Veteran Stories:
Terry Wickens

Army

  • A soldier stands at a sign designating the location of the 38th Parallel, the demarcation line between North and South Korea.

    Sidney Fox
  • Korean scenery. 1952.

    Charles Goodman
  • Rice paddies in Korea. 1952.

    Charles Goodman
  • Soldiers splitting rations in Korea, 1952.

    Ron Carruth
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"Chinese propaganda was blared out from the frontlines, often interspersed with old recordings of Bing Crosby."

Transcript

The arrival in Korea – we were greeted by the American army band.  The first impression of Korea was not impressive.  The stench that greeted as you approached the shoreline and the poverty that existed on the streets.  Not a great welcome.  I thought, “What the hell are we doing here?”  I went to K Troop, Royal Signals Detachment, 28 Infantry Brigade.* And that’s the last time I saw anybody who I left England with.

In another interview, with the troop commander, I was told that I would be attached to The Royal Australian Regiment.  I served with both battalions.  A small signals detachment consisted of two wireless operators, a driver, and myself.  The operators were the link between the battalion and brigade headquarters.  I was responsible for maintenance of radio, and telephone, and also helped out with repair to down or stolen telephone lines.  Radio repairs would be difficult.  Many times, the only workbench which we had was the front of a jeep.

Main radios that we used were a Wireless Set 19.  These were originally meant for the Russian army.  All the data imprinted on the faceplates was in Russian.  The other sets that the infantry used were 38 Set and 88 Set.  These were all sealed units, but many times we had to break the seals, to make sure we could repair them. Supplies were pretty hard to get, but fortunately the Americans used the same type of vacuum tube in their set.  Now, for a price, probably a couple of bottles of beer, you could get anything for them.

The bad things you tried to forget – although that is almost impossible. The sounds of the bugles, etcetera when the Chinese attacked, and the way that they cleared away their dead and wounded.  The rats that you’d share your bunkers with, sometimes – also you would have UNO** troops at one end and Chinese at the other end of the bunker. Chinese propaganda was blared out from the frontlines, often interspersed with old recordings of Bing Crosby.

I still have, probably what you call nightmares at times, especially during bad thunderstorms at night.  It brings back memories of some of these attacks.  And I can imagine the Chinese still coming over.

The strangest thing I remember, was on Coronation Day [1952], that the British artillery fired red, white, and blue smoke into the Chinese positions.  Why, I will never know.  I think the Chinese thought it was chemical warfare.

On the ceasefire day,*** we had a brief period drinking beer with some Australians and the Chinese.  But this only lasted a few minutes, as two Chinese officers appeared, who spoke very, very good English and put an end to the… that session.

The one thing that I will never forget, was one day, a young New Zealand signaller came into our area.  He asked if we could check out his telephone, as he was out checking one of the cables which was down.  We sat around for about twenty minutes.  He was happy to be going home in about six weeks.  He showed us a photograph of his wife and young daughter, that he had never seen, but he was pleased that he would be home for her birthday.  Unfortunately, this never happened.  When he went back to check on the cables, he stepped on a mine, which although in a marked minefield, had moved during the heavy rain and he was killed instantly.  This still bothers me, especially around Remembrance Day, I get very emotional.  The annoying part about all this is, I don’t even know his name.

Life with the Australians was certainly different, especially after the fighting.  I was drafted into H Company’s Australian Rules football team.  Never seen or played the game before.  When I protested I was told, you know, “You can learn as you go along.”  To be honest, I still don’t know.

We ran a loudspeaker system through the camp into the library and canteen and other places.  We relayed sports programs from Radio Australia.  One of the companies had a bookie in his troop, and, we used to get the results of the horse races.  The day before we’d find out who was running, then you’d get the results.  This proved very lucrative.  We did a number of beer runs to US units – because some temperance organization said the poor lads shouldn’t have anything to drink – but this was mainly for trading purposes.  After a while, after my little money incident,^ I returned to brigade headquarters for a short spell.  Of course, it was eventually time to leave Korea to go home.

The most important thing I learned in the military was comradeship, respect, dignity.  You learned to rely on one another, and you made friends and they were true friends.  Some of the comrades I made in Korea, or with the Australians, still keep in touch with me.  As you probably know, I belong to the Australian, the British, and the American Korea War veterans associations.  So I have lots of friends all over the world and it’s something I will never, ever forget.

*28th British Commonwealth Infantry Brigade

**United Nations Organization

***27 July 1953

^Post-armistice, Terry Wickens repaired radios for UN personnel and received above his normal soldier wages, a situation his commanding officer called into question

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