(Snow) M.C. Dicker
In January 1946, after 5 1/2 years' service in WWII, I found it hard to settle down into a permanent job of my liking. I tried half a dozen jobs varying from self-employment to Air Locks, Tramways, Snowy Mountains Scheme. I even rode a push-bike to Brisbane and back, visiting old mates on the way - most had settled down to some extent and were doing what they liked. By this time they were calling for "K" Force and service in Korea.
Saturday mornings, a group of us used to meet at the Old Post Office Hotel in Oxford Street, Paddington and have a few beers. This particular Saturday morning, Korea was the main topic being discussed - those present were Pat Knowles, Ron Peters, Tim Coffee and Reg Gentles whose father went down on the H.M.A.S. Sydney. He said he would enlist if he could serve on the Sydney. He went -1 haven't seen him since, but heard of him serving on the Sydney during the Korean Event. We all came back, but none of us better than we went.
I got my call up, to report to Manickville Depot, Addison Road, for my medical. We lined up for x-rays, etc. It turned out the way we lined up was the way the new Army nos. were handed out, e.g., 2/400001 became Spud Murphy (pic, right), 2/400002 became George Castles, 2/400003 Jack Foffest, 2/400004 Snow Dicker, myself. The 2/ stood for N.S.W. The 4OOOOO was the start of 'W' Force Numbers.
We ended up at Ingleburn and were rigged out and allotted to our huts, then sorted out into our Specialist Platoons. I was a Medium Machine Gunner (Vickers) during WWII and was allotted to the M.M.G. Platoon. There was a problem as Vickers Guns had been moth-balled after the War, and was no longer part of a Battalions War Establishment, but I was lucky. I found I could take a lock to pieces and put it back together blind-folded (a popular test of skill during the War years). I had not thought much about Gun Drills and found it a bit strange to handle an old weapon straight out of moth-balls. The routine was early parade, breakfast, then familiarising ourselves with Gun procedures for the day, then leave granted after 4.30 p.m.
After about a week a mate from Paddo, Ron Peters, joined us - I was glad to see him again. He had a motor bike, so he and I would shoot through after knock-off, back to dear old Paddo and an early morning dash back to Ingleburn camp for roll-call. There were a few close shaves, but nothing serious, but most enjoyable while it lasted.
I was shipped out after another week or so, and flew out of Mascot late at night on 30th August 1950. Just before we left we had another parade and were given one only American Dollar Bill (I still have mine), as we were to spend the following night at Clarke Field in the Philippines. We could spend it there if we wished - our Aussie money was no good there or anywhere else we were going to be in the near future. The flight via Darwin was as civilian passengers - there were a dozen or more of us, and it was a terrific trip - all mod. cons. No grog was the official order, but we found it easy to get something to help you sleep on such a long trip. The food was terrific, we even had plates, saucers, cups with handles on, a real first-class trip with first-class people.
We landed at Clarke Field midafternoon, and were paraded before an American Officer who welcomed us as their guests for the evening and told us that it was pay day for U.S. Services that day. They were paid once a month in those days. We were shown to our Barracks for the night, and told that after showering, etc. there would be some sergeants around later to take us on a tour of the base and then to the clubs for a drink and a meal. Clarke Field was a huge place, and had thousands of servicemen there - both Army and Air Force. They had taxis running everywhere inside the large wire fence that surrounded the whole base. The Filipinos managed the clubs, taxis and the dancing girls working in the clubs. It was a real home away from home, and a good place to spend a war. The whole place was under tight security with guards for IN and OUT traffic, as there were Communist insurgents loose out there. I think they were called HUKS, or some such name. We all had a good time that night with plenty of San Niguil local beer and Heinekens Dutch beer in the first stubbies that we had come across. Judging by our heads next morning it must have been a beauty. Part of the instructions from the American Officer on the earlier parade was NOT to touch the FIRE buttons that were situated at the bottom of each flight of stairs in the barracks. Of course, going to bed that night and looking for the light switch in the dark, it was hard to tell the RED switch from any other switch, so next thing there was this terrible loud siren screaming its head off, and a lot of very angry firemen screaming louder than the siren. After a while, things became normal again - after bribing the Captain with a slouch hat from one of the boys who was still sound asleep, and whom next morning cursed the thief who stole his hat overnight. Next morning up early, and back to the plane ready for take-off and a great breakfast of pancakes and maple syrup, with the works. Most of us unfortunately were more worried about keeping our stomachs and what was already in them under control. It was about lunchtime before we managed to concentrate on the half-lobster salad that was set before us, terrific meals and once again appreciated.
