Arthur Alsop served in the Royal New Zealand Army Service Corps (RNZASC) in Korea from June 1952 through November 1954. During the war he served as a storeman, which fulfilled his interests in auto mechanics. He describes his experience with basic training in Waiouru. Arthur Alsop didn’t know much about Korea, except that it had previously been invaded by Japan, but soon headed there for service. He shares how he arrived in Korea and asked himself why people would want to fight over such a country. He exhibits pride in his service both for his home country of New Zealand as well as for the progress that Korea has made.
Basic Training at Waiouru
Arthur Alsop describes his basic training experience in Waiouru, New Zealand. He remembers that basic training was for six weeks and then he went to core training for twelve weeks. It was during this time that he learned about driving trucks and auto mechanics.
A Little Bit of Military History
Arthur Alsop explains that he was taught military history in school so he knew a little bit about Korea. He had heard about the country in reference to it being invaded by Japan in the 1930's. While he knew this information, he didn’t know where Korea was located, just assuming that it couldn’t be far from Japan.
Why Would They Fight for This?
Arthur Alsop remembers arriving into a really rough wharf on a hot day in June. He describes the “flimsy” houses that he saw. He said Seoul was bombed out. He asked himself a very important question- Why would anyone fight over a country like this?
[Beginning of recorded material]
A: Arthur Alsop is my name.
I: Could you spell it? Yeah.
A: A R T H U R. A L S O P.
A: Alsop. Uh, they pronounce Ulsop, Elsop, whichever way they’d like.
I: Okay, Alsop.
I: What is your birthday?
A: My birthday is the 29th day of the 10th month, 1931.
I: Nineteen thirty-one. So how old are you now, 88?
I: Eighty-seven, I’m so sorry. And where were you born?
A: I was born in, in New Zealand.
I: New Zealand.
A: New Zealand.
I: Uh huh.
A: at a little place called Stratford.
I: Could you spell it?
A: S T R A T F O R D.
I: F O R D.
I: So Stratford.
A: That’s right.
I: Stratford or Stafford?
I: S T R A T.
I: Yeah. And, so when did you become Australian citizen?
A: Uh, 19, uh, hang on. I gotta think backward when it was. 1979.
I: You become Australian citizen?
A: I, um, yes.
A: Well, I emigrated, uh, I couldn’t get a job in New Zealand after I came out of the Army.
So I came over here, um
I: They gave, they gave you job.
A: Uh, yeah, I came out to a Northern show circuit with, um, show horses and decided to stop.
I: Wow, that’s good. I, I’m headed to New Zealand next week.
A: Yeah, it’s a, it’s a fine country.
I: Yeah. That’s what I’m hearing. I never been there before.
A: Oh, you’ll enjoy it.
I: Okay. So tell me about family background,
your parents and your siblings when you were growing up in New Zealand.
A: Well, I’m one of a large family, and one of 11, the eldest one.
I: And you’re the oldest?
A: I’m the oldest, yeah.
A: Um, unfortunately, um, three of them have passed away. But, um, that happens. But, uh, I was struggling at school. But, um, I did the education that I was
required, and then I left home, um, to go North to go driving at the time.
A: That’s with, with cattle, picking up cattle and putting them
I: Ah. Must been fun.
A: Yeah. Well it was right at the end of the time after just, when they, advent of the transport trucks came in to pick up the cattle and stuff like that.
A: Uh, it, um,
that was the, the end of, of the other fellow that I was with and myself, um. So then next paid job was the Army.
I: I see.
A: I was, I went in, I was upset.
I: So when did you join the Army?
I: And did you, so, um,
you volunteered to join.
I: Where, in New Zealand?
A: In New Zealand.
I: Yes. So tell me about the basic military training. Where did you get it, and what did you do?
A: Well, the basic military training was, was held in, in, what is now called, called the, the
I: What’s the name of it?
A: Waiouru. W A I O
I: A I
A: O U
I: O U
A: R U
I: I U.
A: Yeah. Waiouru.
I: And that’s where you got the basic military training?
I: For how long?
A: Uh, that actually, uh, the basic military training there went for six weeks. And then you went on to do a core training after that which was another 12 weeks.
I: Twelve weeks.
I: And what did you get there?
A: Uh, well, I learned to drive trucks with multiple trailers like
gun members and things like that and, um, stores. Uh, I was always interested in being a storeman and, um, learning the, the different parts of, uh, motor vehicles. So I knew what I was talking about. And that was my job.
I: So up to that point, did you know anything about Korea?
A: I heard about
A: I heard about Korea
when Japan invading Korea around about the same time in the 1930’s when they tried to invade China. It was round about the same time.
I: How did you learn about it?
A: Um, military history was one of the, the things that, uh, you are taught and, um, although that didn’t, uh, have anything to do with us. But it was still part of, of
a learning process. Uh, I knew about it, um. To be honest, I didn’t know where it was. But I thought it can’t be very far from Japan.
