Document kindly provided to this website by his widow, Caroline.
I first saw the Imjin in the early evening of the 22nd April 1951. On that afternoon, Colonel Carne, our Commanding Officer, instructed me to lead a small patrol, the objective of which was to capture a Chinese prisoner for interrogation. American Intelligence had it that a 'small' enemy party was going to cross the Imjin River that night. The Colonel gave me very precise orders. I was to go down to the river at last light, which was about 1830 hrs. Should the enemy attempt to cross the river, we were to capture a prisoner; if however, the enemy patrol was more than thirty strong, we were to withdraw at once.
At that time I had just turned twenty two and, at last, was about to do the job for which I joined up. I had been at school at Radley during the war, towards the end of it I heard that the Brigade of Guards had a scheme whereby it was possible to get a commission at the age of eighteen. I thought this was for me, so I applied and was eventually called for an interview with the Regimental Lieutenant Colonel of the Coldstream Guards, Lord Stratheden, at their Regimental Headquarters in Birdcage Walk. At the time I had a stutter and so did Lord Stratheden. After some time, it was learned that I neither hunted, shot nor fished but was accepted! However, that plan came to nought as, within a few months, the war ended and so I decided that I should go to Sandhurst.
Sandhurst was preceded by four months basic training at Holywood, County Down. The unit was run by the Royal Ulster Rifles who wasted not a moment of those allotted four months. Early on I thought I was doing rather well when the Sergeant Major, in his broad Ulster brogue, said to me “Temple, youse is a really naice mahn” but spoiled it by adding “but sometimes youse is f-----g aidle”!!!! Sandhurst left me with three things. The first was an excellent grounding in driving and vehicle maintenance, the second, never to raise your hands while Scottish country dancing, and the third, and most important, was the advice from a Captain in the Lovat Scouts to the end that while it was honourable to die for your country, it was much more honourable to make the other chap die for his. I followed this advice to the letter.
In December ’48 I was commissioned into the Gloucestershire Regiment and became the fifth generation of my family to serve in the Army. The first, Octavius Temple, was the eighth child of the Vicar of Penryn near Falmouth. He was an Ensign in the 4thRegiment of the Line at the battle of Toulouse in 1814 when he was only fifteen and a half. My great grandfather was in the 4thMadras Infantry in the 2nd China War but was later drowned in the River Adyar, in two feet of water. So my grandfather was brought up by his uncle, Frederick Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury. He later passed first into Sandhurst, but decided to be a Gunner and, instead, went to Woolwich. My father, who was the youngest of five brothers, was commissioned into the Gloucestershire Regiment in November 1914, and served throughout that war and the next, only losing two fingers in the process. Amazingly, all his four brothers also survived the first World War despite spending most of it on or near the Somme.
After Sandhurst I joined the first battalion of the Glosters in Jamaica. Before leaving I had been persuaded to spend half a crown on insuring my kit for £100. En route, the hold containing my kit caught fire and although, not completely ruined the insurance company paid up there and then, on the dockside, with a cheque for £100. I never replaced half of it, which left me £50 to spend on my second Rolls Royce, a 1922 open tourer. I had paid £2.50 for the first one, a 1913, which I had had to share with a fellow Sandhurst cadet, as neither of us could afford the purchase price of £5!!!!
I spent a very happy year in Jamaica before returning to England in 1950. This proved, for all of us, a very nasty shock. We left the sun and fun of the Caribbean on board HMT Empress of Australia for a cold and damp Colchester in January. It was with relief that we heard that the Battalion was to join the 29th Brigade and leave for Korea that September.
My first appointment in Korea was Regimental Signals Officer, a position I held until about a week before the Imjin River Battle. It had occurred to me that if I was going to make a career in the army, I should grab the opportunity of getting the experience of commanding a rifle platoon in action while I could. I spoke to Tony Farrar-Hockley, the adjutant, who arranged for me to take over command of 8 Platoon of 'C' Company. That was only six days ago, and here I was, about to lead them into action without knowing them at all well.