We landed at Iwakuni late afternoon, and marvelled at the different time changes, which kept us confused and wondering how the days seemed so long. I think the date line had something to do with it. From lwakuni we went by train to Kure and then to Hiro Barracks and marched into 3 Battalion R.A.R. 1st September 1950. Training started straight away, and the time was spent between Vickers Gun training and becoming physically fit, with a bit of parade ground marching and drills. There were also a few trips to Haramura for overnight exercises and a 30 kilometre plus route march back to camp. I was surprised by handling the rather tough introduction back to infantry training (footslogging) as it was not yet a month since I was a civilian. The barracks and amenities were pretty good. Guard duty was the same as anywhere else. The Canteen was a popular spot of an evening - beer at 3 pence per glass was affordable.
On a day off, Sunday, a few of-us decided to go visit Hiroshima. One of the chaps with us had spent some time there and knew the ropes, so first up the "Speedy" bus to Kure Station, then train to Hiroshima. The train trip was quite an experience in itself, and was quite a long trip. On arrival, the three of us were absolutely horrified at the devastation that we saw - it was about 5 years since the bomb was let loose, and nothing seemed to have changed. The railway was the core of hundreds of little huts, with some small shops clustered around it. The rest was as far as the eye could see, burnt rubble, to our minds like a country town that a bushfire had gone through, and left nothing standing, but a hundred times larger. We walked to where the epicentre was claimed to be, known as The Commercial Museum, and wondered at the enormity of it all. While on the way back we met a couple of other Diggers with the same idea as ourselves - they were from 3 Batt. also, one of them had quite a row of very distinguished ribbons on his chest including a D.F.C. and D.F.M. He was ex-R.A.A.F. of course and had joined "K" Force for a bit of adventure. His name was A.J. Croll (news clipping, left) and was later wounded very seriously around Chonju area, where I was also wounded early November. We went back to the shanty town Hiroshima and found a small cafe-type shop, and had a few beers and salted pumpkin seeds, unbelievable in the surrounding atmosphere, but most welcome. We then made our way back to camp and agreed the day to be in the category of unbelievable, and never to be forgotten; and the utter devastation to be told to anyone who would listen.
I was in the M.M.G. platoon and my Gun Corporal was the same Fibber McGee I had left behind on Morotai, 1945. When the War finished, I was in the back blocks of Borneo at a place called Bau, in the state of Sarawak and life was tedious. So I volunteered to go to Japan with the Occupation Force and ended back on Morotai via Labuan. I became a foundation member of 66 Batt. and after spending a week or so building a new camp, I became aware that the points system had come into operation. Due to my service, I was near the top of the list, and thought it a good idea to go home to Mum. Fibber McGee was my tent Corporal at this stage - he didn't like my chances of getting out of this mess I had gotten myself into. I got myself paraded to the Major in charge, and after a little talk, seeing I had not signed anything and my points were high, he wished me luck and let me go my merry way. I said goodbye to my mate Fibber and wished him well, never thinking I would ever see him again. We finally got word that we were off to Korea. We sailed from Kure on the Aitken Victory - the scene at the wharf as we were leaving was typical of any other such occasion anywhere in the world, sad for some, relief for others. There were Japanese women and children waving us goodbye, and some of the farewells from soldiers, who over the year of service with B.C.O.F. had formed serious relationships. Saying goodbye under the circumstances would be the same anywhere, very sad. We left on 27th September 1950. 1 think it was raining when we left and it was a wet trip.
