Long Service and Good Conduct?

  

Chapter Six

Korea re-visited April 2001. Hill 416 in background. Ollie Oliver, Ken Brown and Bill Griffiths. Both Ollie & Ken were in the battle for this hill. Ken was wounded with Brother Bob.


Korea - Pusan towards Seoul

Bill Griffiths has corroborated with Clive Yapp, Webmaster below to assist in the discovery of information about L/Cpl. George Yapp, KIA, Korea.  In turn Clive has opened his sites to Bill's Korean story.  We welcome any cross linking of information that will assist Clive.  Please travel to:-

http://www.yapps.co.uk/korea.htm

and to read Bill's Page:-

http://www.yapps.co.uk/korea%20the%20bill%20griffiths%20story.htm

 

BILL'S ALBUM - CONTINUALLY UNDER CONSTRUCTION

Pusan street scene

Pusan more street scenes

Pusan more street scenes

Pusan skyline

Somewhere in Korea waiting for the billy to boil

 

Checking the empties? 

North Imjim, Korea 1951 

 

 Band Practice

 

 Korea 1952

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kneller Hall?

 

Entertaining the troops!

 

Band Practice

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The latest News!

 

So here I am, in Korea. Just a twenty year old five foot two Corporal, who only just five years ago was a four foot ten Recruit being told by a great big bully of a Military Policeman at the gates of Copthorne Barracks that I wasn’t big enough. Hell, I wish he was here now. I would show him just how big I was now, and really enjoy putting him through his paces and just show him how I have progressed. "Call me Sir" he said, boy oh boy, I would have him standing to attention in front of me and make him tremble in his boots. Looking around me I could see that the lads were still visibly shaken by the trip we had just made, and to be absolutely fair, so was I. We were all standing on the dockside in Pusan harbour, waiting for transport to take us to the Railway station so we had been told. I looked back at the old Charles MacLeod, and wondered what chance it would have making the return journey, and thought that the crew must be very brave guys indeed to sail in that old tub. Never mind, at this stage at least I think we were all very relieved to know that we would never see her again, except in my case, as I already have mentioned. But at least I would never set foot on her decks and that’s for sure.

It must have been some two hours later when some big trucks arrived on the docks. They were great big things, nothing like the trucks we had been used to travelling on. We had been using three ton Bedford flat nosed Q.Ls I believe they called them. But these were massive big things with great big bonnets and appeared to be very high off the ground. It turned out that they were Canadian Lorries, and by the look of them, they had seen better days. I got the lads busy loading all the gear whilst Scrubber and Des Lawrence went off to get our orders for the next part of our journey. It seems that we were to be taken to the Railway station which was only a couple of miles away where we would be put on a train to take us up country as far as the Battalion battle positions which apparently were just North of the Capital Seoul. All loaded up and ready to move off, I told Scrubber that all was ok. I watched as he struggled to clamber up to the front of the first lorry. He was a big chap, in fact I would say he was fat, and not too fit either. This made the job of getting in to the cab of this monster truck somewhat of a miracle.

I only wish I could have had a camera to picture this whale of a man trying to squeeze himself into a space that was designed really for a normal sized person. He puffed and groaned, wriggled and squirmed, and then with the help of the big burly Canadian driver eventually managed to get in. The door slammed shut, and we were ready to go, Des Lawrence who was as thin as a rake, had already fitted himself into the cab of the second truck and I together with the rest of the lads and all our equipment safely planted in the backs of the others.

Leaving the dock area, we were able to look around at the local scenery. Surprisingly, it was not too different from that which we saw in Japan. Even the local people looked very much like the Japanese. In fact, I don’t think at this stage I could see any difference at all. Travelling along slowly though the streets of Pusan, it was amazing to see how primitive things appeared to be. The houses seemed very basic, the roads not much more than dirt tracks, and the people we saw, poorly dressed and really not much different to those I saw both in Japan and Hong Kong. Something struck me; my mind all of a sudden seemed to focus on where we were and what we were doing here. That’s right; we were in a country that was at war. But who with? and Why? All I knew about war was what I had heard on the radio during World War Two, and what I had seen on the newsreels at the cinema, and the pictures and stories in the newspapers.