So, during the three hours left before last light on the 22nd April, myself and Corporal Manley, one of my section corporals and my second in command in this venture, were kept busy getting organised. As it turned out, my 'crystal ball' proved to be 'crystal clear'. My intuition told me that the enemy patrol was not going to be 'small'. So instead of taking three or four men, my 'small' patrol totalled seventeen men and two South Korean policemen to guard the hoped for prisoner. We took all three of my platoon's Bren machine guns, and four thousand rounds of ammunition for each. This by normally accepted standards was an enormous amount. Added to this, were a 2" mortarcrewwith a large quantity of parachute illuminating flares and also a signaller with his radio. Every one except the Bren gunners carried a rifle. I carried a rifle and a 'Verey' pistol to put up illuminating flares, if need be.
We left for the river at about 1800 in three tracked armoured vehicles which were necessary to transport the vast weight of the ammunition. At the river bank we fortunately found some small trenches already dug, so it did not take long to position the men and the weapons. We were fairly ideally situated, looking down over the river. We were about fifteen feet up, and this, of course, leads to what is known as plunging fire. Not perfect as the killing area is significantly reduced. Anyway the weather was perfect, the temperature around 65°, a cloudless sky and a bright full moon, shining down illuminating the river. I remember remarking to Cpl. Manley that we would have no problem in seeing anyone approaching and coming across the river. He agreed with me.
I had it in my mind that the Chinese would arrive on the scene around 10 o'clock. I told Cpl. Manley that he and I would take turns on duty and one half the patrol would be awake while the others could sleep. Cpl. Manley took the first shift.
Sure enough, at around ten o'clock, Cpl. Manley woke me to tell me that he could hear noises in the water, but could see nothing. So I took my Verey pistol, which was already loaded with an illuminating round and fired into the air above the river. As was often the case, it was a dud. I then turned toward the mortar and quietly ordered 'para illuminating!' Almost instantly there was a 'hiss' followed by a 'pop', and then above the water was this bright light, allowing us to see about a hundred Chinese soldiers wading across the river towards us. By now, of course, everyone was awake and I gave the order to fire. The three Bren guns opened up, supported by the individual rifles. We were in a superb position and although we were firing slightly down on the enemy at short range, thus limiting the target area, we killed a significant number of them. The surviving fifty or so Chinese, then hurriedly withdrew to the north bank.
Contrary to what I had expected, despite the bright moon and our pyrotechnics, it was very difficult to see people in the water. And, of course, the depth of the water meant that only the heads and shoulders of the Chinese were visible.
A little bit later they made a second attempt, but this time they came in, what I reckoned to be, battalion strength, about five hundred or more men. The Bren guns again opened fire only stopping to reload, after emptying each magazine of thirty rounds. Quite soon I noticed that their muzzles were glowing red in the dark, something I had never seen before.
About this time I remembered that we had been allotted a 'Defensive Fire SOS Target'. This meant that the Battery of eight 25 Pounder guns, normally assigned to our Battalion, were pre-ranged on to our specified target. All I had to do was radio the order to fire DF SOS. The duty sentry on the gun line, probably around five miles back, would immediately pull the lanyard on his gun, which in turn woke the rest of the battery who then fired their own guns, without further orders. They would then continue loading shells into the breach and firing until ordered to stop. I therefore radiod 'DF SOS Now' and in what seemed only seconds one could hear the fluttering of the shells as they went overhead and dropped into the water. They, in fact dropped on the far side of the river, so I then radioed 'Drop 100', meaning drop 100 meters. I realised that by so doing, the shells would have to come dangerously close to our position; i.e. if we stood up, the shells could take off our heads before they fell into the river. So we all kept our heads down, while the shells flew over us and fell slap into the middle of the river, doing a lot of damage to the enemy. I have to say that it was a most professional job by 45 Field Regiment RA. Utterly brilliant.