I: And so did you, you know where it was, right?
A: Yeah, not far from Japan. That’s all I knew.
I: What about any history or any culture, anything about Korea?
A: No, nothing.
I: What do you think about this?
You didn’t know anything about that country that you fought for. Have you been back to Korea then?
A: No. Uh,
I: You never been back to it?
A: No. I, it’s, it’s, I’ve got the application papers now to apply for April this year.
I: You going to?
I: You wanna go back, right?
I: And you wanna see what’s been done?
A: Yes, I do.
I: Did you hear from any real friends about changes that Koreans made after the War?
A: They have told me and, and, um, absolutely amazes me, um, to think of a place that was virtually rubble, a heap of rubble when I left there, and to hear what it is today, um. For instance, Inchon. There were no airport there. There was a, a, a seaport of sorts where our supplies used to come into.
And um, that’s all I knew. But now they tell me that you fly from, from Hong Kong to Inchon, and there’s a big international airport there. So, um, that amazes me, uh. When it was just bare ground. And, um, I mentioned to one of them, uh, Uijeongbu. And they said well, that’s no longer just a few houses and, uh,
makeshift shanties. He said that’s just about a city. So, um, that surprises me.
A: But everything surprises me. I mean to say that the, uh, the Koreans soldier was a good, good guy. But unfortunately, uh, very, very undertrained, and that was no fault of, of the Koreans at all.
And I could be wrong. I’m not criticizing that, that, um, they did their best to, uh, fit in with the, uh, United Nations Forces. And, uh, I think they did it very well.
I: So when, what was your unit in Korea?
A: Ten Company
I: Number ten or tan?
A: Number ten, number ten company. R N Z A S C.
I: What is that?
A: That’s Royal New Zealand Army Service Corp..
I: R N
A: S C
A: S C
I: C. Royal New Zealand Army
A: Army, yeah.
I: And what’s S?
A: Uh, Army Service Corp.
I: Service Corp. Okay.
I: And the, what, what battalion or any other bigger unit
I: that you belonged to?
A: They, well, there, there was platoons attached
A: attached to that, um. I said there was, um, a Headquarters, a, a, a, one, two three platoon and a workshop platoon which was back up a bit further. And, um, I was attached to the Workshop been storeman.
I: What was your specialty?
A: Yeah. But I
I: So what kind of work that did you do?
A: I made from, from one unit to the other with spare parts
for their vehicles.
A: Spare parts for the vehicles.
A: Yeah, the trucks and, uh, and jeeps and that, yeah.
I: I see.
A: And that was, that was my job. But then because you’re wanted at night, uh, for transport duties up to the front, I’d either take stores or in the convoy or in taking trips up there and waiting for the
ones to come back on, on rest. It, you did a whole lot and, um, it didn’t matter whether you had no sleep or anything like that. You still made it.
I: And where were you in Korea? Where, just tell me. When did you leave for Korea, from where?
A: I left from, uh, Wellington, New Zealand
A: And, um, came
crossed to Australia and then up to
A: No, we stopped at Guam.
A: Yeah, and then, um, the, uh, civilian aircraft that we went up on, that was the end of it. We went up to [Iwakuni] with American, uh, troop carrier.
I: Um hm.
A: And, um, then from [Iwakuni] across to Kurae, Hero, only there for a couple a days.
And then shipped out to Korea.
I: Korea where?
A: Well, we went in under, under darkness at night into Inchon.
I: Inchon. And when was it?
A: Uh, that was June 1952.
I: Tell me about Inchon and the Korea that you saw for the first time. Be honest. Just give detailed description of the scene that you remember.
A: Well, I remember that I,uh, a rough wharf, uh, that they, [INAUDIBLE] that, um, they came in as we were on the, uh, the Chinese ship, the Esing and, uh, it was just like a rough, dirty, um, and beyond it was only dirt, dust\
I: Um hm.
A: Um, cause June you’re starting to get fairly hot in June, too. So, and that was a bit of a, a, drag for us, and I’m not used to the heat, not, uh, and the, the high temperatures you had over there. Uh, it, yeah. There was nothing. Let’s put it bluntly. It was nothing, you know, fishermen.
Something that you get into a country. You’re in the Coast here of, of Australia and New Zealand. It’s a type of thing you find out whether it’s a little settlement and the fishermen would use it. That’s what it looked like.
I: Any Korean people that you saw or Korean village, city that you see destroyed?
A: Yes. Yes.
I: Tell me about those.
A: Well, um, the buildings like the
houses and that looked fairly flimsy. They, they, uh, they weren’t like I was used to, you know, with, with, uh,
I: Um hm, um hm.