Here I was travelling in the back of a great big truck full of squaddies in a country at war. But there was no sign of war or the devastation which I had seen in Hiroshima just a few short weeks ago. It was some time later that I learned of course that the war had not really reached Pusan because of the determination and heroism of the American and South Korean forces, who when backed by the forces of the United Nations drove the enemy back up North where we were heading, up to the Capital City of Seoul and beyond. Here I was dreaming again when all of a sudden I heard voices shouting, "OK out you get "

. I looked around and all the guys seemed to have recovered from the violent sea trip we had just been through, and most had colour back in their cheeks and were laughing and joking as though nothing had happened. We had arrived at the railway station which all seemed very basic. Not at all like the railway station I had been used to back in London or Shrewsbury. It is a bit difficult to describe exactly what it was like. There were no platforms as such, just bare stretches of land leading to some buildings which were I suppose the actual station. I could see up ahead a train. Well I suppose it was the train, although it was really shabby, looking as though it had been through a war. Well! I suppose I was right, that’s exactly what it had been through.

The trucks were unloaded, and we together with all the gear were moved up to the train ready to get aboard ready for our journey up to Seoul. Once on the train, I couldn’t believe it. There were no soft furnished seats. Just bare wooden ones. No corridors, and would you believe it, not even toilets. I was trying desperately to imagine what was going to happen once the damned thing got on the move, knowing full well how difficult it was for most of our guys to control their bladders.

Yes, I had been on many trips in the backs of trucks when it was quite common for these guys to hang out over the tailboard and spray whatever may be unfortunate enough to be in the way. I could just see it, from a spectator’s point of view, bodies, hanging precariously at the windows of the passing train with jets of water flying through the air. Not a pretty sight at all, but one which was inevitably going to be seen, of that there was no doubt. Before we actually moved off we were treated to coffee and doughnuts by some American Red Cross ladies who were operating an American style doughnut bar on the station. I was hoping that the guys would not drink too much to avoid what I had just been thinking about. But being the gluttons they were, sure enough, they not only drank plenty there and then, but also filled their tin mugs to take back on the train.

Ah Well. Whatever will be will be I suppose. Can’t stop mother nature. Just make sure to keep well ahead of them to avoid getting caught in the slip stream! Perish the thought. Off we go, all safely aboard and the train started chugging along, the start of a journey which I believed to be something like three hundred miles. I just couldn’t imagine being cooped up like this for any length of time. Little did I realize that this in some respects was to be worse than travelling on a ship. The seats as I have already mentioned were no more than wooden slats, which very soon made our backsides very numb indeed, and there was nothing we could do about it, other than sit on our kit bags instead, which was a lot more comfortable. There were no corridors, just an aisle in between the rows of seats. With bodies and kit bags strewn all over the place it was as if war had taken place right here on the train.

It wasn’t very long before my prediction came into being. Yep! There they were, hanging out of the windows, peeing all over the place and laughing at the looks of dismay on local passers by as they did so. Luckily, the train was not going very fast, in fact I don’t think it was really capable of going much faster. It was not just old, but obviously very much in need of a lot of care, attention and maintenance. I don’t know how fast the train was travelling, but I am sure that it was not moving anywhere near as fast as brother Bob and I had been when we walked back to London from Windsor. The passing countryside was nothing like that which we saw in England. Everything seemed quite bare, flat, and no sign of grass or green fields. We did pass some small hilly areas where there were a few trees, but not much else. It was not long before the lads got tired and they one by one, started to drop off to sleep. This was great, apart from the usual burping, snoring and trumping that always accompanied this state of their existence.

