Tom Collier was born in 1926 and his childhood was marked by the Great Depression. One of his earliest memories is of hardship as his parents had to grab work whenever they could find it. Compulsory school was not offered, so he worked at a tree nursery until he joined the military at the age of twenty. He became part of the British Occupation Force in Japan and specialized as a medic. After his enlistment was up, he re-enlisted and went to Korea in 1952. Tom Collier also describes Hill 355 and the overall conditions of the people around Pusan and Seoul.
Hill 355 and Military Life
Tom Collier describes the fighting at Hill 355. He was never in imminent danger, but there was a constant threat from Chinese artillery. Tom Collier, also fondly recollects on a South Korean houseboy that completed chores. He looked for the house boy upon return to South Korea, but could not find him.
Pusan and Seoul Living Conditions
Tom Collier describes a rough trip to Pusan by ship and overall conditions of the people. People would make houses of anything they could, mostly tin and cardboard. The people did not know English and lived in poverty. Tom Collier then transferred to Seoul and describes the conditions of the people as similar to Pusan.
Contemporary Seoul compared to War-torn
Tom Collier describes Seoul and the high-rises and the different place Seoul has become. He describes the destruction by the Communists and that Seoul is now unrecognizable. He tried to locate landmarks and could find nothing that was similar. Tom Collier is also proud of his service and how South Korea has turned out.
[Beginning of recorded material]
T: My name is Tom Collier.
I: And can you spell it?
T : T-O-M
I: Yeah. And your last name?
I: Very good, Tom. And when were you born? What is your birthday?
T: Twentieth, nine, twenty-six.
I: So how old are you today then?
T: I’m 92.
I: Ninety-two year old man. You look great, Tom. Wow. You really managed very well. What is the secret?
T: Oh, no secret. Quite by accident.
I: And do you drink whiskey every day?
T: Do I what?
FEMALE VOICE: Do you drink whiskey every day?
T: Oh no, not every day.
I: Alright. So where were you born?
T: I was born in [INAUDIBLE]
I: [INAUDIBLE] Is it close from Wellington?
FEMALE VOICE: It’s about an hour and a half, maybe two hours, [INAUDIBLE]
I: Okay. So now it’s time for you to introduce yourself, Jill.
J: I’m, I’m Tom’s daughter-in-law. So my name is Jill [INAUDIBLE]
I: Great to have you.
J: And, and I’ve known Tom for, uh, nearly 20 years. And I live in Whanagarei.
I: Wow. Thank you for being with us together. And Tom, please tell me about your family background when you were growing up, your parents and your siblings, brothers and sisters, when you were growing up.
T: Oh. Well I didn’t have much time in [INAUDIBLE] because of the world-wide depression. And my father who had a business he had to sell it and move, and my [INAUDIBLE] work, and I was only four years old.
I: Yeah. So you went through
this very difficult time, the Great Depression, that broke out 1929. Tell me about the life around that time. How difficult was it because your interview will be checked out by the young students in New Zealand, and they don’t have any idea about the Great Depression.
T: Uh, it was a very, very hard time to my parents. I had quite a big family.
And, uh, it was very, very hard. Unemployment was unavailable. And so my dad did grab, grab work wherever he could.
I: Hm. Yeah. That must been a very difficult time for everybody. There are a few exceptions, but yes. And did you go through many schools? Tell me about the e school that you went through.
T: Uh, well four [INAUDIBLE] later the house I lived in, I just had to walk across the road. A [BUS] used to take me to school
T: which I hated.
I: You are brutally honest. Yeah, that looks better. I mean, Jill, that light, that light is, we need more light
so that I can see better face of Tom.
J: Okay. It’s a bit [THEATER] with the door open.
I: Yeah, little, just a little. That’s it. Good, good.
I: So tell me about your school. You hated that.
J: Hated school.
T: There aren’t any [VOCATIONAL] school desks. It was a big old building, probably 70 or 80 years old.
And, uh, I, I was in a class with a lot of children, and they were very poorly dressed. Didn’t make much money for clothing and [INAUDIBLE]
T: Anyway, we managed. And one thing about it, we had good teachers. They were very, very good.
I: Wow, that’s
T: even though I didn’t like school.
I: Why did you like that teacher?
T: Um, she was very pleasant to us, you know. And [INAUDIBLE] around with a strap.
T: Touched you very, very careful, lovely.
I: Very good. So when did you finish your school?
T: Well I, I finished at that school in 1936 and moved to a brand new school
I: Um. What was the name of it, and when did you finish that, too?