We arrived next morning at the wharf at Pusan - it was a different scene to what we had left the night before. There were cheering, bands playing, and colourful people everywhere - they were glad to see us. The Americans put on a great show and played their National Anthem. The South Koreans also put on a great show and played their National Anthem that sounded like "The Road to Gundagai. " It made us all home-sick. Colonel Charles Green D.S.O. met the Battalion at the wharf, and we then entrained for Taegu. The carriages were rather old and primitive wooden ones -we could see the sleepers racing past underneath the flooring, and for the 100 mile train trip through some rather doubtful country, and with lights out and a few random shots being fired, never felt overly secure. At Taegu, Brigadier Coad met us, and on the 30th we became part of the 27th British Commonwealth Brigade. We were then alloted our Bren Gun Carrier No.3323 which was one of the few carriers to last the full distance to the Yalu River. On 5th October, the battalion moved out to Taegu Air Strip for an airlift by D.C.4s and flying Box Cars. We went by road with the transport carrying all the heavy equipment, to all meet up again at Kimpo close to Inchon and North of Seoul. Our carrier went through Seoul over the Pontoon Bridge built by the American Engineers - a great job as the Han River was flowing pretty full-pelt, and the first time I've felt seasick in a carrier.
When we crossed the Han River, and entered Seoul, we followed a Yank convoy through the town, and halfway through we saw an Aussie with a water cart who signalled us to stop. He then invited us to fill our water bottles with his special brew, as he called it. It turned out he had been into the local brewery and found a vat full of beer ready to be bottled, and had filled his cart with the brew and was playing Santa Claus in the main drag of Seoul, for all Aussies he could find to enjoy a drink on him - not to be forgotten.
Around this time we had our first casualties. Our Range Taker Tim O'Malley was in a jeep that got bogged off the main road and Tim came back to get a carrier to pull the jeep out. He asked our driver Darkie Ogilvy, but he was busy with maintenance. Another driver volunteered and away they went. Tim walked along the track to show the way in, and the carrier went over a mine that killed the Officer Lt. K. Hummerston, and Driver K. Sketchley. Apparently the jeep being lighter than the carrier did not activate the mine, but the heavier carrier did, and Tim, who was walking in front escaped injury. He eventually got hit the same day I did, and the last I saw of him was in the ambulance on his way to a M.A.S.H. unit.
We continued driving in convoy, sometimes not quite sure where to. Anyhow our next little adventure was at a place called Sariwan, and mainly at night. Our advance had been rather hectic and hard for the carriers to keep up with the Rifle Companies, as they were sometimes airlifted, convoyed by trucks, or clinging to the sides of American tanks and bouncing along in a very dangerous manner. In retrospect, it appears our advance company going north found themselves passing a large number of troops heading south, first thought to be our Allies, the R.O.K.S., but closer inspection, and still marching steadily north, decided that the extra people were North Korean and not supposed to be so friendly. When the penny dropped, Major Ferguson, with great initiative, mounted a tank with a R.O.K. interpreter and loud hailer, and called on the North Koreans to surrender as they were surrounded by a superior force, and to surrender quietly, which they did, making it a good solution for all concerned. Our part in all this with our carrier, plus Vickers Gun at the ready, was to stay where we were, and to show no lights. There was plenty of movement, and no sleep, and at daylight, the word was that there were over 1500 North Koreans captured and a large amount of equipment. It all seemed a bad dream that turned out with a happy ending, as there were NO shots fired, NO people hurt, but a big boost to our ESPRIT de CORPS.
