Veterans' Stories

Click badge for menu

The Quarry

by Patrick J. Knowles 2400383, 3RAR
21 February 1951 - 29 February 1952

In January 1951, the Chinese and North Korean military, having suffered a reversal of fortune, were pushed back to North Korea. The bulk of the forces made their way there by way of mountain tracks.

The UN Command decided to have forces follow them back along these same tracks. The area allocated to the Australian 3 Battalion was near enough to the centre of the range that runs down the centre of the Korean Peninsular. As events worked out, we were to spend twenty-five days in the mountains and five days on the flat for rest. This story is about one portion of that twenty-five day trek.

We took off one morning at 0530 from the top of a small mountain about 400 metres high and made our way across a broad valley, only stopping once for fifteen minutes at 1200 hours for a meal break. In all, we marched nine hours till we reached the base of our objective. It appeared to be about 600 metres in height. The boys were putting in their bids as to how long it would take to climb it. The average bid was 2½ hours. To me that translated to be about 600 metres.

We started climbing immediately and by 2000 hours everything came to a dead stop. It had rained earlier that morning in the area and there was no usual path to follow. The bank of the spur we were attempting to climb was grassy and wet and the crown of the spur was covered with a tree plantation. The result was we could get no footing whatsoever.

The Company Commander urged us keep going. I'd never been involved in such a difficult exercise in all my life, but keep going we did, one pace forward, two paces backwards. We finally made it to the top at 0230 hours the next day. We were allocated fighting positions. Mine was a scrape in the ground about twelve inches deep, about 5½ feet long and half full of water. I laid down in it and promptly went to sleep. At 0500 we were woken up and ordered to the crest of the mountain to give the Americans some support if they need it as they were going to attack a position about 60 metres below us and about 600 metres north.

About 0530 we saw a company of approximately 100 Americans make their way up the west slope. When they were about 12 metres from the crest, three Chinese popped up in their fighting pit, set up a Bren-type machine gun and proceed to spray the Americans who promptly dropped their weapons and took off leaving behind their dead and wounded.

Our Company Commander got on the phone and contacted the commander of the American soldiers who asked that we retrieve the wounded. A section of 1 Platoon then proceeded to the battle site, captured the three Chinese and brought back two American stretcher cases. On returning to our position, 1 Section, 1 Platoon was directed to take the Americans down the east side of the mountain. We picked up the stretchers and made our way to the track.

I took one look down. It was so steep I thought I was going to fall over it. We soon realised that if we were going to make it down we would just have to pay attention to the stretcher and ignore the scenery. This we did until we reached the bottom about 2½ hours later. The mountain was so steep two men would have a stretcher at their feet and the other two would be holding it above their heads.

The soldier we were carrying moaned all the way down. It appears he had been shot through the chest but the bullet had not exited his back. On reaching the bottom it became obvious we were in a quarry. Sandstone blocks were neatly stacked on one side of the sandstone floor. That section of the mountain was being quarried away.

I had one of the carriers help me turn our stretcher around to face the area of descent. I vent my exasperation to the American we had been carrying by saying to him: "See that mountain we just carried you down! It's the biggest Gawd damned mountain I've seen in Korea." With this sheer sandstone face it did look impressive.

Having loaded the stretchers onto the ambulance jeep we were given a phone message to get back to our company at the double. Assuming they expected an attack we made our way back as quickly as possible. On arriving back at our position we were ordered to saddle up as we were moving out. Where did we go? Straight down the track we had just ascended!

On arriving back at the base we were advised that our rations would be late as the ration train could not keep up with us. Some trucks then arrived and drove us to another position arriving about 1700 hours. We were told to make ourselves scarce - make no noise and no fires as we were going to attack this mountain about midnight. This we did. Thank Christ no one was there. We were so tired the Chinese could have blown us away with their bad breath. At 0130 hours our ration train arrived. The Company Commander ordered the hot boxes be opened. He tested the contents of one then, to our immense disappointment declared, "This food is cold and not fit for my men. Take it back."

We were that hungry we would have eaten cold dog food.

First Published in The Voice, August 1997. This is an edited version.