Matthew D. Rennie
Matthew D. Rennie grew up just outside of Sydney, Australia, in Canley Vale, and enlisted in the Australian Army in 1951. He vividly recounts the poverty and devastation he witnessed upon his arrival in Busan and comments on the suffering the Korean people endured. He recalls a particular encounter with Chinese soldiers on the front lines and details suffering a head wound resulting in a visit to a MASH unit to receive care. He comments on the feelings of helplessness and fear he experienced on the battlefield and shares that he continues to suffer from nightmares and PTSD. He offers his thoughts on why the Korean War is known as the Forgotten War and shares the difficulties he and other Korean War veterans experienced upon their return home. He is proud of his service and of South Korea’s transformation from a war torn land to a major world economic player.
Witnessing Poverty and Devastation
Matthew Rennie vividly recounts the poverty and devastation he witnessed in Busan upon his arrival. He recalls the refugee camp there with hundreds of thousands of civilians living in cardboard boxes and children begging for food. He comments on their suffering during the cold winters as they possessed inadequate clothing and heating. He describes the countryside as he made his way up to Euijeongbu.
Legacy of a Forgotten War
Matthew Rennie shares that he never expected South Korea to transform itself from a war torn land to a major world economic player. He offers his thoughts on why the Korean War is known as the Forgotten War despite its rich legacy, stating that it occurred on the heels of World War II and was overshadowed by the Vietnam War which was shown nightly on the news. He recounts that the Korean War was overlooked and described as a police action rather than a war, adding that veterans were not even allowed to join the Return Service League due to the labeling and lack of recognition as war veterans.
Battlefield and Memories
Matthew Rennie details suffering a head wound during an encounter with Chinese soldiers. He recalls a bullet grazing the back of his head and spending several days at a MASH unit to receive care. He reflects on the fear he experienced on the battlefield and his feelings of helplessness as he watched fellow soldiers die. He shares that he suffers from PTSD and nightmares despite so many years having past since his service in Korea.
[Beginning of recorded material]
M: My name is Matthew David Rennie, R E N N I E. I was born on the 11th of June, 1933.
I: Nineteen thirty-three. So how old are you now?
M: I am 85. I will be 86 in June this year.
I: Um. Where were you born?
M: In Sydney.
I: Sydney. And tell me about your family when you were growing up,
your parents and your siblings.
M: I have, had two older brothers, one younger brother and one younger sister.
M: So I have four siblings. And two of them, the two older ones, have died. I, we grew up in, just outside of Sydney, uh, in a place called [Kanalea Vale]. We had a pretty carefree, sort of an upbringing. We didn’t have too many, too much discipline.
M: I was not interested in schooling. So I sort of run away from home a, a couple of times and wound up working at Western New South Wales. I worked on a dairy farm for a period. I worked on a sheep company for a couple of weeks. I worked in a shearing shed. I worked for a fencing contractor
who I thought was gonna kill me because he was a workaholic who would start work when the sun come up and finish work when it was too dark to see. Only worked with him for a week and I woke up [INAUDIBLE] Uh, I worked as a round about on a, on a, a big sheep property in New South Wales
I: Um hm
M: place called Burramugga
M: It was a combination of two sheep, uh, properties, a son and a daughter from each one’s marriage, and they combined the farm, 250,000 acres. It was a beautiful property, uh.
Worked there, and I worked for a drover.
I: Um hm.
M: And I worked with him for probably, a bit over 12 months, 18 months. I did a couple of big drives, uh. Then I got a little bit sick in the bush, and I went back to Sydney.
I: Yeah. But let me ask this question. So study was not your thing. So did you learn anything about Korea? Did you know anything about Korea?
M: Uh, never heard of it, never heard of it.
I: You didn’t know my great country name?
M: No. Believe me when I said I didn’t tell a fib because I’m sure I never heard about it, uh. I never heard about Korea till, I think it was the Battle of Kapyong was the first I read about it in the newspapers. A big splatch about it. And I went and enlisted in the Army.
I: When was it?
M: April, end of April, d1951.
I: You joined the Army.
I: I know. [LAUGH] You going for war.
M: No, I joined for the, there was an opportunity to go to Japan. That was it. It was the adventure.
I: Even not Korea? You wanted to go to Japan?