T: It was still the [DANERVERSIONAL] School.
I: Uh huh.
T: And everything was new.
I: So you move into new building, right?
J: A new building.
T: New building altogether.
I: Yes. And you still didn’t like that school?
T: I didn’t mind that because in
in 1936, I think I was in about [STANDARD 2]
T: So I got to know, you know, a lot of friends. And no. I, I enjoyed that school.
I: Good. And then after you are all done with the school, what did you do? Did you get a job?
T: When I left school,
T: Well, I left school
in 1940, and there was no compulsory secondary school.
T: high school. So I went out and got a job with an [INAUDIBLE], you know? Planting trees and what have you.
I: Uh huh.
I: And then when did you join the military?
T: Oh, I never joined the military until, uh,
oh, I was about 20 I think.
T: And I joined the Army to go to Japan.
T: But the British Occupation of [INAUDIBLE]. And that, that was a very interesting path in my life, too.
I: Tell me about it. Why was it interesting? And Jill, this light is better to see Tom’s face. So please maintain that, okay?
Yes, go ahead.
J: What was good about Japan, the different culture or
T: Oh yes. The culture was entirely different and, of course, excuse me, I was in the medical.
I: Oh, your specialty was medical?
T: Well let’s, [INAUDIBLE], you know, typical of the Army, they put you where they wanted you. And so that’s where I finished up.
I, I was a, a, a clerical side of uh, my job at, uh, [INAUDIBLE]
T: And, uh, I got to know two interpreters.
T: One was a merry old chap, and he was delightful. He was. He really was.
I: Um hm.
So Tom, let me ask this question. Up to that point, did you learn anything about Korea from school, or did you know anything about Korea up to that moment?
T: No, nothing.
I: Huh. So at the time, what was your unit?
T: Uh, my unit was the medical, 6th New Zealand General Hospital.
J: Was that in Korea or in Japan?
J: It was Japan.
I: And you basically, what was your specialty again?
T: I was in the hospital office.
I: Office. So you, you did take care of the administrative in the hospital?
T: I had to
J: Take care of the administrative in the hospital.
T: Yes. More or less, yeah.
I: Um hm. And when did you go to Korea then?
T: Well, I went to Korea three years later.
I: Which is 1949?
T: Uh, I came home in 1948.
T : Korean War broke out in 1950.
T: And I went over there in 1952.
And where did you arrive?
T: Where did I arrive?
T: Oh, we arrived at, um,
T: We did, uh, Korea. Oh, we arrived at Kurae.
I: Where? That’s Japan.
I: That’s a Japanese name. But where in Korea did you arrive, Pusan or Inchon?
J: Where in Korea did you arrive?
Pusan or Inchon in Korea, where did you arrive in Korea?
T: Well, we arrived in Port of Kurae.
J: Port Kurae. Can you spell it?
I: Ah, Kure. Huh. Oh, so maybe that’s, uh, Southwestern Region.
And tell me about the Korea you saw for the first time. How was Korea to you, Tom? Be honest. How did you, how did you see Korea? Did, did it like, uh, good country or completely destroyed? What was it to you?
T: Oh, well it was nothing, nothing left standing.
T: When we left Japan, I came over on the boat.
T: It’s a wonder we ever arrived
because the boat did everything but sink.
T: It was a real rough trip.
T: There was about twelve hours late arriving, and we arrived in Pusan.
I: Pusan, yes.
T: It was known as Pusan in those days.
I: Right. And how did, uh, Pusan look to you?
T: Oh, we arrived there at, uh, night time. But, uh , in daytime there wasn’t very much there because the Communist Forces had come right down and blown everything up.
I: What about Korean people? How did they look to you?
T: Oh, they, you know, they looked friendly enough. But of course, they couldn’t speak English.
I: Right .
T: And we couldn’t speak Korean.
I: So, and how was their, uh, living condition?
T: It was what?
J: Their living condition.
T: Oh, absolutely terrible.
I: Tell me more detail about it.
T: They were, they were living underneath anything they could get hold of; cardboard boxes, bits of tin, you name it,
and they made a house out of it. Absolutely disgusting.
I: Um. So, yeah, go ahead.
T: You know, United Nation Forces couldn’t do anything about it. They just took the battle on.
I: Um hm. So from Pusan, where did you go?
T: From Pusan
J: Where’d you go?
T: Ah yes. We hopped on a train. I spent a couple of nights in Kura, and then hopped on a train and went up, and we got off the train at Seoul.
