I just want to recount a conversation I had with a Korean War veteran last Friday. I'm still thinking about what was said.
|The Imjin River Valley, Korea|
I broke off my studies at lunchtime in order to deliver a thirty-minute talk on Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift at the Retirement Home where my wife works. I showed a few images and for those residents who have impaired sight I took along a few artefacts which they could handle while I was talking. In order to entertain, I tend to get quite theatrical when I'm doing this stuff.
Anyway, I was describing, with all the drama I could muster, how one of Chelmsford’s scouts reported Zulu impis as looking like “silent, dark clouds drifting across the landscape”. As I went on I noticed an elderly gentlemen called Sidney suddenly becoming animated. I’d not met Sidney before and have since been told that he is a man of few words.
Sidney then went on to recount the following story from his days serving with the 1st Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment on the Imjin River in Korea:
“We had a man out of front with an ‘88’ radio kit. When he first called in we were all laughing. Frank his name was. Frank said there was something big coming towards him – he said it wasn’t human and that it was very, very big. Then he said that it was actually lots of tiny people – thousands of them. We stopped laughing. The transmission ended as Frank scurried back to our position saying that he was being chased by thousands of Chinese”.
“I was in charge of twin Vickers. One to the left, one to the right. I had a Bren in the middle. They came in waves and my 12-man section poured 1,000 rounds per minute into their ranks. We traversed the two guns from the flanks, arcing into the centre and put down Bren fire through the middle. Hundreds fell. They just kept coming and coming”.
“After a while my mate saw the unit on our right flank running for their lives. We stuck to it though … until we were ordered to withdraw. But where to? We could see the Chinese working their way behind the hill we were on. I took the innards out of the two guns and threw the bits all over the bush. I pulled the rubbers down and smashed the stock of my rifle into the breeches. After that they weren’t any use to anyone”.
“ My men thought I was a bastard but do you know everyone one of ‘em – twelve in all – waited for me to destroy the guns before scarpering.”
At this point Sidney began to get emotional.
“We retreated in file and were taken prisoner by the Chinese. As long as we weren’t cheeky they treated us well. I spent two and a half years in a Korean PoW cage. The first four weeks were hard but after that it was alright. It was bloody difficult watching dead prisoners being taken up the hill for burial every day though. Most of ‘em were Yanks”.
Sidney then shed a few tears. "Those attacking Chinese - they all had mothers” he said. “Many were married”. “Why did they send so many against us?” “Why didn’t they just send a few companies?”. “Years ago I wouldn’t have cared. I was a hard bastard. But now it gets to me”.
This interaction reminded me about the duty of care we have towards veterans who have been traumatised by war.