M: I got a, yeah. I knew I’d end up in Korea. But I did, it was just the excitement, it was something different.
I: So Korea was just [INAUDIBLE] you to Japan.
M: That was, that was the second other choice, you know?
M: So we got to Japan. I was only still 18 when I arrived in Japan. You’re not supposed to be there till you’re 19.
I: So hold on. After you joined the Army, where did you get the basic military training?
M: I did my basic military training at Ingleburn.
I: Could you spell it?
M: I N G L E B U R N, Ingleburn.
I: And what kind of, uh, military training was it?
M: Infantry training.
M: Is there any other?
M: Yeah. Uh, I did Infantry training there. I was in One Battalion, and they were part of the First Battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment. It was ready to go to Korea, but I was too young to go. So they moved me up
I: Um hm.
M: And I went to [Pakapano]
I: What is that?
M: Another big training camp in Victoria.
I: Uh huh.
M: I went to Pakapano and finished, and I got mixed up with K Force. You’ve heard of K Force?
M: Well, I was mixed up with them. And I was t he only regular Army one,
and I was the youngest. They sort of took aft, looked after me, took me under their wing, and they protected me all the way along the line. I was then posted to 303 Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment, uh, and I, so I flew off with, out of Sydney, uh, in, uh, April 1952.
I: To Japan?
M: To Japan, yeah. Had to make Japan, uh.
So I got to Japan, and we went straight into, uh, heavy training, nigh time training and everything else at a place called Haramera which was a training, first come off [INAUDIBLE] and then training up there, uh. I had to wait till I turned 19 before they would send me to Korea. On the fourth of July I landed in Korea.
I: Where did arrive?
I: And from Pusan, where did you go?
M: We went up to Uijeongbu by train. We took all day, the slowest train ride I think I ever had, really.
I: That was the fastest one.
M: Yeah. Perhaps it was. We did rifle practice and all on the train, you know? So we got up to Uijeongbu, we went to [Beshelon] which was our forming place. And, uh, from there, we were allocated to companies.
I went to Seventh Platoon Charlie Company.
I: Charlie Company.
M: Yeah. Seventh Platoon
I: Uh huh. And what was bigger unit, Royal Australian
M: Um. Third Battalion. That was the battalion that was in the Kapyong battle.
I: Yes. Tell me about the Korea you saw from Pusan up to Uijeongbu. What did you, be honest, and [INAUDIBLE]
M: It was
I: The young children in Australia and all of the world, they don’t have
M: They’ve no idea.
I: an idea about how Korea looked in 1950’s.
M: You asked, you asked me the worst, the one thing that sticks in my mind that upset me more than the men they killed is Pusan. The refugee camp in Pusan
M: Yeah, Pusan, whatever you wanna call it. It was, it was, it was a terrible time. They, there was hundreds and hundreds of thousands
of refugees that were living in boxes, that were living in makeshift hutches, whole families, all crowded, hundreds of thousands. I can, the thing that really sticks in my mind was a little girl, would be no more than 6 or 7 years of age. She had a little baby on her back.
I: Seven year-old girl with a baby?
M: That was it, seven year-old girl with a baby on her back.
I: Uh huh.
M: And I guess she was minded it from mum, being the babysitter or whatever, and she was begging for food, not for money, not for cigarettes, nothing. Just food. And that’s still, I still got that, I can see it, I close my eyes and I can still see that girl.
I: What were you thinking when you saw those
M: I was very upset. I think everybody has seen that was upset. You couldn’t help but being upset. The poverty was an, uh, way of living and, uh, the desolation and the, and
that was absolutely horrendous. It really brings to forth, I think, when you think of women and children first when they always say if there’s a disaster, look after the women and children. But during the Korean War, it was the women and the children that suffered terrible. That, terrible. how they survived winter, I have no idea. There must have been thousands died during the winter. They never had the clothing. They never had the, the heat, the nothing. I can remember, I didn’t see it,
but while we were there, they had a fallout rip through it, and I think it recorded in Korea. But there was a fire went through, and it killed an awful lot of people. And I also remember that a train carriage derailed up the top, and it rolled back down through the camp, and it killed a lot of people also because there were camps all over the railway lines, everywhere. Any spare patch of dirt where they can, where they can put up something for shelter. And it was a horrendous. And we really one of the worst things you’re gonna ever wish to see.
