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The Christmas Tree Banner
by Geoff Guilfoyle
Many, many years ago when I was actually young and I first saw the photograph of the banner featured below, I good-naturedly chided my ex-soldier, ex-police sergeant father of being a closet peacenik. He told me something of the history of the banner, most of which I had forgotten until prompted by an e-mail. The following info comes via Olwyn Green via Ernie Holden who, during research for his book, Mates Mortars and Minefields, interviewed Bob Hipworth, one of the soldiers in the photograph, who told him how 1 RAR obtained the banner.
Bob Hipworth: "Christmas Eve 1952, the Chinese let it be known that they would give us an amnesty for 48 hours commencing midnight on 24th. Christmas Day they broadcast that they had erected a Christmas tree and called us to come and get our presents. By this time the snow had covered the whole area about one foot deep. At 9.00 p.m. the Platoon Commander and a captain from Intelligence arrived and I was told to escort the Captain to the tree. It did not take long to find the tree, a well known position on Hill 227. After a safety check of several deloused mines, the placard Demand Peace - Stop the War was [found] rolled up, some Christmas cards and two watches were taken from the tree and we made our way home. All this was done while a hidden loud speaker played a record of Deanna Durbin singing The Lights of Home and Harbour Lights. I admit I shed a few tears in the snow before we returned safely to our own line, much to my relief."
A propaganda exercise or humane gesture? Perhaps both, and the 48 hours respite was undoubtedly welcome by the soldiers on both sides. The photograph, taken at Camp Casey in March 1953, is important, and not only as a photographic reminder of the Hill 227 Christmas tree story.
Corporal Jack Ashe was MIA two months after the photo was taken and Private John Dawes was killed on 26 July, a day before the ceasefire. Bob Hipworth was a WIA.
Left, kneeling: Corporal John (Jack) Ashe; centre, kneeling: Lt. Patrick Forbes; right, kneeling: Bob Hipworth. Standing, left to right, H. Cookson, G. Robinson, W. McCutcheon, John Dawes, Des Guilfoyle, P. Sims.
First Published in The Voice, October 2009