unit because it was as far forward in the brigade area as it could be.

For the first few months we were involved in very mobile operations. On 25 May the Brigade advanced with the second battalion of the Royal Canadian Regiment (2 RCR) on the left and the second battalion of the Royal 22nd Regiment (2 R22eR) on the right, each battalion with a troop of tanks under command and an engineer detachment in support.  They encountered light opposition that day and continued the advance over a couple of days.  On the 27th they occupied high ground overlooking the 38th parallel.  Nearly thirty miles had been covered in a few days. Small wonder that Bill and I found nothing in miles of no man’s land a week earlier!

The MLBU was following close behind.  Neither the Brigade Commander nor the advancing infantry either knew or cared about our little unit at that point.  Their eyes were straight ahead on the enemy. The Brigade axis was the MSR (Main Service Route), which paralleled the P’och’on River.  

On 28 May I sited the laundry and bath unit on the river, miles North of Uijongbu but still south of the 38th Parallel and, anticipating further movement with the Brigade, went looking for more water.  On my return I found my personnel standing guard over two Chinese prisoners.  They looked disconsolate and not very dangerous.  Dressed in running shoes and some pieces of uniform, they had one rifle between them.  It was of Russian manufacture and had a multi-grooved bayonet, which could be hinged back under the barrel.  Picking the weapon up, I drew back the bolt to find a bullet still up the spout.  "Where did these guys come from?” I asked my Sergeant Major, WO2 Reid.  

He replied that some Korean civilians had come into our camp and through sign language told him that there were enemy soldiers hiding in a nearby hut.  The Sergeant Major took a Bren gun, a few men with rifles and hand grenades and followed the civilians to the hut.  He received no response when he called for the soldiers to come out so they fired a few shots into the building.  That got their attention.  A flag appeared at a window, followed by the two Chinese soldiers.  Although they only had the one rifle, they had a good supply of homemade bombs ready for use.  One of our men was dispatched to fetch some MPs off the nearby MSR to take the prisoners away.  Three days later on 31 May, the MLBU took three more prisoners under similar circumstances.

Surprisingly, the prisoners of war taken by the MLBU on 28 May were the first POWs taken by the Canadian Brigade Group in Korea and of course a red letter day for our little service unit.  This first capture of the enemy is not surprising in one sense since the Brigade had just gone into action a few days before and since the enemy had withdrawn.  What was surprising was that a service support unit, a laundry and bath unit at that, was credited with this “first”.  Strange Battleground”, the Official History of the Canadian Army in Korea, records the event.  There was nothing heroic about the POW incidents but they were unusual.  They would not have happened if the MLBU had not been as far forward as it was in the brigade area.

...continued on page two

 

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