But that, to me, was a brought to me what the Second World War ref, Second World War refugee camps were like. It was, you know, I don’t know whether they were the same. But the one in Pusan that time was, was horrendous. It was really was terrible.
M: We, the countryside was worked over. The bomb craters [INAUDIBLE] and there was not much happening there in, within the country. From Uijeongbu to the frontline, it was dirt roads, big signs up,
don’t speed. Your dust will attract enemy, enemy artillery or mortar fire or all that sort of thing. And I arrived in Three Battalion on the 7th of July, 1952. And, uh, from then, every night we were
I: Hold on. Have you been back to Korea?
M: Seven times.
I: Seven times?
I: My goodness. So
M: I’d go back tomorrow is I could.
I: When was the first time that
you went back?
M: Nineteen eighty-one.
I: And then, when was the latest?
M: Nine, uh, two thousand and ten for the celebration, 60th celebration.
I: Something wrong. How you, can you go back seven times?
M: Uh, yeah. No trouble at all.
I: But tell me, tell me this.
M: By, my son was up there for 10 days. He come from, he lives in Tournby, works for the Tournby City Council. He was on a,
an exchange program with [Pagu City], and he was up there for six months.
M: He rang me and said for goodness sake, get an airline ticket and come up. Every time, every morning when he goes to work, the Governor was saying when is your son, father coming? So I went up. They met me at the airport
I: Your son, for yourself?
M: Yeah, paid my own airfare. But that’s all.
M: The Governor of Pagu hosted me for the 10 days I was up there.
I: That’s a nice deal.
M: It was. It really was.
I: Tell me about the change you saw since 1970,
M: You can’t.
M: Yeah. You, it was a different world. It was a different country. It wasn’t the same. The, the progress was an incredible. All day, to go from Pusan to Uijeongbu by train, all day
I: Um hm.
M: You can do it in four hours by bus, four or five hours in a bus.
I: Um hm.
M: Now you do it in two hours and 50 minutes by train or something. If, if I get there that tune the Bullet Train takes. But the, they Chi, there were, when we first went up, when I left Korea, there was one bridge across the river, one.
I: One that destroyed.
M: That’s right. It was broken and that, it had been repaired to a certain degree. When I went back in [INAUDIBLE], there were seven bridges over the river, in the early 80’s. When I went back in 2010,
it had 27 bridges over the river. We’d been talking about putting a fast train from Brisbane to Sydney for 50 odd years, and we still haven’t done it. And you did it in less, you know.
I: So what do you think about this whole thing?
M: I think it’s fantastic. I think it’s incredible. And there was a reason why it happened was, uh, we were on a bus. The first time I went up there, we went from Pusan back to Seoul by bus, just for sightseeing. And, uh, I said to the guide we had,
how come you built this road in just, I forget now, I think it was eight years it took to build the highway, and they used part of the highway as a airfield if anything happened. Some parts are pretty wide. And, uh, they said oh, well we just got talked into it, and I said it would have taken seven years in Australia arguing with the unions before we even started, you know. So you don’t have the union problems. [INAUDIBLE]
I: You arrived in July 4, ’52 in Pusan. When did you leave Korea?
M: On the 4th of July, 1953.
I: Exactly same day?
I: And when you left Korea in 1953, even a little before the Armistice was signed, had you ever thought that Korea would become like this today?
M: No. No. You could count the amount of miles of the [Bitchamen] Road outside Seoul on one hand. There was no [Bitchamen] Road.
The, there were single tracks mounted one to the other, [INAUDIBLE] from Seoul, you virtually gone around the [penmnyfield] No. Never envisioned it at all. Was blown away the first time I went back up.
I: So this is one of the most unprecedented phenomenon that ever occurred in the 20th century history of human society.
I: That has a rapid economic development and very substantive democracy
at the same time
I: But why is it known as the Forgotten War in the world? Why?
M: I think it was so close after the Second World War. Then it got tangled, sort of in between the Second World War and Viet Nam which was on everybody, and television was a big problem there because the Viet Nam War was on everybody’s, every night. It was on the news. It was flashing during the day and all that sort of thing. So Korea was just put aside.
