RECOLLECTIONS OF KOREA

by

 Lieutenant-Colonel (Ret) Edgar H. Hollyer, MC, CD  

Introduction
Recollections of my experiences in Korea begin with my arrival in Pusan and ends after my battalion, 3rd Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment, was attacked by the Chinese the night of  2/3 May, 1953. My memories of some 50 years ago are starting to grow dim and, if they are to be recorded, must be done now.

This record is for my children and grandchildren so they may understand some of the horrors of war, strive for peace and perhaps thus ensure wars such as WW I, WW II, and Korea will not happen again. I should hope they would realize that Canada must be prepared militarily to guard against unwanted eventualities, that those who gave their lives for our freedom or to put an end to acts of open aggression must be remembered.

Background
Canada was one of the first to jump to the aid of South Korea (The Republic of Korea) when it was invaded by the Soviet-backed forces of North Korea (The People’s Democratic Republic of Korea) on the 25th of June, 1950 .

This act of open aggression was the first in the world since the establishment of the United Nations and led to intervention by international armed forces. The war that thus began turned out to be Canada ’s third most costly and was the beginning of a new era of our involvement in world affairs.

It was the first of many United Nation’s missions in which Canada would play an important role. We had the fourth largest military force participating in this war on the UN side, after the United States , Great Britain and South Korea .

Arrival in Korea
Our first introduction to
Korea was not the most pleasant. When we were still at sea, some distance from Pusan , we could detect a foul-smelling odour. This was caused by raw sewage flowing into the ocean from the city which was crammed with hundreds of thousands of refugees. It appeared that the whole city, stretching far into the hills, was living in shacks made from scrap lumber and beer and soft drink cans or just cardboard boxes.

The Battalion arrived in Pusan , Korea on March 23rd and was welcomed by Syngman Rhee, President of South Korea, his wife and a delegation of officers representing all the nations involved in the war. The Battalion’s bugle band played from the deck of the Wo-Sang, one of the British coastal steamers that had transported the Canadians from Japan (The other ship was the E-Sang). Our second in command (2i/c), Major Egan, was presented with flowers by “a small Korean maid”. A Korean military band entertained us with martial music while we disembarked. The Battalion entrained immediately.

The Trip North
The trip north was made in a grim-looking train which we called “The UN Express”. Most of the windows were smashed and the seating was wooden benches. The “wash-rooms” were something to behold: no wash basin, no toilet, just a hole in the floor through which you could observe the ground going by. Around the hole in the centre of the floor were painted two foot-prints to aid, I suppose, in the maintenance of the aim.

We kept our weapons handy because we were told we might encounter sniper fire on the trip north. Infiltrator agents and military personnel usually dressed as Korean peasants, were the producers of this threat. It was also important that the trip during the night hours be carried out without interior lighting to reduce the possibility of being targeted.

While we waited aboard the train to begin the journey, hundreds of poorly clothed children surrounded the coaches asking for food. The weather was cold at that time of year and those children were certainly not dressed for it. We felt the chill even though we wore sweaters and battle-dress. It got worse when the train began moving.

After we had travelled some distance, our train stopped. Another train moved slowly past us in the other direction and pulled into a near-by siding. There was a strange moaning sound coming from what looked like freight cars with slatted sides. I left our train and went over. I looked through the openings and saw many Orientals in padded suits with their arms tied above their heads and fastened to the side or top of the cars; some with their feet barely touched the ground. I spoke to one of the railway men who understood some English and he gave me the impression that these were South Korean soldiers being sent to the rear for disciplining. I thought what cruel people.

The next day we arrived in Tokchon, the railhead, the point where the railway ended and road transport began. We left the train and boarded two and one half ton trucks for our journey to the 1st Commonwealth Division area near the 38th parallel.

After dark we stopped for the night and were just getting to sleep when we were startled by an ear-splitting roar of guns firing. We were right beside a U.S. Army 8-inch howitzer battery firing on some target. It was an uncomfortable sleep.

The next morning when we got up a heavy frost had settled everywhere. But the field next to us had hundreds of small frost-free dots. Not understanding what had caused the melting, I asked about this strange sight. It was caused by homeless children bedding down in that field.

Later they descended on us asking for food. Not a pleasant sight, but even more unpleasant for little kids.

The battalion in reserve
At last we reached the 25th Canadian Infantry Brigade area and dispersed to our company areas. The Commonwealth Division was in reserve at this time and not in the line. The 1st Battalion, which we were to relieve, had not left
Korea , so there was a period during which a handover of stores and equipment took place.

Battalion and brigade exercises also were conducted with us newcomers experiencing the height of those Korean hills. A proper handover parade took place with L Col Campbell of 3RCR taking command from L Col Bingham of the 1st Battalion.

During the ceremony Col Bingham gave the command “three cheers for Col Campbell and his Royal Canadians”. Col Campbell, not to be outdone countered with his command: “Three cheers for Col Bingham and his Royal Canadians”.

A voice from the crowd was then heard to shout  “Three cheers for Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians”.

Both Commanding Officers were not amused. Guy Lombardo was a well-known leader of a popular dance orchestra of the time called the Royal Canadians. Both Guy and his brother Carmen had served in the Regimental Band before branching out on their own successful careers.