How long this trip took I really don’t know. It was, at times when we got further up country, slowed down by the fact that the train had to travel over areas that we were told had been previously bombed or deliberately blown up by the retreating North Koreans and Chinese to try and slow down the swiftly advancing British, American and South Korean forces. These areas had been only temporarily repaired so it was vital that care was taken when crossing them. This, plus the fact that, as I have already said, the trains were very old and decrepit. Eventually after what seemed a lifetime, we arrived in Seoul. This after travelling through miles and miles of countryside where there was nothing standing in the way of brick buildings. Lots and lots of wooden shack type buildings or shelters which had been put up following the destruction of the original buildings of the various small towns and villages which had been destroyed during the invasion by the North Korean Forces.

This in some way was even more disturbing than the sights I had witnessed in Hiroshima. All that I had just seen was very recent damage, whereas in Hiroshima the damage had been caused some four years or more beforehand and some obvious efforts had been made to start restoration. Our train had pulled in to what must have been the main platform and boy was I relieved when we were told to get off. I wouldn’t wish a journey like that on anyone, except perhaps that big headed sentry at the gates of Copthorne, or Kelly, yes definitely Kelly. We all got out, and I could swear you could see the imprints of those wooden seats right across the backsides of all those who had managed to sit it out for the whole of the journey. I looked across to what was the main station building, and this was absolutely covered in shell holes, still with stones and rubble all around. Trying to think of anything humorous at this point was out of the question, except that just at that moment I caught sight of Scrubber. He looked to be in a hell of a state and had obviously found the journey much more of a hardship than the rest of us. I saw him chatting to a Military Policeman, and within seconds had moved off in the direction of some rooms at the end of the station, walking in a very strange mode. I would swear he had probably not been able to contain himself (read into that what you will) and was off to put things right. Sure enough, when he re-appeared he was walking almost normally again but looking rather sheepish and self conscious.

It wasn’t long before we were ushered out of the station to find our next mode of travel, and there it was, more of these great big Canadian trucks. I wondered where our own vehicles were, but found out later that they were all fully employed further up near the front line. Outside the station it was quite obvious that the whole area had been very badly damaged during the recent fighting. There seemed to be hardly a building that had not been damaged and there was still lots of rubble littering what I suppose was at one time quite a nice place. Once again we had the entertaining sight of Scrubber trying to heave himself up in to the cab of this great truck. His great backside being forced in bit by bit. Just like trying to push a marshmallow into a piggy bank. Almost brings tears to your eyes doesn’t it? I sincerely hoped he had been able to tidy himself up! (for want of a better phrase!). For the sake of the poor old driver who had to sit with him for the next part of the journey. Off we went, slowly through the streets of this ruined City. It really was a pitiful sight, and the local people seemed to be very much like peasants. I don’t mean this in any degrading way of course. But it was pretty obvious that they had been through hell, and had no time to get back any where near to normality. We were soon out of the city area and on to what could not really be called roads. Well, not as we were used to. The tarmac and metalled roads had all been obviously badly damaged during three heavy battles in a really short space of time, and there was no immediate sign of them being repaired.

I was to learn later that the City had in fact been over-run twice. First in September 1950 by the North Korean Army, who were forced back by United Nations Forces, and again in October 1950 by the North Koreans who were this time backed by the Chinese. Life for the inhabitants of that City must have been unbearable and indeed beyond all comprehension. On we travelled, mile after mile, but ever so slowly. The vehicles had to keep to a well signed route because of the fact that the enemy had laid huge minefields, only parts of which had been cleared. At this point, we as mere rookies didn’t really appreciate this, and to us it was a frustrating and very boring slow journey. We would find out later though just how important this caution was, when we saw upturned tanks on the sides of the road, and the local inhabitants stepping warily along the dirt tracks which were once main roads. We had to stop on the way when it got dark because it was forbidden to use headlights on the vehicles. The trucks were turned into small areas that had been cleared of mines and turned into very small and cramped parking areas. Here we had to make do as best as possible to get some rest and something to eat before continuing our journey. We had been given individual rations which consisted of tins of beans, biscuits etc, which by this time were very acceptable. A far cry from the plastic eggs, fatty bacon, and gooey cheese I had been given back in 1946. At this stage I suppose it seemed somewhat primitive, but I was not complaining now.