I: Oh. So you were in the capital city of Korea at the time.
J: You were in a capital city in, at the time.
T: Oh yes, yes, oh, So we, we got off, got off t he train,
and the New Zealand Army Service Corps, they were the drivers. They were there with their trucks to take us to our various places.
I: And before we, you, talk about the details of your battle, I mean the, the war experience, how did Seoul look to you? Tell me the detail because young children in New Zealand don’t have any idea
how Seoul was in 1952. They know about now, but they don’t know in 1952. So you are the only living witness who can tell us about how did Seoul look to you?
T: Well really, there was, there was nothing left standing, just like Pusan.
T: you know. It was nothing. There was nothing left standing. And as I say, the, the people were living underneath
cardboard or anything they could get hold of, uh. It, it wasn’t a very pretty picture.
I: Um hm. So from Seoul, do you remember? Where did you go?
T: Oh, well I was, I was posted to, uh, the New Zealand, uh, New Zealand Infantry, uh, Corp as a signal man.
I: Signal man. So you were taking care of the hospital. But now you are in charge of signaling, right?
T: Oh, different altogether.
I: Yeah. How drastically changed. So tell me about signaling. What did you do actually, specifically? What did you do?
T: Well, what I did was man, man the telephone
T: and the telephone was a direct link to the Colonel.
He was the top man in the New Zealand Forces.
I: Um hm.
T: And we were part of this group. There were eight of us.
T: And I was, uh, I was on the telephone.
I: Okay. So what was your rank at the time?
T: Uh, Private.
I: So you were pretty low, right?
I: And were you at Hill 355 or any
battle ground, or were you around the Imjin River? Tell me where you were if you can remember anything.
T: Oh we could see 355 from where we were.
I: Um hm.
T: At night time, we could hear the shells exploding and what have you. There was a lot of big battles on 355.
I: So you were able to see the Hill 355,
very famous hill.
T: Yeah, yes.
I: Yeah. How was the battle situation at the time? Can you describe, explain us how was the situation there?
T: Well, the Chinese, they outnumbered the Air Forces. And at one time, they, they took 355. But they took it back.
I: Took it back, yeah.
T: Yeah. [INAUDIBLE] this.
I: And many New Zealand soldiers being killed there or what happened?
T: Oh yes, quite a few.
I: Quite a few. Were there any dangerous moments to your life, that you might have lost your life?
T: Oh no. We, we were in, uh, in the zone where if the Chinese pointed the gun in our direction,
could have landed right amongst us.
I: And is
T: Thank God it didn’t while I was there.
I: Yeah. So you were lucky.
T: Oh yeah, lucky alright.
I: Um hm. Um, what about living condition while you were there in Korea. Where did you sleep? What did you eat, things like that.
T: Oh, we were all in teams, four-man teams.
I: Um hm.
T: There was four of us, and then there was four, uh, [KILLED OR REMAINED] Colonel Striver
T: He, he was in there. And there was also a Korean boy.
T: And funny enough, he had the same name as you. He was Han Dong Su.
T: It was his name.
I: Wow. You have such a clear memory.
T: Oh yes. He, he used to go to [INAUDIBLE]. He was the Colonel’s house boy.
I: Ah hah. So what did he do?
T: Oh, he used to, uh, he used to do chores for the, for the Colonel, do his washing.
I: Uh huh.
T: And iron his shirts because family all ironed, yeah.
Oh no. He, he was good. And they used to do ours, too.
I: How old was he?
T: Oh, he was about 13 or 14.
I: Ah hah. You know his last name is same as mine, Han, and it’s a very good name. So you were lucky to be with him.
J: Is there something you need me to look for?
J: So Tom went back, was lucky enough to go
back to Korea, oh, 15 years ago or so now do you think?
T: Oh yes.
J: And he looked for this young man.
J: But didn’t, was unlucky, couldn’t find him.
T: Couldn’t find him.
I: Yeah. It’s like trying to find a needle in the haystack, you know?
J: It is, yeah.
I: But at least we have this record so that maybe Dung Su Han may check this interview later, and he will remember you. So did you pay,
did you pay him? Did you give some money or what did you do for him?
T: Oh, he, he was paid. He eventually got paid a huge amount of money
I: Huge. How much?
T: A thousand [INAUDIBLE]
I: Uh huh.
T: Yeah. Anyway, uh, he took his part of money, believe it or not, and took a Korean [COMPOUND] with the Korean workers
just take their meals or what have you, and he lost a lot gambling.
