THE COMMONWEALTH
CONTINGENT, KOREA
 

An excerpt from the book
BEYOND THE DANGER CLOSE
The Korean Experience Revealed
 by Hub Gray

The Korean conflict was nothing like the actions in the Hochwald Forest of North West Europe, or akin to the intense close combat at Ortona, Italy during WWII. Every war is different, each establishing its own conflict of arms and in 1951 the Chinese infantry, heavily armed with automatic weapons, attacked en masse on a limited front hoping to conquer their enemy through suicidal thrusts. They successfully placed demands upon their troops that western nations would have found repugnant, employing a doctrine that was based upon the experiences of Mao Tse-tung in fighting the Japanese and Nationalist China. China had not developed a fully modern  and diversely equipped fighting force during the Korean War, although after Korea they developed a well disciplined and a broadly equipped military. They learned their lessons in Korea.

Unlike WWII the cities of Korea did not offer the spectrum of amenities for rest and relaxation which allied troops experienced in war-torn Europe . Korea was essentially a rural economy at the time, and its cities and infrastructure had been fought over so many times that they were almost totally flattened. Once a year a soldier was granted five days rest and recuperation in Japan, and the rest of the time we had to make the best of what little there was available in Korea. Conditions were repetitious, and thus we existed one on top of another both in and out of the line.

The British 27th Brigade arrived in Korea in August 1950; The 3rd Battalion Royal Australian Regiment (3RAR), formerly occupation troops in Japan, arrived in late September; the 16th Field Regiment, Royal New Zealand Artillery (16 RNZA) arrived December 15 and were committed to battle on the 25th  of January, 1951. The Second Patricias arrived December 16th and went into battle, February 17, 1951 . In late May our 25th Canadian Brigade took to the field. The Australians had one battalion in Korea, and much later two; New Zealand had one artillery regiment; the Indians provided a first class field ambulance, all integrated within the British Brigades. 2PPCLI fought along side the Australians, New Zealanders, British and the Indians, in both the 27th and 28th British Commonwealth Infantry Brigades. I believe we got along well. I found the New Zealanders to be warm, friendly and very supportive. The Australians were proud, slightly rough around the edges but excellent soldiers. The British, as usual, were steadfast and at all times unflappable. Fortunately I did not have occasion to require the services of the Indian Parachute Field Ambulance; however, they had the reputation of having the lowest loss of casualties of all front line medical services in Korea.              

Captain RKG Porter, Adjutant of the 16th RNZA, has expressed contradictory opinions concerning the performance of Canadian troops in Korea. In Ian McGibbon's official history of New Zealand in the Korean War, Vol.II, Porter is quoted as saying the Canadians: "field performance was not greatly admired;" and that Canadians were, "unpredictable in their behaviour, sloppy in fieldwork and generally arrogant." 1  During May of 1951 the Canadian presence expanded rapidly from about 800 troops to more than 6,000. We went from one understrength infantry battalion to the reinforced 25th Canadian Infantry Brigade; three Infantry Battalions and supporting arms and services including an Armoured Squadron, an Artillery Regiment, engineers and so on. Canada's Provost Corps (Military Police) administered the Commonwealth Field Punishment Camp (Military Prison) in Korea, and it was designed to administer harsh punishment, as are all military prisons.  

But this comment of Porter's seems particularly crass, especially in light of his own behaviour.  Lieut Murray Edwards, was given a terribly rude reception during a brief meeting with Porter in January.  It was after the Korean National Police reported that enemy guerrillas were active in the area around Miryang, and encamped on the top of a mountain. The Police lead B Company to the base of the mountain and identified three pathways up. One platoon was assigned to each pathway, under the commands of Lieuts Murray Edwards, Bud MacLeod and Harold Ross. Ross's patrol ran into the enemy, killing two of them, the  remainder got away.  One of Edwards' men came across a pathway in the snow revealing a trail of blood, at the end of which they found a wallet belonging to a New Zealand Warrant Officer (WO). His driver was dead having been stripped, beaten, and bayoneted through the throat. The WO wasn't so lucky. The Chinese secured his arms to his body, but left his legs unhindered. In an act of barbaric savagery they viciously cut off one hand at the wrist and the poor man began loosing blood in rhythm with his heartbeat. He headed through the woods to seek help at a nearby village, but it was deserted. The cunning barbarans had planned it well, he soon became light headed and bled to death.  Having retrieved the wallet Edwards went to the 16th  HQ, full of compassion for the man and the entire regiment. He entered Porter's office, saluted, identified himself, and announced that he was returning the deceased man's wallet. Porter, did not bother to lift his head, return the salute or even pause to look up at Edwards, he simply grunted, "Put it there,” 2  indicating a table, Edwards, mortified, turned on his heel and departed. Based on this interview it would appear Porter's investigative techniques for assessing our participation in Korea were severely lacking.  

British Colonel (retired) Michael Hickey, who served as a 2nd Lieutenant with the Royal Army Service Corps in Korea , wrote an impressive book, "The Korean War," 3 detailing the Commonwealth experience. The book is well researched, containing great historical detail and many personal interviews, which make his work both comprehensive and historically interesting. However, it too is thin on the Canadian contribution, which amounts to about three pages out of 397. Hickey acknowledges the 2 PPCLI stand at Kap'yong in one paragraph. 4 There is no mention of other impressive Canadian military successes, such as the R22eR 84-hour defence of Hill 355, November 1951 or the RCR's four-day battle commencing October 23rd 1952 . Once again, the author leaves his readers with the impression that Canada's Korean effort was somehow lacking, especially when seen in stark contrast to the extensive coverage he gives to the experiences of all other Commonwealth members. He gratuitously chooses to repeat Porter's "not fitting in" jab and then editorializes that we are "...being far more American than we (Canadians) realize.” 5 1 don't know what he expected of us, but we Canadians are neither English nor American!  If one is to dedicate the time to explore our character one would find that we are uniquely Canadian!  

In subsequent correspondence Michael informed me that while he did offshore research in both New Zealand and Australia, he did not have a budget to conduct research in Canada . I wish he had noted this unavoidable exclusion in his book. In his letter to me, of October 28, 1999 , he heaped praise upon Canadian soldiers and their performance in Korea.  

The English author, Max Hastings, in a much earlier book on Korea , stated it was a pity the 2PPCLI did not have greater casualties at Kapy­ong, for then they would have received the recognition they deserved.                                                                                                                                   

1. McGibbon, page 158                                                                                                                                   
2. Interview with Edwards,
Victoria 1999.                                                                                                     

3. Hickey, "The Korean War." John Murray Publisher, 1999.                                                                    

4, Hickey, page 218

5. Hickey, page 283  

Hub Gray served in the 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry from October 1950 - May 1953.  He joined Richardson Securities of Canada in 1953, served in Partner Research, Partner Europe and Middle East and Partner Alberta , 1975.  He became an independent business consultant in 1978 and retired in 1995.  He and his wife, Pamela Joy live in Calgary , Alberta .

Hub Gray’s book, Beyond the Danger Close is available from Bunker to Bunker Books, 4520 Crowchild Trail S.W., Calgary, AB, T2T 5J4.  Tel (403) 240-0039.  $24.95 plus $6 shipping and handling.

 

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