We drove our carrier through Pyongyang, capital of North Korea and it looked the worse for wear and not the same as Seoul which didn't look too bad under the circumstances - but maybe we were biased. When driving through a few of the villages, we f6und the welcome from the people a little daunting and white knuckle experience. They threw apples into the carrier on the way through, and our first thoughts were how much like Genades they looked, at times, and as we still had our fur felts on, what a large lump they would make if hit on the head but luckily they were with us, and no problems.
After passing through Pyongyang, we found ourselves involved in the Battle of the Apple Orchard. The Americans had dropped an Airborne Division well ahead of our advance. When they landed and found no one there, they decided to move south to meet our advance, but found the North Koreans had a large rear-guard between them and us, so we had to push forward to help them overcome their problems. Because of communication problems, we could not use Artillery or Air Strikes as the Airborne Division positions were not known to us. The Rifle Companies only had Batt. M.M.G.s and mortars as back-up, so as the North Koreans seemed to be everywhere over the area, in fox-holes, rice stooks, etc. they went in with fixed bayonets at the high port, and proceeded to clear the area. They accounted for around 200 enemy dead plus 200 odd prisoners - a resounding success.
The Vickers Machine Guns were lined up, and fired down a long valley at any sign of movement, for a couple of belts (250 rounds per belt), then all quiet. So when a few of the riflemen decided to make a sweep of the valley, some of the gun crews joined in. I was one of them and was left on the left flank, with bayonet fixed, as was the fashion. We covered a couple of 100yds in a straight line, which we tried to maintain. We came across a few single enemies in fox-holes and rice stooks, and they were dealt with and weapons collected. I had a close shave. On the advance and about where we were to swing to the right for a return sweep back to the road, there was a movement in a bush to my left. I dropped to the ground and fired at the bush, which contained a North Korean and the shot hit him in the head. He had a burp gun, which had jammed with the dirt in the fox-hole - and as a burp gun against a single shot Lee Enfield was no contest I considered myself very lucky that he never fired his weapon first.
During WWII, the No. I Gunner on a Vickers Gun carried a pistol. This time around (Korea), we were issued with Owen Guns and No. I was to carry same. I remember the Owen and a few of its faults, like bumping the butt on the ground or catching the bolt knob on your webbing fired the gun and caused a few casualties in the ranks, till their little nasties were overcome. Also we found that the fire power and shape of the round-nosed bullet, against people wearing quilted uniforms at about 100 metres was not a good combination. Although it caused a lot of feathers to fly around, it did not do the job asked of it. In the jungle against people wearing wet shirts, it was a different story. I kept my Lee Enfield with me at all times.
We were part of the 27th Commonwealth Brigade consisting of The Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders, and the Middlesex Regiments. We took turns spear-heading the advance, one battalion in the lead, another in reserve, the other one in rest, and rotating on a daily basis. The Argyles and ourselves seemed to have most of the fun, when it was our turn to lead.
We were on the move all the time and never slept in the same area two nights running. We picked up a few chickens and a bag of fice going through deserted vi11ages, which helped our rations along, and having the carrier we could carry them, no trouble.
The Americans were always good for extra tins of vegetables, so we had quite a few extras for use in the evening when we were in reserve or in rest. The chickens travelled in the tarpaulin bin, which was just the ticket. At night, when we were settled in our selected gun position and the carrier was in reserve, the driver and spare man took over the cooking duties, getting a small fire going near the carrier, in a large Dixie we had just for this purpose. The aroma of chicken stew would waft across the area and nearby hills, with the riflemen in their fox-holes, etc. wondering whether there was a "sushi" bar close by. When cooked it would be shared out with the troops, and only feathers were left. Fires were generally a NO NO, but we never had any serious trouble when in rest. Smoke and the smell of chicken were another matter and hard to disguise.
Thirty - First of October was the night Lt. Colonel Charlie Green was mortally wounded at Chongju. - Apparently a piece of shrapnel from a shell fired by a tank from the opposition, had a ricocheted and bounced off a tree nearby. It was a very sad moment and was to be felt throughout the Battalion the next day.