It, it just wasn’t talked about. And when we came back, it happened to Kevin over here, when we came back, he wanted to join the RSL. Oh no, you can’t join the RSL. Why not? It was a police action. You walked around with [Truncheon] [INAUDIBLE] Ah, mad
I: What is RSL? Explain it. Return Service League.
M: Yeah. Yeah.
I: So they didn’t even see you as a war veteran.
M: No, they did not recognize us as war veterans for quite some time.
I: That’s ridiculous.
M: It is ridiculous.
M: Yeah. But they all fella, just said, when, after the First World War and they formed RSL, they would, they were the founders of the RSL. When the Second World War come, the young fellas coming back struck the same problem, and our fellas didn’t want the new blokes in and all that type of thing. So with, uh, and then when Korea come into it, it was just, no. And not a lot of people never knew. My, my very good friend who picked me up when I was wounded,
he, he was away for 12 months. When he come home, somebody said to him where you been? He said I’ve been to Korea. Oh, where is that? That’s how much it was talked about. Nobody, it didn’t make a lot of publicity, didn’t, didn’t serve a, people just didn’t wanna know about it because we were in an economic drive after t he Second World War. There was plenty of work about. We just, nobody really wanted to know better.
That was all.
I: So you never thought that Korea would become like this today.
M: Yeah. I don’t, I don’t, Anyone that would have said and told to sit in one of these interviews said oh yeah, I expected Korea to become a real powerhouse of the Far East would be telling lies.
I: Yeah. Um, you know what is the rank of Korean economy now?
M: Yeah, pretty high. I, I’m just not sure.
I: It’s 11th largest economy in the world.
M: In the world. And you gotta no, you’ve got no, uh, natural resources.
I: By 2030, we are expected to be number 7, ahead of France. Right behind England.
I: What do you think?
M: I think it’s fantastic.
I: But Australian World History textbook doesn’t cover much about the Korean War and its’ legacy.
M: Um um.
I: That’s what we are trying to do. We want to change and the reality where that Korean war known as Forgotten War
I: and doesn’t talk about the legacy
I: came out of your service.
I: So we are making educational material based on this interview, and we’re going to provide and train the teachers so that they can teach about the War you fought.
I: That’s what we are doing.
M: Uh, some years ago, I, uh, I got elected to a lot of children had been adopted into Australia, and there was a very strong Korean community in the Brisbane area, of young, had adopted,
and they used to have picnics and that sort of thing, and we used to go to the picnic, and we would, uh, I used to always get near somebody who was cooking up some Korean barbecue because it was better than what we had. But they asked me would I speak to the kids because when they talked about bringing the kids up in their culture, they weren’t trying to change who they were or what they were or anything like that. But none of them knew nothing about the Korean War. And I’d tell them what, what I’ve seen and what it was like
and they were, they astounded. They couldn’t grasp what, what went on in their country.
I: Do you have any, um, History teacher or Social Studies teacher in your family?
I: Let me know if you know of any History teacher because we working with teachers because that is the right way to teach your legacy.
I: Sooner or later there’ll be no Korean War veterans.
M: That’s right.
I: We need
M: He’s one of the younger ones, Kevin over there, is one of the youngest ones.
And he’s 83 I think. He’s 83, 84.
M: And, uh, ugly one, too. But anyhow. But h e
I: So, let’s talk about your, um, military service. So in Uijeongbu, what did you do, and that was the frontline or where did you go?
M: No, I was further up, further up.
I: Further up to where?
M: Yeah. I was on the other side of the Imjin River
I: Um hm
M: On the Northern side of the Imjin River.
I: Um hm.
M: I went, when they were on the, [INAUDIBLE] I think it was, uh,
Yongdong Po I think
I: Yongdong Po was in Seoul area.
M: No. Well, it was up some, uh, it sounded like it. And there was, uh, I can’t
I: Let’s say that North of Imjin River.
M: Yeah, North of the Imjin River.
I: What was the base name, Kansas Line or
M: No. The Kansas Line was at the line we would form back to if the China had put it on being pushed. It was about
I: Any name, camp name or
M: No, not that I know of. I,
I: No, tell me. What was your mission?
M: The name, what we did, we patrolled the Sunchon Valley
I: Samichon Valley.