A little later, when I saw that another wave of Chinese were entering the water and starting to come across, this time about 2,000 to 3,000 strong, I remembered that I could call for a ‘Mike’ Target. That meant that the whole of 45 Field Regiment would fire. I radioed in and for a short time, say half a minute, all 24 guns fired, their shells falling into the river just in front of our position. They could only do this for a very short time as the other Battalions in the Brigade, the Fifth Fusiliers, the Ulster Rifles and the Belgians, also needed fire support from their own attached Batteries of 45Field.
For the most part I was on ‘a high’, but at one time I remember thinking “this is just another exercise at the School of Infantry, Warminster and, if you look behind you, you’ll see one of the Directing Staff, clip board in hand, and at the ‘Aldershot Crouch’ ready to point out errors.” I should point out that the ‘Aldershot Crouch’ is a gentle stoop much favoured by the directing staff while the student is crawling through mud and gorse. It has the amazing quality of making them invisible to the exercise enemy!
Finally, it became obvious that we were running low on ammunition, despite the vast amount we had brought with us. I also heard scuffles on our bank about 30 to 50 yards to our left. I came to the conclusion that the time had now come to retire, particularly as my orders from Colonel Carne were to withdraw if the enemy were more than thirty strong. As the Chinese were at least a hundred times that number, I gave the order to move back. We started by running the first kilometre or thereabouts, and when there appeared to be no sign of pursuit, we slowed to an ordinary march and made our way back to the area of Battalion Headquarters. About this time I lightly remarked to Corporal Manley “Cor, you might have reminded me that we were supposed to withdraw as soon as we saw upwards of forty enemy”. He replied “Well you seemed to be enjoying the party as much as I was.”
My original platoon position was on a hill just forward, and 60 metres above, Battalion Headquarters. So I sent the men up the hill to re-supply themselves with ammunition, take up their old positions, and get as much rest as they could, because it was obvious that a major battle was about to begin. I stayed behind to report to Colonel Carne and Tony Farrar-Hockley. I gave them the full story, but with hindsight, I realise that I grossly under-estimated the strength of the enemy. Henry Cabral, our Intelligence Officer, was also at that debriefing. He later told me that I was “fizzing with excitement” and looked distinctly Byronesque! Something to do with the way I was wearing that long woollen scarf thing called a “cap comforter”.
The following day, the 23rd of April, very little happened to 'C' Company. However, one thing did, for which I have ever since felt guilty. Wanting to see what was going on in front of us, I got out my binoculars to get a better view. In the process I handed my unfolded map to my radio operator who was standing beside me. Unfortunately, a sharp eyed Chinese sniper spotted the white back of the map, fired, and killed the signaller outright, the first member of my platoon to become a casualty.
The next day, the 24th, at about 0700 hrs. I glanced down at Battalion Headquarters, and saw one of our tracked vehicles on fire. What was going on? I couldn't see a sign of life anywhere. A little later, Sgt. Major Ridlington came up to me and said that he could not find Major Mitchell, our Company Commander. If he was, in fact, missing, then it was up to me to assume command of C Company. I looked around, called all stations on the radio and got no reply at all (not an unusual occurrence, as the radios we had, were far from reliable, particularly in such mountainous terrain). I then detected some movement on the top of Hill 235 directly west of our position. I began to think that we had been abandoned. After a little more thought I decided that we should leave our hill and join whoever it was on Hill 235. I gave the order and off we went down the hill. At the bottom there was not a sign of life, except, just as we were about to start climbing the hill, we found one lone Chinese. He was the only one, so we shot him.
When we reached the top of the hill, we were met by Tony Farrar-Hockley who put us in a position on the south slope of Hill 235. Shortly afterwards, Colonel Carne came up to me and said that as 'C' Company was now the strongest Company, he wanted me to lead a breakout the following day. Now Colonel Carne was a man of very few words - some people said he rationed himself to ten a day, so I just took a deep breath and replied 'Yes Sir!' If I had said anything more, I probably wouldn't have got an answer anyway.
