A great war story of the Korean War New years Eve 1952/1953

Posted by on Dec 30, 2017 in The Invisible Army | 0 comments







Once again I have to thank Patrick Buzzel for this , an excellent recollection from a Canadian  fighting in Korea 1952-1953.



Internet Journal for the World’s

Veterans of the Korean War                 

December 29, 2017

I have written about New Year’s Eve 1952 before. For the past several days, with snow on the ground and temperatures freezing outside our warm home, I have thought of that winter in Korea. Some years ago I was criticized by one or two for writing about how we passed the time, for reasons never well stated. But perhaps this year what is expressed will find company with the memories of many others who served in that country in their youth.

Vincent Courtenay, publisher

EAST OF PANMUNJOM by TED ZUBER, Zuber Fine Art, Kingston, Ontario

The scene is drawn from Ted Zuber’s memory of the winter of 1952-1953 when he served as a sniper at the Hook position, and the Panmunjom searchlight designating the neutral zone where armistice talks were being held could be seen at night by soldiers under fire or on perilous patrols.

New Year’s Eve 65 Years Ago

It was early in the night. Two or three comrades were with me visiting troopers from the Royal Tank Regiment. It was bivouacked not far from our battalion’s ‘A’ echelon.

We were always welcome there, as the tankers often came to the echelon to scrounge meals. We also had more cash to buy beer than the Brits, and we did and we shared it with them. This night a trooper who had been on duty came in with his aluminum mess tin in hand.

“You get any chicken in it?” one of the others asked.


In the tin was a thin soup, a couple of chunks of potato and a sliver of meat.

We had a case of quart bottles of Asahi beer and were talking exuberantly.  For my benefit, having learned that I had been born in England and because I seemed particularly sad, they sang me a well-known working class ditty. They said one of them had been a scrap iron monger before his service. The refrain went:

“Any old iron, any old iron, any, any old iron?…”

I don’t remember the rest of the words but the melody is still with me, and their good cheer as well. It was warming and it was an honour to be serenaded by them. Most were professional soldiers signed up for life, but at least one was a National Serviceman with a few months’ left to serve.

They had come to Korea to replace the Royal Inniskilling Dragoon Guards, after serving in Germany in the British Army of the Rhine.

Suddenly somebody put a pall over our celebration. A mustachioed, grim older man of about 35 stepped into the tent, flashlight – torch, they called it – in hand. He roared at my British friend, who was a corporal: “Why are you drinking in quarters? Why are these Canadians here?

He was their regimental sergeant major. He demanded that frivolity cease and the Canadians leave the battalion area!

The corporal, a London cockney, said he was in charge of those quarters and the Canadians were invited guests and he had total right to have them there.

On New Year’s Day next morning when the sergeant major had him up on charges, he would say that the Canadians were there, “… because they bring us the food that we eat!”

Which may have been a factor in him being sent with his Centurion tank to the front lines the day following.

The regimental sergeant major had ruined our New Year’s Eve celebration. We bid our British friends good-bye and trudged down the snowy main supply route toward the echelon. It was just hours since I had been leading patrols at the front and we had been up there several days and I was taut as a banjo string, hence the British pals singing a song to cheer me up.

A few hundred yards along the road I bristled. There was shrubbery alongside it and I knew that by daylight I would see the single strand of wire with the triangular minefield markers dangling from it. The leaves of the shrubs had rustled, but there was no wind.

I leveled the Enfield that had been slung from my shoulder. I said very clearly that I would fire on the count of three. If whoever was crawling about was an ally they had better sing out.

They did; a couple of terrified soldiers from my own company. They were packing two wooden crates of Asahi beer. They had gone to ground thinking we might be military police. It was illegal for a Canadian soldier to have liquor or beer on his person.

Their fear was not misplaced because among our small group was Leo Kerwin, a good friend from Newfoundland. Leo had decided after a stint in the front lines that he “would take his chances from ‘A’ echelon” as a regimental policeman instead of as a front line rifleman.

Leo advised they were under arrest, although he was quite drunk. He said he would release them if they shared their beer.

We all resumed the trudge, six or seven soldiers from the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, very noisy, very cocky.

Then one of our friends, another regimental policeman whose last name was Murray, called us to a halt. Murray had also served at the front and his brother, Leonard Murray had been killed during an enemy attack on the Warsaw position near the Hook the previous March.

Incredibly, there were flames flickering ahead, well off to our right.

We went up the road in a “V” battle formation and Murray, leading, called out.

“Who the hell’s burning that fire over there?”

“Why’nchoo come over an’ find out!”

It was an Aussie or New Zealander’s voice.