I: Oh geeze.
T: He was asked to go.
I: Uh, then he’s not Han. I don’t gamble. Stupid man, huh?
T: Oh no. He was a super, super little boy.
I: Too active.
T: When I went back on this government sponsored trip,
T: As Jill said, I tried to make contact with him but never. I really should have gone to tv.
T: I might have contacted him.
J: We, it was on tv in New Zealand, but it wasn’t on tv in Korea.
I: Maybe, maybe next time if you go back. So tell me about when you go back to Korea, you were in Seoul. You were in Pusan, and you were in
the Imjin River area during the War. But you went back to Korea 15 years ago which means 2004. How did Korea look to you now?
T: Oh, from the time when I first went over
J: I think when you went with the government sponsored trip.
T: Oh. [INAUDIBLE] a beautiful city. High rise flats
I: Uh huh.,
T: I couldn’t believe my eyes when we flew over. Yeah, don’t know. Just from close [INAUDIBLE] ever.
I: You remember the Seoul. You told me that there was nothing vertical standing, and there were, what, what did you see in Korea when you go back in 2005?
J: What did you see, just lots of [INAUDIBLE], bridges, buildings?
T: Oh yeah. Well I, I first saw, I’m not sure they had any bridges that were leading out of Seoul.
I: Um hm.
T: Of course, the Communists blew most of them up. And, uh, there was only one left. However, when we went back, there were bridges everywhere. Very industrious [INAUDIBLE]
I: Um hm.
T: All these high rise flats.
They had to house the people. They couldn’t go out. They rose, uh, they couldn’t go out. So they went up.
I: Yeah. It’s a small country. So we have to go up higher.
I: You know. And were you able to visit the Imjin River area?
T: Oh, we [MOVED BACK NORTH]
T: over the Imjin River.
I: And did you see the change there, too?
T: Oh, we didn’t go too far up because, uh, you know, there was that, um, that area.
T: [BRING THEIR EQUIPMENT] separating North and South Korea.
I: Um hm.
T: because that was all they had, all that, yeah,
I: So what do you think about this whole transformation now? You didn’t know much about Korea. You saw completely
devastated Korea. Now you know Korea is one of the strongest economies in the world. What do you think about this whole transformation?
T: Well honestly, I didn’t know what to think of this [WORLD]. Just a different place where, where I was. Different place altogether.
I: Very good point. Different place, right?
T: Oh, a different place entirely.
I: Um hm.
J: Did you receive [INAUDIBLE]
J: Did you receive [INAUDIBLE]?
T: No, no, no.
I: So are you proud to be a Korean War veteran now?
T: Oh yes, yeah I am.
I: Um hm. So what is Korea to you now personally?
T: Well, South Korea, of course
I: Yeah, South Korea
T: Oh, forget about North Korea.
I: Why not?
T: I, I think they are [INAUDIBLE]
I: Um. But you know, because you two, despite such a beautiful outcome out of your service. You fought for the nation you didn’t know before, and that country was miserable, now 11th largest economy in the world. But despite of all those beautiful things came out of your
service, we don’t talk about it. We don’t teach about it. And it’s still being known as Forgotten War. Why is it, and what do we have to do to overcome this?
T: Well everything there is just a problem, isn’t it?
I: Yeah. What do you think we have to do?
T: I don’t think there’s really very much you can do.
J: Teach it to
T: You’ve gone as far as you can go.
T: You’ve gone all out. You housed all the people, thousands and thousands of them in all these flats. One thing I noticed when we were over there during the War
T: there were no earthquakes.
I: No earthquakes, no.
T: They don’t want them anyway.
I: You know what? I think we can do something about this, that we’re going to show this interview. The person’s name is Tom Collier, in one of the classrooms in New Zealand High School and then show them that what you did for Korean people in 17 years, 70 years ago. Do you think students will learn from you?
J: Do you think students will learn from you if they show your video and your thoughts and, and feelings about Korea? Students will learn from you about Korea and the transformation.
I: Okay. Um, Tom, do you remember any other special episode, um, that you wanna share with this interview during your service in Korea?
T: Well, I remember vividly I used to have a Korean boy.
I: Um hm.
T: Han Dung Su.
T: And we nicknamed him Kemo.
T: Yeah. It was short for Peanut.
I: Oh, okay.
T: He’s only short.