A: you know, with, uh, timber and that, that, that we have here or in New Zealand. Uh, no, nothing like that. And, um, I couldn’t get over it, how people lived, uh, in such a way, you know., I, I thought this
country, I don’t know what this country is. And to be quite honest, I, I said to me, me mate, I said do you think it’s worth fighting for this country?
I: Um hm. Good question. What did you think?
A: That’s what I honestly thought. When you saw what it was, and what are they fighting over it for, you know. Like, um, not a very nice thought, um, I will admit. But, um, I’m being honest.
I: Oh yeah. I mean, that’s the question that you have to ask.
A: Yeah. But, um, yeah, we got, we got used to it and, um, uh, well, we saw more of it after the, uh, cease fire, um. Of course, then we had a bit of free time, and that was the first time I’d seen Seoul, and, and
I: How was it?
A: That was all [belted] up and bombed and everything like that. But that had the makings of a different type of buildings. And
obviously there had been a, a, a good city which I believe it is a good city today, too.
I: Did you see any picture of contemporary Seoul City?
I: Never seen anything about Korea?
I: And can you believe that when I say the Korea now is 11th largest economy in the world?
A: I can. I can, um.
I: Were you able to write letters back to your family?
I: Did you have a girlfriend at the time?
A: No. No. Um, I used to write to my mother every week, and yeah, we used to look forward to the mail, yeah. But, uh, never had any trouble with, with the mail. The Army post office, I don’t know where, where it was situated
I: Um hm.
A: or anything like that. But, um, we used to get the mail regular.
I: Wasn’t that wonderful
A: It was
to, to read
I: letter from your family, right?
A: It was, and then Christ mas, of course, they, um, uh, had us on radio, course no television then. A radio message back to your family which was a great thing as well.
I: Um hm. So when did you leave Korea?
A: Um, I can’t remember the exact date, but it was November 1954.
I: So how long you were there?
More than, more than a year.
A: Well, normal, uh, term was 18 months.
I: Eighteen months?
A: Yes. That was what the normal term New Zealand soldiers. Uh, but I was a bit more because troopship after the cease fire, there was a lot of movement , um, and that, and then the troopship that was taking the Australians back to Australia,
also brought a whole heap of New Zealanders out. And, uh, we were, uh, disembarked and, and first went up to Queensland and then flew back to New Zealand.
A: So, it’s a
I: So overall, what is your experience as a Korean War veteran? What do you think about the whole thing that happened to your life?
A: Uh, it was a, it was a,
a change, um. It made me have a different outlook on life and what I did before I come, realizing how the Korean people lived as opposed to how we lived and, um,
I: What did you think about Korean life, life in Korea?
A: I, I didn’t think I would like it.
I: Um. Why you didn’t like it? What was the part
A: Very, very, very, very backward. That’s what the
impression I got. And, um, I think honestly, that I think you were back with at
A: that stage. Um, I’m not, I’m no t being disrespectful but, um, yes. But, uh, I, I couldn’t believe it when, um, I heard, um, Korea, um, doing this. Korean doing something else.
[INAUDIBLE] They haven’t got the, anything there. But
I: It’s hard to believe, right?
A: Yes. But, um, once it, once the veterans started going back and then, um, [INAUDIBLE] that the, uh, the news from them, yeah. I thought this is great.
A: You know, I’ve got a, a, a great granddaughter that drives a, a Korean car.
I: Oh. That’s good.
I: Where is she?
I: Ah. See? Now you are related by blood.
I: Any other episode that you wanna share with me during your service in Korea?
A: I don’t think there is. I think I’ve covered it pretty well.
I: Pretty well?
I: Do you have any special message to the world about 70th anniversary of the Korean War?
Remember the Korean War stopped in March 27 of 1953 and still has not been replaced with a Peace Treaty. What do you think?
A: Oh, yes. I, I’ve, um, uh, been, been places where, um, we’ve had, had, uh, guest speakers and they’ve spoken a bit about Korea. And they say the Armistice, I said, I pull them up. There was no Armistice on the 27th of July in 1953.
It was a cease fire.
A: And technically, uh, Korea was still at war until the President got together with the North Korean President
I: Um hm
A: and worked it out and signed off.
A: That’s when the Armistice, technically, um, Korea was still at war.
I: Um hm. Exactly.
A: And, um, I, uh, have done a bit of public speaking myself and,
naturally, um, I speak about the Korean War. And, uh, how, how, how blokes survived it and, and how the Koreans, uh, were just surviving.
A: What I honestly thought.
A: Um. I, I didn’t, did believe that you needed help. And badly.
I: Right. Any other thing?
A: No, I think that about covers it all.
I: Great. Thank you very much again for sharing your story and fighting for Korean people.
A: I’d do it again.
I: I’ll do it again. Thank you. That’s,
A: I would.
I: That’s amazing.
A: I would.
I: That’s amazing. Thank you.
[End of Recorded Material]