It occurred to me that this was going to be a daunting task. We would have to climb down 800 feet from the top of 235, cross the valley and climb another mountain of about the same height, while almost certainly battling hoards of Chinese. In the event, I need not have worried, as that order was soon superceded by one amalgamating C Company with a much depleted B Company under the command of Major Dennis Harding, with myself as second in command.
I think I had last eaten on the evening of the 22nd and it was now the evening of the 24th and I hadn't had any food at all during that time, but I didn’t feel hungry anyway. I suppose it was because of lack of sleep. Most people would agree that the body can only register one major sensation at a time. By this I mean that one can feel either tired or hungry but not both at the same time.
During the day we were being fired at by a machine gun from a distant hill to the west. It was firing tracer rounds. I was very surprised at how very slowly the bullets seemed to come and that one could actually see them coming. Eventually, these bullets were nicking the shrub about two feet in front of my face, which I found somewhat bothering. About this time, Dennis Harding said to me that our radio to Battalion Headquarters wasn't working, so would I run to them and ask if we could get some defensive artillery fire in front of our position. I ran along the ridge, only about four foot wide which meant there was no way of avoiding exposure. I covered the distance in short order. On the way back I passed Richard Reeve-Tucker who I saw had a bullet wound in the centre of his forehead. I spoke to him and he replied. This was quite remarkable. Minutes later he was found to be dead.
In the event, the plan for ‘B’ and 'C' Company to lead the withdrawal was cancelled and on the morning of the 25th, the Colonel gave the order that everyone was to find their own way back. Major Harding, who was now commanding the combined 'B' and 'C' companies, passed on the order and off we all went in small groups. I went with Major Dennis Harding and Sergeant Major Ridlington and we managed to avoid capture all that day and night. The morning of the 26th was a truly beautiful morning, the only trouble was that I was hallucinating. Quite understandably I think, as I had not eaten for three days and not slept for four days and nights. My part of the battle had started at 1600 hours on the 22nd, I had been awake all through the nights of the twenty-second, the twenty-third, the twenty-fourth and the twenty-fifth. Most people had been captured on the twenty-fifth. but we stayed free for a day longer.
We had seemed to have evaded the first line of Chinese and were walking on, when, at about nine o'clock in the morning, we suddenly saw one lone Chinese sentry. At once, Dennis Harding pulled out his 38 revolver, a pretty silly weapon at the best of times, and took a shot at him. Not surprisingly he missed, but almost immediately about a Battalion's worth of Chinese soldiery stood up, appearing from nowhere. Being totally surrounded, there wasn't much we could do but surrender. The sentry who had been shot at was furious - just hopping mad. However, all the other Chinese thought it was one great joke and they all broke out laughing. The poor chap was eventually appeased and the three of us were each allotted a Chinese soldier who was told to look after us. It so happened that the one who looked after me was very friendly. One must remember that our side had napalmed theirs only about twenty-four hours before and we had seen the results, which were, to put it mildly, appalling. Many people will have seen what happens when a sausage, that has not previously been pricked with a fork, is fried. The skin splits and the contents erupt – a fairly close simile, I think. Anyway, he offered me a cigarette, a roll your own of course, and pointing to his own small fox hole, indicated I should lie down on his kapok padded greatcoat and get some sleep. I did just that, getting about three hours in all. Kindness like this is, I have always thought, common place amongst front line soldiers. The hating is normally reserved to those some distance from the action.
At dusk we started walking, led and guarded by a few Chinese soldiers, and in the early morning came to an old school house. There we found Colonel Carne, Henry Cabral and about sixty other Glosters. Henry was Intelligence Officer of the Glosters and we had always been together since joining the armyat the Training Battalionat Hollywood Barracks, Belfast; followed by Sandhurst, and Jamaica. That evening we again started walking North and were joined by others, not just British, but Filipinos and American. At this time I was still, frankly, quite tired. Not exhausted, but tired. Each night we walked something like ten miles. On the third night we stopped at a large Korean school house. The Chinese did not move us during the day because if they had it was probable that we would have been seen by American aircraft.