The weather was sometimes a problem especially at night in the cold. When we started off from Pusan, it was warm sunshine and dusty, always dusty, on or off the road. The further north we went, the colder it got. We never had adequate cold weather gear - we had our normal Service Dress and the best of that was the good quality socks, but not enough of them. Not many of us had long-johns or sweaters, but whatever we had we wore the lot. The trick was to get amongst the rice stooks and bury yourself in straw that kept the frost off, but not a way to fight a war. The ponchos we had were good, but were covered in ice the next morning both inside and outside. Wet feet were a serious problem when in the leading position and had patrols stand to's, and could not get to change socks, as if sweaty, would turn to ice overnight inside your boots. Wonder there wasn't a lot more frostbite than there was. Towards the end of my stay with the battalion, the cold Manchurian winds never let up, and even though we were at last changing over to the American-style jackets and pants with warmer under-duds. The snow boots were still to come. Another problem for us with the Vickers, water cooled of course, was to stop the water freezing completely, moving the barrel by means of the crank handle helped, as did wrapping blankets around the barrel. Blankets were scarce and we were cold at times - decisions had to be made, I am sure it did not get much better after I had left.
The word was that the Chinese Communist Force had joined the North Koreans and was in their millions, several divisions in fact. The third of November found the Argyles, Mddlesex and 3 Batt. concentrated as a Brigade along the banks of the Toenyong River. The Chinese were expected to come from the east. Several divisions were reported to be moving in the area - there were reported heavy casualties on 3rd November by the 8th U.S. Cavalry Regiment, 48 kilometres north-east of Pakchon. Early morning, 5th November, the C. C.F. attacked the U.S. Gun lines and they offered little resistance and bugged out. We were on a Recce. near the Broken Bridge when we got word to report back to H. Q. near the Bridge and we lost a track in the dry creek bed. Due to Fibber and myself being in Carriers during the War we were able to assist our very capable driver with the procedure for running the track back on - quite a tedious task for one man. That was the morning of the 5th November, Guy Fawkes Day, and later that day we were to meet the Chinese, several of them in fact.
Brigadier Coad had a problem as 27 Brigade was more or less on their own, with overwhelming odds against them. He brought the 3 Battalions together on the eastern side of the River. The Argyles were very short on men, as they had suffered heavy casualties in the past few weeks of heavy fighting. 3 Battalion was deployed just south of the Argyles, and A. and B. Companies were ready for attack across the paddy fields to the distant hills where the C.C.F. were entrenched.
We had our Vickers Guns lined up on top of a paddy field, and went into action at extreme range usmg Mark VIII ammunition, good for 3800 yds. We expended quite a few belts each, when they got our measure, and there was the buzzing of angry bullets around our ears. We decided to take the guns from the top of the paddy field and to continue firing with extended tripods and gun barrels just above the top of the paddy field - a very good move - but their mortars had now joined the fray. They would have to be four inches to go the distance.
As we were moving our gun, on the end of our section, a mortar bomb went off and the whole gun crew were out of action. I was hit in the right hip, close to where my wallet would have been if I had one. Tim Daley gave me a hand to get my shell dressing from the special pocket in my tunic for this very purpose. It helped stop the bleeding, and as my whole leg felt paralysed, didn't feel much pain. The stretcher bearers were great, and carried me out of harm's way, while in danger themselves, as the shooting was still in progress, and there was open ground to be covered.