M: We patrolled that valley. We dominated the valley.
M: because we did, the Battalion Commander said if we control the valley, we will control our frontline. And so we went out with fighting patrols and ambushed. Half the Battalion was on patrol every night.
M: Half of the Battalion.
The other half was standing, too, manning pickets and all the rest of it.
I: Third Battalion.
M: Third Battalion, the Royal would follow them.
I: And Charlie, Charlie Company.
I: Tell me the detail. What was daily routine? When did you wake up? What did you eat? Where did you go?
M: Well we, we slept, tried to sleep, during the day. We had our make and men that, that we had had mortar attack during the night, and then the trenches were damaged so that we had to repair the trenches.
And we would try to rest because that, as soon as dark come, you’re out in the valley. You’re out, you were setting up your ambush position or you were going out on a fighting patrol, uh. So you, and everything happened in the night. Nothing happened during the day. But when night time, went on very relentless. It just did not ease up. It was very relentless.
M: Uh, fighting patrols was usually one officer, one NCO and 19 other ranks.
I: Um hm.
M: Uh, ambush patrol would be a senior NCO, a Sargent or maybe even a Corporal, and 17, 15, 17 other ranks, uh. We would go out and set up. we used to have layups where we’d go, you’d go out early morning before daylight, you would find some place to lay up, camouflage, and you would, uh, observe what was happening on the Chinese side of the ridge.
I: Um hm.
M: And you’d come back here, and every hour you would have to report in to Battalion Headquarters, sitting all, situation normal and, uh, that was the way it worked. And we did that continuously. You, if you were unlucky, you would run into a Chinese patrol.
I: Oh, run into Chinese patrol, too?
I: How close was it?
M: We were about, uh, 150 yards apart at that place.
I: That’s it.
M: Yeah. And
I: Were able to see?
M: Yeah. And we can see their trenches. They could see our trenches. Uh, When you went out in the night, we run into a patrol one night, uh. It would have been November, early November, uh. We run into one of their patrols. We were going out early. We were gonna set up an ambush patrol. But they were out early, too. So we sort of
clashed in the valley with, uh, a lot of fire and shouting and trying to get grenades and all that , and we withdrew to a prepared position where we would draw if anything happened like that.
I: At night.
M: At night, yeah.
I: It’s, uh, so dreadful and
M: At, it was damn
I: You cannot see, though.
M: No. It was frightening. It, it really was. At 19 years of age and coming from where I worked out in the West near South Wales and that sort of thing, you know,
it was a bit, it was frightening, uh. Uh, we clashed with the Chinese, and that’s why, I know I was carrying an Allen Machine Carbine when a small automatic weapon, 9 mm.. And I hit the Chinese, I know I hit him a few times. But this time, he didn’t stop. And that frightened me even more and, uh, if I had aimed higher and, and dropped him down. But when, we pulled back to a position,
and we held that position for about an hour, an hour and a half, and the Chinese didn’t follow us out. So we went back to where we’d clashed, and we found one Chinese who hadn’t been picked up. And he had seven
I: Um hm.
M: bullets. But he had on a [K park winter]. Nine millimeters wouldn’t penetrate. It was like [INAUDIBLE] it was like he was in full armored vest-type thing, you know. So that’s when I decided I’d carry a rifle from then on. More hitting power.
I: Were any wounded?
M: I was wounded on the 24th of May.
M: Yeah, at 9:53.
I: Um hm. Where? And how?
M: I was in, I was on, on, uh, 355 a messy, we used to call Little Gibralter.
I: Uh. Little
M: Gibralter, yeah. You’ve heard of that from other indivi, yeah.
M: Well, let me remember on the left hand slab as you were looking at the left hand slope down there,
and alongside us were the Turks. The Korean, the, uh, Chinese put an attack in on the Turks because the Turks didn’t give up any land. They held on. So the Chinese were probing the frontline defenses to see if they could find a weak spot, and that’s when we got caught there. And I said to this mate, Frank, I said here comes a couple, and there was a lot of mortars and artillery and everything, a lot of noise and
everything else, uh. I fired at one, and the next, when I went down I’d been hit. The, I had a, a helmet on, and the helmet had a neat little bullet hole. Well, we say it’s a bullet hole
M: But when I went into hospital, they said it was a piece of shrapnel. So whether it was a bullet or a piece of shrapnel, I don’t, I’m not real sure. But according to my helmet, it would have been a bullet that grazed, just grazed the back of my head.
