Leonard Nicholls grew up in Dagenham, England. In September 1951, he was called for national service in the Royal Army. After basic training, he attended radio school in Germany before volunteering for service in Korea. He arrived in Pusan via a five-week crossing on the Empire Ferry. He was transferred to the front line near the DMZ by train and served as the battery commander radio operator for his unit. While on patrol, he was injured by a dynamite blast and spent three weeks in a Commonwealth MASH. He returned to England in December 1952 and went to work for a local water company.
Five Week Cruise to Korea
Leonard Nicholls recalls his voyage to Korea on the Empire Ferry, talking about the living conditions on board as well as his job while at sea. He served as lookout, watching for other ships while his fellow soldiers shot at balloon targets in the water.
First Impressions of Korea
Leonard Nicholls recounts his first impressions of Korea as he arrived by ship to Pusan in early 1952. His boat was greeted on the pier by an American band playing music. They then climbed aboard a slow train toward the front lines. He remembers flat lands and rice paddies until they reached the north.
Arriving on the Front Lines
Leonard Nicholls arrived at a valley called San Marie near the front lines. The trucks dispatched the men to a valley near the First Blazes battery of artillery. Young Korean boys wandered the camp performing odd jobs.
Daily Activities of a Radio Operator
Leonard Nicholls worked as a signaler in the Royal Army, eventually becoming the battery commander's radio operator. The area supported just a few shacks, and the hills reminded him of his home in Cotswolds in England.
Observation Post Observations
Leonard Nicholls manned the observation posts while on duty as a radio operator. The front lines were traumatic. Traveling to a post on Hill #365 took them through Chinese lines. He describes the process of calling in artillery fire on Chinese positions.
Twenty Six Radio Set Description
Leonard Nicholls talks about the radio set that he carried as a radio operator in the Royal Army. Called a Twenty Six Set, he describes the radio's size and weight, emphasizing that a radio operator carried the heavy piece of equipment on his back.
Enemy Ambush: Dealing with Death in the Field
Leonard Nicholls heard machine gun fire while on patrol one night. The next day he learned that a captain and radio operator had been killed in an ambush. He talks about dealing with their deaths.
"Walk Away Smartly"
Leonard Nicholls recalls an episode when he was injured by a errant dynamite blast. After setting up the charge, the lieutenant told him to "walk away smartly" so as not to trip and fall. Although he panicked and ran, the blast shot earth and debris far enough for a large rock to injure his knee.
Three Weeks in an Indian MASH
Leonard Nicholls talks about his three-week stay in a hospital manned by an Indian unit. The lieutenant that caused his injury came to visit him. The layout of the hospital brought him into contact with many men from Commonwealth, including some thieving Australian troops.
Leonard Nicholls describes the rats in camp and his experiences with Chinese on the front lines. The Chinese also sent Christmas cards to make soldiers homesick.
AWOL in Hong Kong
Leonard Nicholls talks about being absent without leave in Hong Kong on his way back from his tour in Korea. He describes taking leave with a few of his friends before being caught three days later.
"Where is That?"
When Leonard Nicholls returned home to England, people asked him where he had served. When he replied that he had been in Korea, they didn't know where it was.
Leonard Nicholls contrasts his time in Seoul during the Korean War with his revisit to the city in 2017. The difference between the flattened city of the war and what had been rebuilt in seventy years was amazing. He was astonished at the industriousness of the Korean people in rebuilding their country.