We were placed in an American ambulance and taken back a short distance. An American and I were placed on the side of a helicopter and taken to M.A.S.H. Unit No. 8055. The morphine needles helped me handle this situation and was glad to be back on terra firma once again. After an exploratory operation and removal of most of the shrapnel, I awoke in this big marquee. It was very dark with not much light at all. I was on a stretcher on the ground, and after feeling around a bit, I felt a large piece of sticky tape on my chest, I did not remember being hit there, so when the orderly came past, I asked what it was all about. He told me it was the custom of the M, A. S.H. units to keep the bullet, shrapnel, or whatever as a souvenir, and they stick it on your chest after the operation. I was very pleased to hear this explanation, and I surely would have kissed the orderly for the good news, if only he had not had such a big Hindu type beard. From there I was transferred to a Marine Air Ambulance D.C.3 type and then arrived at Osaka Hospital. I was the only Aussie that I knew of in such a giant of a hospital.
I was given first-class treatment all the way and they certainly gave me a going over- full skeletal x-rays, another bout in the operating theatre for checks for more shrapnel. When I left Korea, I had my Meat Tickets and the pair of pj.s I was wearing, nothing more. I asked for toothbrush and paste, washer and soap - didn't need a comb, as had my hair cropped before I left Kure. The guys in the ward were terrific, mostly young Marines who spent most of their time trying to outdo each other, with their accounts of derring do. It made me wonder sometimes why they needed us. They kept me supplied with milkshakes from the P. X. I had no money, or anything else, and nowhere to put it even if I had it. One day a woman came to visit me, and wanted to know if she could help me in any way. I explained to her that I had nothing to look after myself with, and she promised to get me all the toiletries I needed. She was the wife of the British Envoy, and had been told there was an English boy in hospital, and would she mind paying him a visit. Osaka didn't have an Australian Consul, but the British did. She asked if I would like to send a message home. I said "Yes please," and gave my home address, and the message "Just a scratch, will write soon," which she sent to Paddo via. the Department of the Army, Melbourne, who received it from Director of Public Relations, Japan, and with a footnote to say that the message was not an official Army advice, 1O days later.
I also had a close shave with a party wandering through the ward, handing out Purple Hearts, when it came my turn and I thanked them very much for such an honour. They looked at me, and all together said "You aren't American, are you". I said "No, but I have spent some time with quite a few." They said "Sorry, not for you." Just before I left Osaka a "buddy" who was one of only a few who were really interested in my situation (I was to spend 1O days at Osaka Hospital before they found me and moved me out to B.C.O.F. Hospital Kure, where I should have been all the time) ; anyhow this buddy said "What are you going to do about clothes, as in uniform, etc.". I said "I shall have to wait till Kure." He said he would see what he could do. Next day he said "Come with me" - as if I had a choice, he was in charge of my wheelchair. He took me on a mile hike through corridors, lifts, etc. to arrive at a "Q" Store and he said "Leave your wheelchair round this corner" and on crutches I entered the "Q" Store. He explained the situation to the "Q" Master who was a good guy. I ended up with 2 singlets, 2 underpants, 2 pairs socks, shirt, 1 pair shoes, a great pair of trousers and a jacket made in Collins Street, Melbourne by the look--of it. I was very pleased with the whole deal as it was good quality material, and I wore it till the buttons popped off the trousers and jacket, 12 months later.
Then it was back to Kure on the 16th of November where the hospital was changing hands from the Australian A.G.H. to a British Hospital Team. After a week, still a bed patient, I was ready to go home to Concord - but they weren't ready to let me go. When they had Matron's Inspection, bed patients had to he at attention, wheelchairs, crutches, walking, all to be at attention. Just as well we didn't have to click our heels as some of the boys had a leg off. Anyhow it was time to move o n. We spent the night at the Manila Hospital with the Americans showing their great hospitality once again, and opening the N.C.O.'s own private bar. All of us, on crutches or in a wheelchair, enjoyed the hospitality. Then next morning in the plane and home to Mum. We arrived at Mascot about midday and then to Concord, R.G.H. on the 6th December. Home for Christmas. The Department of the Army put on hire cars for our families to visit with us and return home when ready - very much appreciated for that special day. I was finally discharged 7th February 1951.
(Snow) M.C. Dicker
3 Battalion R.A.R.
- A VETERAN's Blog -