M: Uh, yes. And they put me in the hospital. I was in the hospital for, oh, I think about 10 days, something like that.
I: Where, in MASH unit or
M: Yeah, Indian Field MASH, the Indians
M: Yeah, and I was there.
M: Uh, I went back to the frontline again and, uh, continued patrolling till about a fortnight before I left and I said that’s it, no more.
I’m not going out anymore. I’m not giving them another chance. So we, uh, sent over to the 4th of July I was packed and ready to go very early morning. I was out.
I: You saw many soldiers dying
I: in your side?
I: What were you thinking at that frightening night battle and skirmish and you, your friends are dying there?
M: I can tell you. It was an awful feeling. It was an awful feeling.
It was a feeling of, uh, helplessness I think. You couldn’t stop it. You didn’t know how to get out of it. It was, you never knew
I: There was no way to get out of it.
M: No way, no way to get out of it.
I: Unless you flee from it.
M: Yeah. And you, you couldn’t do that. You just, maybe you wanted to. But you, fate wouldn’t take it away. You had to do what you had to do and do what you were trained to do.
I: Doesn’t that affect you now?
I: Nightmare or PTSD?
M: Nightmare, PTSD, I have
I: Do you have PTSD?
M: Yes, I have nightmares. I have panic attacks. I had one the other night. Had one on Sunday night.
I: Sunday night?
M: Um hm.
I: What happened?
M: I had a dream, a lot of blood and guts.
I: Did you see those?
M: I said, yeah, I, uh, I woke myself up because I seemed to have cleared it all. We’re winning. And t hen I seen some more come, and I screamed out oh bloody hell, and I woke up,
woke myself up. I don’t know whether the neighbors might have heard me, too. Uh, that was, I have, [INAUDIBLE]
I: What was your rank at the time?
I: So pretty low.
M: Yeah. Can’t get much lower.
I: How much were you paid?
M: About, uh,
M: Uh, yeah, about, uh, about, I’m trying to think. Uh, I should
have brought my paper. I think it was about seven, eight pounds a week, something like that.
I: Seven, eight pounds.
M: Seven, eight pounds a week, uh. [INAUDIBLE] that’d be 16 pound, no, it was less than that.
I: No, not even week.
M: Yeah. Less than that.
I: Was it a month?
M: No, a week, less than a week.
M: Less than that. It would have been, I was only getting 13 pounds a fortnight when I left the Army in 1961,
I: You didn’t, you didn’t gamble?
I: You didn’t play Poker?
M: No, drank too much.
M: Beer was cheap.
M: Yeah. I was, beer was cheap than drink, uh, Korean whiskey, too. Went down to Little Gibralter, Little Chicago, buy a bottle of Korean whiskey, and we found out it was brewed, aged, bottled and sold the same day.
I: Same day.
I: Were there any Korean people working with you or Korean
M: Yeah. we had, we had, yeah. We had, uh, two Korean [INAUDIBLE], and we had a, there were a Battalion, uh, group who brought supplies up to the frontline, ammunition, all that sort of thing, yeah.
M: Uh, the, uh, the [INAUDIBLE], we had one [INAUDIBLE] killed in a mortar blowout. He was running from one pit to another, and he got killed. But, uh, that [ INAUDIBLE] they were good professional soldiers.
I: According to the statistics there are 399 Australian soldiers killed in action. One in thousand soldiers were wounded and, you know, missing in action.
M: I, I did a, a bit of research that Kevin
I: I thought that you, study’s not your thing.
M: Uh, I did a, I did a thing on
uh, just gotta find it, on how many people were wounded and killed in the United Nations. And, uh, how many went into captivity, but how many came out, uh. I read an awful lot of books and researched it for a long time. I, uh
I: Ah, there you go.
M: mainly because we, when we’d get an hour or so meeting, they would talk about the first World War and the second World War, Viet Name and, but not about Korea.
