Canberra – Australia (3)

>> Well, my name is Kevin Collin Joseph Berriman, commonly known as Col. I joined the Army on the 25th of October 1951, on my 17th birthday, as the Korea War was waging at that time. However, as I was underaged, at 17, you weren’t allowed to go into active service until you were 19. So therefore, the first 2 years of my Army life was spent waiting to go to Korea, in fact. I finally made it just after the Armistice when I went back for a second tour on the line. When we arrived, we did not have to put up with the shelling and the major fighting patrol activity, however, when I arrived my immediate thought was the sympathy for the people, and most of the populous was in starvation at that time. It was a terrible time for the South Korean people. When we arrived, there was still activity up on the DMZ. We established the demarcation zone, and our main activity at the time was patrolling inside the zone, which was allowed in those days. We patrolled one side, and the Chinese, who were still there, patrolled the other side, and we used to to wave to each other occasionally in the center. There was still activity with North Korea crossing the border on several occasions. Of course, we had to keep the whole area fortified, and I served there for approximately 12 months in that activity. There were several clashes on the border at that time, and I was injured during one of them where we had to chase some suspects. We chased them into a mine field. Well, we didn’t ever find out who they … I’ll have to stop. Anyway, we never got to catch the four that we were chasing. We saw them, nearly caught them, but they went into a mine field, and we stopped the chase, but sadly saw them … Well, we couldn’t interview them because there was nothing left of them to interview after that. During the chase, I sadly fell down a ravine, and I didn’t know it at the time, but I’d fractured my spine, and really I was out of action for some weeks after that. I spent time in hospital, and then came back to Korea for a short time where we engaged in more patrol activities, especially along the DMZ. Then my time was up in Korea, and I was hospitalized again, but over in Japan while I was in hospital, I was approached by the public relations officer. They wanted somebody to look after the office in Japan for a while, and they recruited me as a junior noncommissioned officer in the public relations office, where we were engaged in photography of Operation Glory, which was where the exchange of the dead occurred. We were receiving our dead, which had been buried in North Korean graves before the establishment of the static war lines on the Kansas Line on the 38th parallel. And also, we were working returning North Korea and Chinese dead at that time. I was engaged in the fringes of that, mainly working with a photographer that was taking photos of the Operation Glory activities. Some of them are still in the memorial at the present time, when our dead were coming back, and we were sending dead back over to North Korea. I left Japan in July 1955, so I was over there for almost 2 years, and I came back to Australia. Korea had finished with then. I was just due to go over to the mine action, the emergency which was occurring over there, but was found to be, because of my injuries, no longer suitable for the infantry or active service. I retired from the Army in 1957 under the care of our Department of Veteran’s Affairs, who really have cared for me since I was 22 years old. I was re-educated through our Department of Veteran’s Affairs, became an accountant with a university degree and worked with the public service for a further 25 years until my injuries caught up with me again at the age of 48 when I was retired from public work. Since then, I’ve had another career of volunteer work for the ex-service community, mainly in welfare and bereavements, and that’s it.

>> So can you tell us a little bit about how many veterans in Australia are still remaining?

>> Sadly … Can we stop for a moment? You asked me, Hannah, how many veterans are left in Australia. There were 17,850 served in Korea from 1950 until 1956. Now, as of October last year, there were less then 3,000 of us still alive. To be in fact, there was only 2,700. They’re dying very quickly. At the present time, there would be no more than 2,400 of us left. Now, I can also give you some casualty figures of those that we lost. Those that paid the supreme sacrifice during their service in Korea was a total of 356 who lost their lives, 340 before the cease fire on July 1953, and 18 after the uneasy armistice that occurred on that date. Is there anything else that you would like?

>> POWs, missing in action?

>> Missing in action, we still have 42 that are missing in action, about half from pilots that were lost, mostly in the North. Only one that we haven’t recovered in South Korea. The rest of the missing in action are Army personnel mostly in the DMZ, which nobody can find in any case, even to this day. We suspect that some of those pilots that were lost in the North could have gone back on recoveries that have occurred by the Americans. It’s a possibility that they could have some of them in Hawaii. We’re investigating this matter at the present time by organizing a memorandum of understanding with the American authorities. Those that were recovered, of course, are all in the Hawaii cemetery, the beautiful American cemetery in Hawaii. I think it’s called the Punchbowl. Perhaps they could be, but it’s very doubtful if any of the 22 Army personnel are there. They’re mostly still in the demilitarized zone. There’s thousands of Chinese still there, and Americans, many thousands of them, still missing. That’s about all that we can say about the MIAs. Under the current regime in North Korea, I don’t think we’ll ever recover any more of those. Anyway, it’s so long ago now, what, over 60 years. What’s to recover?

>> How about POWs? Australian POWs?

>> POWs, there are very few of them alive now. I can’t tell you the exact … We had probably over 20, 25. Some of them died in captivity, three of them, to my mind. I don’t know whether we have any still alive at the present time. I think there was about less than 30 we had POWs in Australia. What else?

>> What do you think is significant about Australian contribution in the Korean War?

>> What?

>> Australia’s contribution in the Korean War unlike other countries? For example, on top of my head, I could think of is the Australians contributed all the …

>> Well, for our size, we contributed quite a lot, especially … You’ve heard some stories from two of our pilots, both from the Navy and from our own 77 Squadron, who flew there. Our Army contribution, of course, was three infantry battalions, which for our population at that time, 17,850 of us served, so for our small population of seven million was … Our actions, of course, in the infantry we contributed to several major battles: the taking of Maryang-san, which during the static war was … Although we took it in October 1951, it was lost shortly after, unfortunately, but Maryang-san was the main Chinese outpost on the Jamestown Line. That was a major battle. The Battle of Kapyong, of course. Australians and the Canadians held the line at Kapyong during the big Chinese offensive of 1951, in April 1951. The Australian battalion 3 RAR held the Chinese offensive during that time long enough, for 3 days, for them to establish the defenses around Seoul, which stopped the Northern advance. And then, of course, the static war period happened shortly after that in October 1951, where the war stayed until the armistice just about the 38th parallel. For a small force of 17,000, as I said, we lost almost 400 killed in action. Many of us were wounded and injured, like myself, I suppose. I was one of the injured. Anyway, that’s about all I can say really. It was a long time ago. My main thoughts and feelings during the time that I served was heart rending. I was so sad to see the population starving, especially children, which upset me very much as a young man. All that I can say is my … The sacrifice that the South Korea people paid was enormous, and they must be congratulated for how they’ve lifted themselves up after that disastrous time to such a prosperous country that it is today, and I’m very proud to be concerned with the recovery of Korea. They’ve done a wonderful job. That’s about all. I can’t think of anything else. I get bad thoughts when I think of what the people suffered. It was a terrible, terrible time for them. Terrible thing to see. We helped them as much as we could, of course, but we couldn’t feed the whole population. Anyway, that’s it.

Memorial

Canberra - Australia

Canberra Australian Capital Territory, Australia