“Yer in a minefield with that fire!” Kerwin yelled.

“Shove it!” came another voice.

Now the fire was really burning.

Murray was offended. He began to march off the road.

“Mines!” I yelled.

“You put out that fire!” Murray demanded. He kept treading boldly into the snow.

We were all melded together that night. We felt our way across the warning wire and followed Murray. In forty or fifty steps we were in the warm glow of a burning Asahi beer crate.

There sat two Kiwi gunners. One was young and very big of size, the other was quite old and short and shriveled of face. They were both grim and lamenting.

“You know you’re sitting in a minefield?” Murray demanded.

“Well so are you!” the youngest one rejoined him,

The short one, named Typhoon, sang out his sad song. “We was celebrating with mates and the bastards off and left us!”

The other one, called “Lofty,” said they would sit there until caught or killed by the enemy.

I wasn’t concerned about the enemy, but I was concerned about his shells. We were within range of the enemy artillery and the fire likely could be seen at the front.

We discussed that, but the Kiwis vowed they would not budge from that spot. Feeling honour bound with spirits up we sat on the snow and joined them. One of the precious crates of beer was broken open and its wood added to the fire. The sparks flew high.

The Kiwis cursed and defamed the chums who had deserted them and we added tales of our own. Then one of our Canadian comrades who owned a watch looked at its dial.

“Half an hour to midnight! We gotta get to our outfit for New Year’s Eve. You can come with us.”

“No,” said Lofty, quite gravely. “Me an’ Typhoon have made our pact. We stay here until the end.”

“Tell ‘em what happened to Lofty an’ Typhoon,” Typhoon said quite sorrowfully.

I felt a lump in my throat as we walked to the road again, following our own footprints in the mild glow from searchlights played on the clouds above the front.

It seemed improbable that anyone could walk that far past the wire without setting off a bouncing benny and killing or wounding some of us. I thought a step or two to right or left might do it so I placed my boots carefully in the footprints of whoever I followed.

We did reach A echelon. We went into my company’s support tent. My company had been withdrawn from the front and were in bivouac some 10 or 15 miles away and there was no hope of reaching them.

A few minutes to midnight by the watch of the only soldier who owned one we gathered around the diesel fuel fired stove and took each other’s hands. I cannot remember all of my comrades but there was Kerwin, Murray, Lance Corporal Wally Polkosnik who ran the support unit, the company commander’s driver named Blacklock and the company driver mechanic named Blackburn.

Today most of them are dead. Kerwin came from Newfoundland, Murray from somewhere in northern Ontario, Wally Polkosnik I located decades later in Edmonton, and I believe that Blacklock and Blackburn were from the Hamilton, Ontario area.

I forget what we sang, but finally, just before midnight, we broke out with Auld Lang Sine. The soldier with the watch broke it off and said, “Listen for the guns! It’s midnight!”

We listened, expectant grins on our faces, hoping to hear the cannon of the British Commonwealth Division roar in the New Year. It stayed silent.

We went outside, looked forward and to our left along the distant front. It ran west-east to our north until just east of Panmunjom where the U.S. Marines were in position. There it dipped down southerly for a good stretch.

There was nothing in the air except the artificial moonlight created by searchlights that played on the clouds to give soldiers along the front a bit of vision.

We soon all dispersed, wondering why our gunners had not yanked the lanyards and set the night roaring.

When I was trudging alone up the desolate DMZ the guns finally did unleash their fury. Some of them fired star shells, which burst over the front. I watched, thought of the Hook position we had held and the enemy Ronson and the Warsaw poitions where I had led patrols, and I felt a terrible chill.

I still do, at times.

It was a new year. I did not know it would be the year in which the Korean War would end. Nobody did. It seemed then that the terrible war would go on for years.

I have no idea what happened to Lofty and Typhoon who we had left behind in the snow covered minefield.

One hopes that with sobriety and the piercing cold they would have rallied and got back safely to the road and somehow or other returned to their battery. One hopes their sergeant major or their battery commander would be forgiving.

I did not know then and would not know until I read it sometime later, maybe a few months later, that when I trudged along that road and the guns went off along the front, a soldier, Private John Francis Gill from The Royal Canadian Regiment was shot and killed returning from a patrol on the Hook, where we had served days before.

The article had been written by Bill Boss, the correspondent for the Canadian Press. He reported that Private Gill had been shot in the back by a sniper who fired from more than a hundred yards in darkness as the patrol was returning.

Boss said the bullet had gone through his flak jacket, through his chest, and out through the front of the flak jacket. It happened shortly after midnight and Private Gill was the first Canadian casualty of the New Year.