So I used to have arguments and fights with them and they’d say well, you know, we lost so many. I’d say you know, you hear different figures about the Americans, on the American Memorial, Korean Memorial, there’s 54, 000 dead. That does not include 8,600 that were missing at the end of the Korean War.
M: That makes 62,000. And they lost 58,000 in 11 years in Viet Nam.
M: So one, there was one million one hundred and seventy-two thousand wounded.
I: Yeah, exactly. That’s what I’m teaching. You know, the Viet Nam War spent for more than 10 years.
I: Korean War just three years.
M: Three years, one month and two days.
I: But if you look at the number of, uh, Medal of Honor or by the American government, it’s just less than half for Viet Nam.
I: And only the textbook only talking
about Viet Nam War, Viet Nam War, Viet Nam War, there’s little, little part on the Korean War.
M: Yeah. I can, I gave, some books that I’ve got on Korea, one is, uh, uh, Frozen Chosen.
M: About the American First Division. Another one is, uh, The Coldest Winter which is, um, that should be a must for every school kid to read it
M: [INAUDIBLE] uh, and it tells why there’s so many missing in action because they were shot, they fell out on a march from Pusan Perimeter to the Yalu, right through the winter, one of the worst winters in living memory in Korea, uh, and they fell by the wayside. They were shot.
I: That’s why we are doing this. I, I was angry that Korea’s been ignored for a long time.
M: It has been ignored.
I: And it’s time to change it.
I: So Matthew, um, what was the most difficult thing? If I ask you to pinpoint one thing, one thing out of your whole service in Korea, what did bother you most?
M: The cold. The cold.
I: Where did you
M: You cannot describe the cold. You know, I’ve had people say I’ve worked in the cold. I said what’s the temperature? Oh, it’s about five degrees below freezing.
I said and you come out into warm air. Yeah. In Korea, you couldn’t do that. You slept in two sleeping bags. I tell people what we had, had to wear to try and keep warm, and they say how’d you move around, and I tell them wit h great difficulty. There isn’t, there is a story about a female journalist interviewing an American Marine in, in the field MASH, and said to him what’s the most
difficult thing you’ve had to do here, and he’d been wounded. And he said getting my dick out, the 2” of dick through 4” of clothing to have a pee. And it’s true. It’s true. That, that’s how it was. It was, you wore so much clothing. When, and if you took your clothing off, you froze. So it never, you’d just freeze. You had, I’ll tell you a funny incident. We had a, we had a chap, McDuff. He drank quite a bit ,
and he liked that Korean Scotch. So he got drunk on it. And we were told we had Christmas in the frontline, so they pulled us out for New Year. We had New Year in reserve. So we went down to Little Chicago and we bought all the grog to celebrate the New Year, went and, we were in, uh, the, uh, Gloucester Valley area for a rest and, uh, we were 8’ underground. we had a pot belly stove, 44 gallon drum of diesel up top and the, about halfway through the night, the pot belly stove
was glowing red. It was that hot, you know. Then off come the parka. Off come the jacket. Off come the pullover. They sitting there virtually in just [INAUDIBLE] along their leg. And the things [INAUDIBLE[ McDuff wanted to gather the sun, the box, the goal of nature, so he put a pack on, and away he went. We didn’t realize he’d gone, and we didn’t know how long he’d been gone.
I: Um hm.
M: So when we went looking for him,
we found him sitting on the thunder box. He pulled down three pairs of long johns that we used to wear
M: He pulled them down, was sitting there. When we were to lift him up, we couldn’t. He was frozen.
I: Stick to it.
M: Safe. We thought how would we get him up. Cigarette lighter.
M: A little bit, a little bit, a little bit. And we got him up. Put him in hospital, third degree burns to the bum. And he went to his grave with a big horseshoe on his
But it was good thinking, you see.
I: Where did you sleep? Were you in the bunker or
M: In a bunker.
M: We slept in a bunker.
I: With a lot of rats.
M: With a lot, oh yeah. They’re big as house cats they were. Uh, yeah. We had some funny incidents about that, like trying to shoot them and all of sudden this one bloke shot his toe off and all sorts of funny things happening except for the rats. They were monsters. They were plenty for them to eat. And, uh, but they, the rats, uh,
I think they, uh, and the pigs. Pigs were a terrible sight. I, I didn’t
I: Wild pigs?