Daylight, and we were on our way again. By this time Scrubber was getting the hang of getting in and out of the cab of the lorry, and it wasn’t funny any more. We however were getting a little more concerned as we moved steadily forward. There was more and more evidence of the warlike features we were told to expect. The roads, listen to me, roads, more like dirt tracks were getting a lot more narrow and bumpier. Our trucks were being tossed about almost as bad as the old Charles MacLeod was when we were out at sea, and I seem to remember some of the lads actually leaning over the tailboard being sick. We eventually came to what seemed to be an extra large clearing, all fenced off with barbed wire and quite a few tents, some much bigger than the ones we lived in when we were in Sek Kong Camp back in Hong Kong.

The trucks stopped and we were told to get out. What a surprise we had in store. We were greeted by none other than our RSM Rocky Knight. His voice bellowed out, " OK you melody makers, welcome to Korea. Follow me." It was late in the day, and beginning to get dark so we couldn’t see a great deal. He led the way across a bit of bumpy ground, over a small rise and there in front of us we saw a big tent. Big enough to house about twenty or more of us I suppose, albeit that we would probably be sitting on top of each other. But the most outstanding feature was a bloody great big wooden sign in front of it, on which was painted the words " Kneller Hall". What a comedian our Rocky was, with a sense of humour which was a great comfort to us really as we were soon to learn that we were in fact not very far from the front line where some of the Battalion were actually fighting. He told us to keep our heads down, eyes open, and watch our every step. Not to stray outside the fenced off areas and in general act like soldiers. It was soon pitch black and we settled for the first night making beds from the three blankets and ponchos we had been issued with. I was ok, I remembered the way my Dad had taught me to make a sleeping bag with just those items. Most of the others just threw the blankets on the ground and made the best of it. There was not much sleep to be had that night despite the fact that we had been travelling for many hours in the most uncomfortable conditions. During the night there were lots of very loud screaming noises overhead followed by muffled banging sounds. It was in fact we were told artillery fire from positions way behind us. This was pretty scary to us all, after all, we had only just arrived here and were not really sure just how close we were to where our lads were positioned. Come dawn, we got out of our flea pits only to find that there was not any special place to get washed and shaved. There was a water truck where we were told we could fill our mess tins and use them as wash bowls. Hell, I thought, then we would have to use them for eating out of afterwards. It didn’t take me long to appreciate in retrospect, those old tin troughs we used to have way back in Mount Camp when I had first joined up.

A field kitchen was at one end of the area and we made for that as soon as we could. It was just a whole row of wooden tables with great big bowls, pans and a great big urn of tea. Our mess tins at the ready we filled up with eggs, beans fatty bacon and sausages, then found a place to sit and stuff ourselves.

A field kitchen was at one end of the area and we made for that as soon as we could. It was just a whole row of wooden tables with great big bowls, pans and a great big urn of tea. Our mess tins at the ready we filled up with eggs, beans fatty bacon and sausages, then found a place to sit and stuff ourselves.

We hadn’t eaten a proper meal for a few days, having lived on haversack rations. Haversack rations, as any ex squaddie will know were great big thick slices of bread, usually a few days old and filled with great big slices of cheese or corned beef. Not very appetising really, but when you were hungry they really were quite acceptable. I was starving myself, and it didn’t take me long to finish what I thought was a super breakfast. Of course I kept a beady eye open for Archie, being the big lad he was, I bet he could have eaten a horse at this stage. From this point on we were to be in some way left to own devices. That is to say that Scrubber would decide where we were to travel in order to entertain the troops, who were spread right across from west to east along the area just North of the Capital Seoul. British and Australian troops mainly to the west, and further East Canadian, American, and many others.

We were allocated three ton trucks with drivers who knew a little about the area to take us across country to visit as many areas as we could to provide entertainment for the troops whilst they were having a breather from the actual front line. This was to prove a most enjoyable and fun experience, even though it was in an active service environment. The big tent which the RSM had provided for us we were told to take with us, as we were almost certainly going to be travelling for days at a time, and could end up many miles from our Battalion HQ. We had plenty of experience putting up, and taking down these tents in a very short space of time so this was not going to present any problems for us. I was particularly looking forward to the chance of meeting up with brother Bob again which I hoped would not be too long.

Little did I know at this stage that the next time I would see him would be after he had been wounded in one of the Battalions first major battles on hill 416, during which two of our young Lance Corporals were killed. A hill that I was to climb years later and take part in a memorial service to those brave young lads during a re-visit to Korea in the year 2001. 

The first day we loaded up all our gear ready to start our travels, and that even included an old piano we had acquired, and this we roped up firmly to the back of the cab of the truck. I had forgotten to mention that at the time of getting rid of that miserable blighter Kelly, we were without a pianist. Not that Kelly was any good at it, but at least he used to thump out a few chords here and there. A pianist was badly needed for our dance band performances, and Scrubber had obviously made desperate efforts to get hold of one.

Somehow or other during our travels, he found a chap from the Royal Engineers who was on his way to Korea, and promptly pulled strings in the right quarters to have him temporarily transferred to us. I can’t remember the guy’s name, but he was, dare I suggest a little on the effeminate side, and it didn’t take long before he earned the nick name ‘Doris’. (Doris is the first chap on the left in the front row of our wedding picture with the lads.)

At the first dance band practice session he had with us, Des Lawrence asked him to give us a ‘four bar’ intro to the tune we were about to play, this he did, and we were absolutely amazed. He was brilliant, a very talented pianist, so much so that he took us all by surprise, and we just sat there open mouthed at the brilliant way he played. We never played a note, we were absolutely amazed. We thought we were pretty good, but this guy left us standing. We had never had a pianist before and this was going to prove to be something really inspiring for us.

So off we went and by now Scrubber was getting used to clambering in and out of the cabs of the trucks. These trucks were not quite as bad as the Canadian versions we had used before, but even so, it was still a bit of a struggle for him, and it was still quite entertaining to see his big fat rear end disappearing in to the cab. Scrubber had been given some idea of where we would find bodies of troops in areas right across the territory supporting the troops up front. Most of these sights were of course only temporary, and moved forward at each stage of the advancing front line troops. Others were a little more permanent, that is where most of the supplies were stored and prepared for transporting to them. Some of the arrangements were very basic. The field kitchen for instance was just a row of field cookers which were on sort of trestles and heated by gas from great big cylinders.

There were no ablutions, not even the very basic ones like those we had a few years before. Remember those old galvanised troughs I mentioned at Mount Camp? No, here there was a water truck at one end of the camp area from which we were able to fill one of our mess tins with water, and we could only use the smaller one of the two, water being rationed as there were obviously no water mains and these trucks had to be taken back as far as Seoul to be filled.

Then what about toilets? Well !! If all you wanted was a wee, then pieces of piping were dug in to the ground at a reasonable distance from living and eating area, and that was that. Not very dignified I know, but that’s what we had, and that’s what we used. For any other purpose, a big deep hole was dug by the pioneers, this being just as far away as possible upwind of course, and the size depending on the number of men that would need to use it. The hole could be about thirteen or so feet long, about two foot wide and about six foot deep. Over the top of this was placed a long wooden box type structure with anywhere between four and eight holes in it, these bearing a very slight resemblance to that of a toilet seat, and when I say slight, I mean you have to use a lot of imagination. These holes had no more than about eighteen inches or so separating them. This piece of equipment was usually known as a ‘Thunderbox’. On other occasions when the box was not available, two forked sticks would be put at each end of the hole and just a big log stretched across them. These you would have to sit on, very carefully, taking great care not to fall over backwards, otherwise you could end up in rather a, how can I put it? Yeah, one hell of a mess, and that’s being very polite about it.

The whole of this, was sometimes covered with a tent cover, with plenty of ventilation. But in lots of cases there was no covering at all, and believe me, looking out and seeing this first thing in the morning out on the horizon was not a pretty sight, especially if every seat was occupied. I personally made the greatest effort to wait for the opportunity to be up there alone, but this didn’t happen very often, so I just had to get used to it. The thing that has puzzled me over the years is that we never saw Scrubber up there and never did find out how he managed.