Sixty-five years later, reading his burial report that is archived at the United Nations Memorial Cemetery in Busan, those details are all too well verified. Officers he served with confirmed by their signed statement that he had been killed by a rifle shot at 0045, which was forty-five minutes past midnight, or more properly stated, forty-five minutes into 1953.

The Royal Canadian Regiment had relieved D Company of the Princess Patricia’s on that position only hours earlier.


A relief unit moves into position, probably on the Hook where artist Ted Zuber served as a sniper. The Royal Canadian Regiment had relieved the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry on the Hook in the last few days of 1952 and were defending it on New Year’s Eve and beyond. Like the Patricias they suffered many casualties in the winter action. There is a sniper in the snow just left of the center of the painting.

If I recall a conversation with the well-known Korean War artist Ted Zuber, Ted, who was a sniper, told me that early in January he had shot and killed an enemy sniper on the ridge running out to the Warsaw hill. That was the same area where an enemy sniper killed Private Gill. The sniper Ted Zuber shot was found with a night-scope equipped rifle, something very rare to be in the hands of the enemy of that era. He may very well have been the one who shot Private Gill.


Ted painted this depiction of himself firing from inside an observation post that was set on the Hook beside the egress path for patrols going out onto the ridgeline that led to the enemy-held Warsaw position. He had spotted a sniper far out on the ridge and fired his first shot as a sniper at an enemy soldier. His spotter reported that he had missed. However, a patrol found the sniper’s body that night, and the very rare night scope equipped rifle he had been carrying.

Private Gill was buried on January 5, 1953, at 10 a.m., next to Private Eddy Power, the last soldier from the Patricias to die on the Hook. He was very well liked by all who knew him. Eddy Power had been killed by mortar bomb shrapnel returning from a patrol on Christmas Eve.

The certificate signed by Sergeant Thomas Prince, who had led the patrol, attested that he had been killed in action at 2335 hours, just 25 minutes before Christmas Day.

Eddy Power had been buried at 11 a.m. on December 29, 1952.

Both Eddy Power and John Gill were buried in the U.S. Army cemetery at Tanggok, which had been renamed the United Nations Cemetery at Tanggok. It is now called the United Nations Memorial Cemetery Korea.

Eddy Power’s burial record has penciled in that he was Roman Catholic, but he was buried in a Protestant service by a chaplain named Captain Robert Mashburn.

Captain Mashburn also conducted the burial service for John Gill.

Both Eddy Power and John Gill, like others buried there, had been wrapped in squares of tent canvas that was bound with thin telephone wire and placed in the new dug earth.

For whatever reason these things come to mind when it is cold and there is snow on the ground, and as Christmas Day approaches, and then as the days come close to New Year’s Eve.

The coldness has never entirely gone away.

Maybe it is a way to make sure that I never forget those who fell in Korea, and the friends who are still buried there.

The same scenes and memories must haunt artist Ted Zuber of The Royal Canadian Regiment, who put some of them on canvas many years later. He recalled New Year’s Eve when he had gone into the Ronson tunnel on the Hook position to warm up and depicted it in one of his paintings.

At that very time some miles from the front I had been with boisterous friends and the two despondent ANZACs, trying to cheer them at a defiantly flaming fire deep inside a minefield that was meant to keep enemy soldiers and their guerillas away from the allied main supply route.

I was 18.


This is Ted’s depiction of the tunnel on the Hook that was adjacent to the enemy-held Ronson position. The author, Vincent Courtenay, took his four man team into the tunnel on the night of November 20 when enemy soldiers infiltrated the Hook. He had shot one of the enemy soldiers as he emerged from the debris mound above the tunnel entrance, then called shellfire onto his position, but it never came. It was a heart pounding few minutes holed inside in darkness while enemy soldiers padded along the trench outside. Ted Zuber was later wounded in the same tunnel when the pin from a soldier’s grenade worked lose and it exploded. Ted’s sniper rifle is seen canted in place in the right foreground of the painting.

Thanks to Mr. Edward Fenwick “Ted” Zuber for his service and for his remarkable art:

Zuber Fine Art

P.O. Box 99

Seeley’s Bay, ON K0H 2NO




Thanks to all of the brave veterans and to those who fell for their selfless service and sacrifice!

Some will fall again in 2018, as happens each year, and their comrades will mourn them.

The rest become more and more precious to the survivors of those gallant groups from 21 nations who fought for the freedom and well being of the people of the Republic of Korea so long ago.

May you be one of the rest and may your new year be filled with happiness and days of peace and personal fulfilment.

Happy New Year one and all and a big Thankyou to those Brave brothers and Sisters who went to defend our Freedoms  in Korea.

Nil Sine Labore


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *