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With the Durham Light Infantry

The original 16th Field Regiment as seen from the front-line trenches

Korea, 1952-53

by SB Matthews

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When the Commonwealth Division went back in the line, the two Brit battalions of our four battalion strong 28th Brigade were sent in first. The Royal Fusiliers manning Hill 159 and the Durhams' Hill 355 to its right front. The men of both battalions bought a fight every time a patrol was sent out. It was evident that while the Commonwealth Division was in reserve, the 2nd US Div had lost control of no-man's-land through ineffective patrolling, and the enemy patrols had become bolder.

I was one of the first of 3 RAR's subalterns posted to The Durham Light Infantry for one week to get the feel of the new situation that had been allowed to develop in no-man's-land. This meant of course accompanying night patrols. I was surprised to find that the British battalion which was after all a part of 28 Brigade, was being supported by a British Field Regiment instead of the NZ 16th Field Regiment. The rationale behind this was never made clear.

The difference in liaison and co-ordination between the DLI and its supporting field artillery unit, compared with the relationship between the two Australian battalions and the 16th Field Regiment, was not only striking, it was disconcerting. My doubts unfortunately proved to be valid.

A further cause of concern was the shortage of 88 radio sets in the Brit battalion. These were used through out the COMDIV for patrol to platoon communications. 3 RAR equipped every fighting patrol with a radio and all standing patrols with a telephone and an 88 set. This gave everyone confidence and guarded against surprise attacks. It also enabled us to call for supporting fire in the event of a patrol clash and helped with navigation or assistance with casualties.

1 and 2 RARs did the same and I believe that the Canadians went a bit further and equipped their fighting patrols with the more powerful and reliable 31 set.

The Durham's standing patrols, guarding access to and from no-man's-land, were not equipped with radios, nor field telephones either in some cases.

The night before I was due to return to 3 Bn. I elected to go on a fighting patrol. The young National Service subaltern made a terrible hash of it and when we arrived a good two hours late on the slopes of our objective we were ambushed. Three of us gave covering fire while he withdrew the rest of the patrol. I was armed with an Owen - the finest sub-machine-gun in the Korean War, although the Russian designed Burp gun was not far behind it. One tough little Geordie had a Sten. His one, luckily, was reliable. The other Geordie carried a Bren LMG which he used to good effect. It seemed an interminable length of time before the main body of the patrol gave us covering fire to enable us to break off the action. Surprisingly, while the Chinese kept up a hot fire from carbines and sub-machine-guns and their grenadiers showered the three of us with grenades, they did not charge down the knoll and blow us away.

Eventually, small arms fire opened up about 200 metres behind us. Stens and rifles. We had the only Bren. Obviously, there was no counter attack coming from my English colleague. I signalled the two stalwarts who had stood and fought. We retired in a controlled way. They closed in on me as we walked backwards, still keeping up a hot fire until we finally ran out of ammunition. Amazingly, the rest of the patrol was so far back that their Stens were out of range, so only their rifles would have be effective in giving covering fire. The Chinese still did not exploit their victory.

At the start of the action, I did not get a chance before he retreated to suggest to the Brit officer that he call for artillery support. Once I joined up again with the main body of the patrol, I said "How about asking for artillery fire onto Somerset." That was their nickname for what I knew as Cloncurry. "After the Arty softened them up we could go in and pick up a prisoner or two."

Though he did not sound enthusiastic he agreed to call for artillery assistance. After a very short delay, he informed me that their Field Regiment could not comply. I know, from other experiences that would not have happened had our fire support been in the hands of the New Zealand Gunners. Further, he had been ordered to return. We had four wounded including myself.

One could hardly call it a successful patrol.

Bruce Matthews
May 2000
During the Korean War, Lt Matthews was a NZer seconded to 3RAR.

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