M: Yeah. I didn’t eat pork for, for years and years and years after I came back. We were, uh, we had this sound on the wire, [INAUDIBLE] in fog, and then, that was, I’ll tell you what the fog was like. And the fog was so thick, and we could hear this rattling on the wires. It went on for a while, everybody stand two, everybody’s really on edge, and in the end, the tent commander said
open fire, fire, you know. I blazed away for a couple of minutes, then stop. No sound. So when the fog listed, they had a big pig. So we took him down to the cook house.
M: The cook house and boiled some water and stripped him down and cooked him, and we had a [INAUDIBLE] When the thaw came, we were crossing the Imjin River across the two old bridge, and the thaw come, and the
river was flowing, and there was the, the different bodies had washed up, uh, from the, uh, from the thaw, and here was a pig with his head buried in a body. And I never ate pork for years after, wouldn’t touch it.
I: The Korean War that you fought for never been replaced with a Peace Treaty at ll.
I: It’s going to be 70th year next year.
I: Have you seen any war lasting that long?
M: No. None.
I: What do you think we have to do about that?
M: Uh, it’s a political thing now. I don’t know what to do about it really. I wouldn’t trust the North any, any, with any, uh, I don’t know what to do with it really, yeah. I, I’m always amazed and anyone have been up there, any of the other veterans that have been up there, that the Korean, the South Korean people have lived with the threat of war
hanging over their head for 60 odd years. But they get on with life, and they still do the same thing. Tomorrow it could all be obliterated. But they still get on doing what they gotta do and, you know, it’s, uh, I don’t know how you ever gonna stop it. But hey, if they can change it, that despot rulers
I: You told me you never knew anything about Korea before you went
M: Nah, nothing.
I: to fight. Now you been there seven times
So what is Korea to you personally now? Now. What is Korea to you?
M: Korea to me, it has a piece of me there. I spilled blood on the ground, so I, I belong to it there. I have a feeling about the place. The people are just fantastic. They are, uh, they’re generous. Um, they treat you like you’re an exalted person. Uh, I sure as remember when I was staying with my
son-in-law. We got on the train. We’d gone into Seoul. We said we’ll ride the trains rather than go on the little buses the Council provided. So we got on the train, and a little old lady got up because I got dry hair, and she said I was an old man. But I loved the place, I really do. The food, I can, we went to lunch, or, we went for more than two with the Governor of Pague. Uh, and morning, too, extended to lunch, and lunch extended to an afternoon tea.
So we were there all that time. And it was a really, one of the best social lunches I’ve ever been to. It was fantastic. It was really good. It was, uh, it was, uh, it was just sociable. People are lovely.
I: What would you say to the world about the war that you fought for in the context of 70th anniversary?
M: It was a terrible war. It was horrendous. It, it, not so much for the soldiers.
They knew what they were doing. But it was the people, the people, and my research showed me that there was 50,000 villages destroyed in the, in the whole of the Korean Peninsula. You can’t, you can’t imagine that. You can’t, it’s just a figure. Two and a half million civilians died. That, that’s the population of some of the towns in Queensland. You just, it’s just horrendous. The casualties, the casualty
figures are overall. Everything that happened, the civilians, the Chinese, the North Koreans, the South Koreans, every, the figures were horrendous. And it wasn’t some thing that just started today and finished tomorrow and we’ll all go home and have a good time. It just, it took years and years and years to recover from it. And, uh, and I think anyone goes back now, to go back to Korea is astounded and, uh, my mate over there, Kevin, he went
back only two years ago, and he hasn’t got over it yet.
I: Matthew, I think I can go on and on with some drinks
I: together. But it’s great, great interview. Uh, thank you for sharing your, your, your feelings and your experience about it, and I want to make sure that we going to use this
I: for the education for the future generation.
M: I once wrote a story for my kids
about my life
I: Um hm.
M: My first 60 years that I could remember.
M: And that covers everything, even some, my photos, when I enlisted, uh, my service records and photos of when I was in Korea, how cold it was, the clothing we wore, the whole lot.
I: Great. Thank you, man. Thank you, Matthew.
M: Thank you.
I: Great honor to meet you.
M: Thank you.
I: Thank you, and thank you for your fight.
M: Yeah. thank you.
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