T: And I, I used to have him on. He said I’m even
turn 16 he was going to go and join the Navy, and I said you haven’t got any Navy. I said the North Korean and Chinese blew it all out underwater. Oh no they didn’t. [INAUDIBLE] And I don’t know whether he, he goes into the Navy or not. I don’t know cause I had left for New Zealand [INAUDIBLE]. But he was very likeable.
I: So you, you, Han Dung Su is your,
in your memory really completely.
I: Yeah. Oh, you giving me a hint. We may look for somebody named Han Dung Su in Navy history, and maybe we can find them, find him, you know? Any other story you wanna share with me today?
T: Well, nothing I can think of.
I: What about this question? What was the most difficult thing during your service in Korea?
If I asked you to pinpoint only one thing that you thought was so difficult or really bothered you, what was it?
T: Well, yes. [INAUDIBLE] daily conditions.
T: Living conditions were absolutely appalling.
J: Fighting, sanitation, [INAUDIBLE]
T: Oh yes. That all caught up to us.
I: But now they live in one of the most advanced cities in the world. Seoul became one of the largest metropolitan cities, 10th biggest large metropolitan city in the world. And their life has been completely changed due to your service.
T: Yes. well when I went back on the government sponsored trip,
T: the first thing I noticed,
all these beautiful fruit trees
I: Um hm.
T: that had been planted.
T: And we just, just missed the flowering season. So many flower in season I expect, [INAUDIBLE] when we went over there.
I: Um hm.
T: But, uh, they’ve done a wonderful cleaning up job.
I: Yeah. That
T: Very diligent rush.
I: Um hm. That’s a nice compliment.
T: They know how to make money.
I: Um, next year will be 70th anniversary of the breakout of the Korean War. Do you know of any war that lasted more than 70 years since they, you know, signed the Cease Fire, official Cease Fire. So this sounds more like a ridiculous phenomenon. But in the context of the 70th anniversary,
there, is there any message from you to Korean people, especially for Dung Su Han, Han Dung Su? Do you have any special message to the Korean people?
T: Well, what I would like to see is unification.
I: Excellent point.
T: Two Koreas coming together.
I: Um hm.
T: Because North Korea quite dangerous with this nuclear business.
T: They are. And I don’t know whether Trump can do anything about it .
I: What do you think? What do you think that Trump is doing?
T: Well, I don’t know.
I: You can be honest.
T: If they got a bigger Army. I don’t know what stuff Korea’s got.
I: Yeah. We have a pretty big size of Army and all military, yes.
T: Yeah. And as I said before, they know how to make money, uh, make us lovely cars we, we see every year.
I: Um hm.
T: And the best driver. And there’s all sorts of electrical things come from South Korea.
I: But North Korea is still very poor.
Oh, that’s what we are told.
I: Um hm.
T: But they, they now seem to think so.
I: Right. They
T: Cause all their money’s gone into military.
I: That’s right. Yeah. I, I really appreciate your last message about the unification. Reunification of the North and South Koreans. That will be our biggest wish list and hope.
T: Oh, absolutely.
Could you go back and fight for us again if something happened there?
T: I’m a bit old now.
I: You are just 92.
T: Yeah. I don’t, I don’t think I’ll be able to. I don’t think I’ll be able to hold a rifle.
I: But your spirit is with us so that I’ll make sure that this interview edited and put it on the website so that
Jill and her children and your grand, grand children will be able to see this interview from where you are, and I am from the VA Office, the Veterans Affairs of New Zealand. I’m sitting with Elaine, and can you see her?
E: Hi Tom.
T: Yes, hi.
E: Hi. You do look great for 92.
I: Yeah. You look great.
So I wanna thank you, Tom. If you don’t have any other message, I will wrap this up. But I wanna thank you for your honorable service. You were there when we really needed you, and you fought for us so that we were able to rebuild our nation, and that is the nation that you need to be proud of, okay?
T: Yes, yeah.
I: Alright. Thank you, Tom, for your service. And thank you, Jill, for your help, support.
J: You’re welcome.
I: Do you have any message for
this interview, Jill?
J: Um, thank you for taking the time to interview Tom, and thank you for allowing us to do it via Skype.
I: Um hm.
J: Cause it would have been too difficult , um, to go to Wellington.
I: Yeah. This is, uh, Elaine’s idea. So I, I wanna appreciate Elaine for this. And thank you for your taking care of him.
J: We try.
I: Who’s taking care of whom? Bye bye.
J: Thank you, bye.
T: Thank you, bye.
J: Thank you. All the best.
I: All the best. Bye.
[End of Recorded Material]