We noticed that in one corner, there was a trap door in the floor. Henry Cabral opened it and saw that there was a two foot space between the floor and the ground underneath. Not far away were four or five sacks of rice chaff. Henry and I soon realised that here was the chance to escape. The plan was that we would hide under the floor and others would place the bags of chaff on top of the trap door. When the party left that night to march North, we would remain long enough to ensure no guards remained, then we would leave to go South. We were joined in this endeavour by Eddie Leach. Eddie was a Lieutenant and a tank platoon commander in the 3rd US Reconnaissance Company.
Here I must admit that one of my worst fears is claustrophobia. Luckily, Henry and Eddie didn't suffer from this problem, so they went in first and I ended up directly under the trap door, which allowed me to see a chink of light along its edge which helped a bit. We also had arranged for three people, who looked slightly similar to Henry, Eddie and myself, to try to be counted twice by the Chinese when they counted their prisoners just prior to departure. This seemed to work at the beginning, but they did another count while on the march. This time coming up three short.
At this point, they stopped the column, pulled out 'Jumbo' Wilson, a Gloster officer, and made him return to the school to help in the search for us. When the search party arrived back at the school, we heard Jumbo feebly calling out 'Guy, Henry, Eddie. are you there!' After a pause, we heard him say to the Chinese interpreter or someone, 'No, they aren't here', and they left.
After another half hour, I cautiously pressed open the trap door, which proved easy as the sacks were very light and fell aside with no problem. We got out and left the building. It was a clear, cloudless night so we easily found the North Star and then headed off, 180°in the opposite direction.
After about three hours walking, we came to a river and agreed that if we wished to keep going South, there was nothing for it but to take a swim. Being optimists, we took off our shirts and trousers and holding them above our heads waded in. As it turned out we were able to wade all the way across, finding the water not exactly cold, but shall I say 'refreshing'. We got to the other side and got dressed.
We were making rather good progress and just before dawn we could see in front of us a hill, which looked as if it had good cover on it. We thought we could just about make it before daylight. We did indeed make it, but the cover turned out to be only a foot or two high. But we were there and if we lay low, no one would see us particularly as we thought no one would have any reason to come up to there. Although we didn't have any food or water, the weather was bright and sunny and we were happy and free. Free as the air. A wonderful feeling.
But as luck would have it, an old Korean granny with her grandson came up the hill looking for brush wood for their fires. And would you believe it, they stumbled right on our position. It was most unfortunate. We agreed that we had three options. First we could stay were we were and allow them to go their way, and raise the alarm. Secondly, we could kill them both but as we had no weapons, we would have to do it with our bare hands. And thirdly, we could continue on, in broad daylight, and take our chances. The first option would, almost certainly, lead to recapture. The second, we were just not prepared to undertake. So the third, though not appealing, was the best option, we thought, available to us.
Off we went, walking very quickly until we came across a Korean farmer. He looked at us enquiringly, and as I spoke a little Russian, I told him we were Russians on our way to the front. This seemed to satisfy him, but when I tried it again a little while later with another Korean, it clearly didn't. However, we went on towards a really tall range of mountains which were only about four or five miles ahead of us.
Suddenly there were shots from all around us, over our heads but enough to make us realise that we were about to be recaptured. And captured we were.
Now, the village were we where recaptured had been recently bombed by the Americans using incendiaries, and all that was left was ash. So one could reasonably expect the villagers to be somewhat less than friendly. However, I made sure that the Koreans knew that we were ‘Yongook’ (English) and not ‘Megook’ (American). We were escorted by these Korean soldiers, to another village and taken into what passed in Korea for a restaurant, and, given an exceedingly good meal. We were very surprised, as it, in fact, was by far the best meal we had eaten for what seemed a long time, and for a very long time to come.