When the Unit had to move location, it was the job of the Pioneers to restore this piece of ground somewhere near to it’s original state. This they did by putting a few gallons of petrol into the hole, having first taken off the wooden seats!! Setting light to it, and when the flames died down filling it with the soil taken from it in the first place. This seemed to be a fair arrangement, but I must tell you about one mishap that took place some time later, I can’t remember exactly when or where, but this has to be told.

On one occasion we were due to move from one location, and whilst all the necessary preparations were being made the Pioneers got a little ahead of themselves and popped up to the ‘hole’ and poured in the petrol ready for the next part of the operation. Our cook Staff Sergeant, unaware that this had taken place, popped up to the site for one last visit before we moved off. He, as was his usual custom took out a cigarette which he lit, then threw the match down behind him. Whoof! there was one almighty bang and ‘Cookie’ flew into the air with flames shooting out behind him. He had quite severe damage done to regions of his anatomy which other guys up in the front line would never have received. At the time of course this was not at all funny, and ‘Cookie’ was sent to the field hospital for treatment, and it some two or three weeks before he was able to return to duty. Now of course, all these years later, I can see the funny side of this, and I can just picture this body, flying through the air with flames shooting from his rear end just like a rocket on bonfire night. Poor old Cookie, I wonder if he ever saw the funny side of it in later life? I never did meet up with him again after our return to the U.K.

We eventually arrived at a position where there seemed to be quite a lot of guys about. It was as far as I can remember, late in the morning. I have no idea which company they were, but the Company Commander made us quite welcome and had somehow heard that we might be in the area at some time. He had prepared a small area where we could set up ready to entertain the troops, and another place further away where we could put up our tent. The guys here had apparently been relieved from front line duties for a short while by one of our other companies and were all seemingly quite relaxed. Scrubber left it to Des and me to get things organised, and as he had already suggested a programme of music I had it already prepared.

We hadn’t eaten since we left the HQ area, and the field kitchen had already been cleared after the last meal, so the quartermaster Sgt supplied us all with some American field rations. These were packs containing various tins of beans, sausages, corned beef, cocoa powder etcetera together with a packet of cigarettes, matches, and most important of all, a packet of toilet tissues. Yep! Toilet tissues, now just how posh can you get? That’s all you need to make life a little more civilised.

After a while it was time to perform. The quartermaster had been busy again and found us a load of empty beer crates to sit on. Such luxury, much better than standing. Our audience had to make do with sitting around on the ground making themselves as comfortable as they could, but to be fair, what could they expect out there, armchairs? We played a few numbers which met with great applause and the guys were obviously enjoying it.

We then played a number which I am sure most readers will recognise, ‘If you were the only girl in the world’. Now Scrubber had dreamt up this idea of having me dress up as a girl, to stand out in front of the band whilst Jack Waring got down on one knee and sang the song to me. Why he picked on me and not Doris, I’ll never know, but I suppose I was just a young fresh faced lad of only twenty years old, and not a really burly muscle bound hulk. I duly popped round the back of the band, out of sight of the now very enthusiastic crowd, dressed myself as a girl and reappeared ready for the next part of our performance. Well, you should have heard the cheers, I do believe now, that at the time they actually thought I really was a female, which is not really very flattering for me.

As the band started playing you hardly hear the music for the cheering and whistling going on. These guys obviously had not seen a girl for months, and they really were getting quite excited. At one stage I thought I might have to run for my life and my safety if they didn’t calm down. As luck would have it, after the number had finished, Scrubber allowed me to quickly take off my wig and show the chaps that I really was one of the band and not really worth a second glance, if you know what I mean. I was pretty relieved when that bit of our concert was over and I begged Scrubber not to ever try that one again, at least, not in the front of sex starved soldiers. Luckily for me, he agreed and I never had to do it again. Looking back on it though, it really was I suppose quite funny at the time, given that all ended well. All in all, that first concert went down very well with the chaps and we were to have lots more fun as we went around the country looking for more places to play.