A Night near Hill 159
Korea, 24 November 1952
by Colin Velvin, 161 Bty
It was late November 1952 in Korea. The Royal Fusiliers were positioned on Hill 159. In front of them lay about 800m of paddyfield, and on the other side of that were four hills (MATTHEW, MARK, LUKE, and JOHN) occupied by the Chinese enemy. A low scrubby hill jutted out from roughly the British centre towards the left of MATTHEW, ending in a mound quite near the enemy position. Supporting the Fusiliers was 161 Battery, RNZA. I was gun layer on the 25-pounder gun known as ABLE 2. Although the guns were positioned elsewhere, the forward observers in the observation post were on Hill 159.
Just on nightfall on November 24, the Royal Fusilier patrol leader, Chris Hoare, led his men to occupy the mound, shooting and capturing several Chinese soldiers. The platoon then established its firm base position on the end of the mound. The Chinese could be heard in the neighbourhood and several more were shot. The Fusiliers knew that their post was surrounded by enemy.
At 0100hrs on November 25, 12 Platoon led by Peter de Roeper started its assault, climbing over the feature jutting out to the mound and crossing a stream before entering the paddyfields. They encountered heavy fire from the Chinese and many were killed on each side. At the same time, among all the confusion, Chris Hoare's position was attacked from all sides and he called for support from artillery, mortars, medium machine guns and tank fire.
We swung into action, loading and firing rapidly. Every man on the gun position could perform every task. We drove off the attackers but they kept coming back and gradually the Hoare platoon was reduced in numbers. Eventually Chris Hoare was mortally wounded and the radio operator, Fusilier George Hodkinson, came to the fore. Despite the constant shelling and the sense of imminent disaster, he maintained a calm running commentary, coolly correcting our own tank and artillery fire. He kept this up until only he was left alive.
At the gun position, we all knew that the radio operator was calling in the targets ever closer to his own position. It was obvious to us that he was about to be overrun and we felt a terrible sense of helplessness. Eventually the inevitable happened and the radio messages stopped.
I often thought about that radio operator over the years. His cool demeanour in the face of overwhelming odds and his tenacity were an inspiration. A young guy on his own surrounded by enemy, staring death in the face, held to his mission till the last moment.
Forty-six years later, at a reunion in Whangarei, NZ, of Korean War vets, I happened to meet several Fusiliers out from England. During the conversation they spoke of the wireless operator and I was thrilled to learn that George Hodkinson was alive. Taken prisoner by the Chinese, he was eventually released and decorated by the young Queen Elizabeth II with the Distinguished Conduct Medal. I now correspond with him several times yearly.