"The only thing we regretted was that there was no recognition for the artillery because the key to our whole success at Kapyong really lay with the New Zealand gunners [...] They were just fabulous [...]"
The culmination of our action of course came in April with the Battle of Kapyong [during the Korean War, fought from April 22-25, 1951]. We had been in the front line for a month [with the 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry], helping to build a defense line on the 38th Parallel [the military demarcation line between the two Koreas] and then went into a rest area about 20 miles behind the front line. And we’d been there about four days when our British brigade commander [Brigadier Brian A. Burke], 7:00 in the morning, standing outside his caravan shaving, then he turned on the news from Tokyo and found out that the Chinese had started to spring offensive. The American command hadn’t said a word to him.
Anyway, he looked at the map and decided that the central offensive would come down the Kapyong Valley, picked up the brigade [the 27th British Commonwealth Brigade], put us down in the defensive position and that is exactly where the Chinese came. We had turned over our front line section to a Korean division and when the Chinese attacked, they had just broken and ran for the south without even spiking their guns. So when the Chinese came through, there were also swarms of South Korean soldiers mixed in with them.
Anyway, the position that he picked for us, the position for the Patricias was a good high defensible position. The Australians on our right [3rd Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment] didn’t have as good a position but the decision by the brigade commander was to put the Australians there because they had had a lot more experience than we had. And when the fight came, they were forced back a couple of times and at one point, when they called for air support from the Americans, the Americans came in with napalm and hit the Australians.
I should mention that when we first went into action, the British had two aircraft carriers in Korea and our air support was from British Seafire [the Supermarine Seafire, a naval version of the World War Two Supermarine Spitfire fighter], converted Spitfires for aircraft carriers. And they could carry bombs, rockets, machine guns, all in one trip. By the time we had Kapyong, we had been given American jets instead and they were so fast and inaccurate that we finally had to put some of our officers in Harvard training planes [the North American T-6 Texan plane known to the British as the Harvard] to spot the targets for the Americans with smoke rockets. That’s just an aside.
Anyway, we managed to hold the position, they figured that we had probably inflicted some thousands of casualties on the Chinese and they finally withdrew. In the west, there was another British brigade on the Imjin River and they were facing another Chinese spring offensive. Their position wasn’t as defensible as ours and they had very heavy casualties. Their position was overrun, most of them that weren’t killed were taken prisoner but they inflicted such heavy casualties that again on that front, I as well.
The Chinese never mounted another major offensive in the war. There was fighting and skirmishes but nothing like this was ever tried again. And to the American Kapyong and the British fight on the Imjin were the turning points of the war. In recognition of this, they awarded our battalion and the Australians with the United States Presidential Unit Citation [a citation awarded collectively to a military formation for gallantry against the enemy]. As well as having awards for individuals, they have an award for units that distinguish themselves. You can wear this decoration for the rest of your career if you were at that particular action and if you were the unit that was there, you can wear it while you’re serving with them and then when you leave them, you take it down again. So it was quite an honour.
The only thing we regretted was that there was no recognition for the artillery because the key to our whole success at Kapyong really lay with the New Zealand gunners [from the 16th Field Regiment, Royal New Zealand Artillery]. They were just fabulous and when one of our positions was being overrun by the Chinese, the platoon commander asked for artillery fire on his own position. And the artillery was so accurate, they were able to drive the Chinese off and save the breakthrough.