Veterans' Stories

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by Jeff Towart 27278 3RAR

The struggle for the town of Chongju, approximately sixty kilometres from the Yalu River, in late October 1950, marked the furthermost advance by Australian forces in the Korean War though no one knew that at the time. North Korean resistance was crumbling and one push to the border would see the end of the war. The Chinese, as it soon became known, viewed matters differently. One casualty of the battle was the commander of 3 Battalion, Lt. Col. Green. Struck by shrapnel he was evacuated on a stretcher by jeep to a surgical hospital at Anju where he died. The Chinese surged across the Yalu and launched their first offensive soon after. KVAA Inc. member, and participant in what happened next, Jeff Towart, takes up the story...

Colonel Green was killed on 1st November 1950 and his replacement Lt. Col. Walsh took charge the next day. He had no experience as a field commander and, as he proceeded to show, should never have been given the command. On 4th November we were ordered to attack and capture a line of hills about five hundred metres to our front, and this we did against determined opposition. Orders for the attack were hurried and sketchy. Enemy strength was unknown and we had no supporting or covering fire. These were Colonel Walsh's first battle orders and were poorly delivered.

We dug in and waited for darkness to fall when we knew the Chinese would attack. There were three hills each running east to west. Able Company (my mob) got the first, Baker Company the second, Don Company the third, with BHQ five hundred metres to the rear and Charlie Company in reserve. By midnight we were outnumbered and under heavy attack by thousands of screaming, shouting Chinese. With the din of bugles and whistles filling the night air, we managed to hang onto our line of hills.

Several mortar bombs exploded near BHQ and Colonel Walsh requested permission from the Brigade Commander to move his HQ about a thousand metres to the rear. Permission was granted but he was told it was important the rifle companies remain in their present positions. For a reason I fail to understand, without informing Brigade and against Brigade plans, he ordered the rifle companies out of our holes on the ridge lines and down to the flat ground below. As soon as we left our holes the Chinese moved in and were able to fire down on us. A direct order from Brigade to stop this withdrawal was received.

The Colonel now ordered us to return to our pits, but of course this wasn't possible. We had already lost twelve dead and sixty four wounded. Able Company copped the main Chinese assault and was cut up quite a bit. The previous day our Company CC was wounded and the CSM killed, so we were doing it fairly tough. A young Lieutenant who had been Acting Company 2IC now was in charge and he queried the withdrawal order, but was told to comply. Don Company had a World War II AIF Officer who refused to move before daylight and closed down his radio so he couldn't receive any further orders. Lt. Col. Walsh had clearly lost the confidence of the Brigade Commander and was sacked on the spot. Major Ferguson was put in charge and promoted to Lieutenant Colonel.

It was sometime during this fiasco that I lost my pack and all my worldly goods, including spare clothes and pay book, plus the great little camera I had purchased in Japan. Later, after Kapyong in fact, a mate from my old company showed me a beaut camera he picked up when rifling through some dumped Chinese gear and equipment. It was a neat little camera in a leather case, and as I glanced at it I commented that it was like my old camera. When I unfastened the case for a closer look, I couldn't believe my eyes as there was that familiar cigarette burn that had been on mine. I told him this was my old camera, to which his reply was something like, "Now pull this leg, it's shorter." We finally agreed to wait for the film still in the camera to be developed to settle ownership and that wouldn't be until we went to Tokyo on R&R leave. It was eventually proven to be mine and I still have the thing, but you can no longer buy film for it.

First Published in The Voice, April 2010