In the meantime, some elements of the Division moved into the line. Consequently, all newly arrived officers had an opportunity to visit other battalions in the line. There they could experience for the first time unfriendly fire and spend time on the positions they were to occupy. They could get a feel for the situation from those to be relieved. Three of us junior officers were sent on a brigade patrol course, something about which I was not too keen.

We were quite happy to see the 1st Battalion leave for home, not because of any animosity, but because there were not sufficient parkas to clo the two battalions, and we were to be issued the parkas now being worn by the 1st Battalion. The weather was bitterly cold with a frigid wind blowing out of the North.

Before the attack
On the night of 19\20 April the battalion moved into the position known as Hill 187 to replace the 1st Battalion of the Royal 22nd Regiment leaving for Canada after its one-year tour of duty. The RCR position resembled the palm of a great, gnarled hand. Hill 187 itself represented the base from which four finger-like ridges ran westward, pointing towards the lower reaches of Nabu-ri Stream. 

The Commanding Officer assigned “A” Company to Hill 187 and “C” Company to the first finger to the west: He placed “B” Company on the second and third fingers and “D” at the base of the fourth.

“C” Company had two platoons on Point 97; my platoon, No 7, the most forward; and No 8 on the rise immediately behind 7 Platoon. “C” Company Headquarters and No 9 Platoon were on Point 123 to my rear.

The fighting strength of the company at this time was about l30, including 22 Katcom soldiers. In addition there were 60 members of the Korean Service Corps, of whom two-thirds were employed at digging, the remainder served as porters. Katcoms were US-trained Korean soldiers who, at that time, could not be absorbed by the Republic of Korea (ROK) units and conveniently filled a void in Canadian Infantry battalions, which were not receiving sufficient replacements from Canada .

These Korean soldiers were described as Korean Augmentation to the Commonwealth; hence “Katcoms”. Most of them could not speak a word of English or French. They were all integrated into our rifle platoons.

Before going into the line the Koreans had to be trained to use our weapons. There were six Katcoms and 21 Canadians in my platoon for a total of 27 all ranks.

After we settled in, I confided to my sergeant that I was not too impressed with the idea of going on patrol. But because we were a forward platoon we undoubtedly would be spared that duty. He confided that his feelings about patrolling was like mine and we both breathed a sigh of relief.

But the feeling was short lived. Later that morning I was invited down to the Battalion Headquarters by the Battle Adjutant (the operations officer at Headquarters) to have lunch with the Commanding Officer. I was indeed elated, but I was soon to learn that such social niceties were invariably a precursor to a patrol. That night I and another officer from “B” Company had the honour of carrying out the first reconnaissance (recce) patrols of the Battalion.

In the morning, Sgt Stone and I toured our position and checked the sighting of all the weapons. The morale of my soldiers was very high. When we took over this position from the 1st Battalion Royal 22nd Regiment (R22eR) we also took over their special weapons. It was to my great surprise that I found that the company mortars were deployed in my platoon area. I later discovered that “C” Company of R22eR always deployed their company mortars with their forward platoon. This was one of the idiosyncrasies of their Company Commander.

I did not inform my Company Commander, but decided to hold onto these weapons as I had been trained as a mortar officer. I figured that eventually I would have to give them up; but in the meantime I suggested to my Platoon Sgt that we have some fun and fired a few rounds behind the enemy lines.

I jokingly said to Sgt Stone: “This should let them know 3 RCR is here”. The Chinese must have been greatly perturbed as a great cloud of smoke rose from the area where our rounds had landed. We concluded that we must have hit a small cache of ammunition. However, almost immediately enemy mortar and artillery rounds started to fall all over our position. We took cover in our bunkers.

The next day the enemy started shelling and mortaring the Battalion in earnest with the brunt being taken by 7 and 8 Platoons. This harassment Sgt Stone blamed on me. He said I “stirred them up”. The harassment continued for 13 days, until the night of 2/3 May when we were attacked.

Since the devastating bombardments were restricted to daylight hours, nights were spent trying to restore our fire positions. During this period, a Chinese lady, over a loud speaker, counselled us “American “ soldiers to lay down our arms and join the happy Chinese and our buddies to the north who had been taken prisoner.

At the beginning of the broadcast, she always invited us to sit on the edge of our fox-holes with the promise that we would not be fired on during this period. I was convinced that this invitation was to allow some observer to plot our weapon positions. I warned my troops against complying, that they should be careful not to give our position away. We were surprised that the broadcast from the Chinese referred to us as “American soldiers” as this position was taken over from the Americans by the “Van Doos” some considerable time before.

One evening just after last light a recce patrol of three men went out into the valley. While they were returning, they discovered they were being followed. They called for smoke to cover their return as they were too small a group to tangle with (what they considered to be) a large fighting patrol.

I was listening on the telephone line and heard the Commanding Officer say to our Company Commander “Mut (that was his nick name) you have mortars up there? Can you provide smoke?”

“Very good, sir,” was the reply. I then heard some muffled voices presumably between the Company Commander and his Sergeant Major who should have been in charge of the mortars.

I heard my Company Commander then say: “Sir, we have no mortars here”.

I butted in and revealed that they were in the 7 Platoon area and I would provide the smoke. You can be sure that those mortars were returned to their proper owners early the next day with some sharp words from my Company Commander.

-continued page two

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