With the 8th Hussars in Korea, 1950

Discussion in 'Korea' started by Tolbooth, Dec 15, 2016.

  1. Tolbooth

    Tolbooth Patron Patron

    My father, Fred Bagley, joined the RAC in 1939 and, after serving with the Lothian and Border Yeomanry as a Loader/operator in Sherman flails in NWE, returned home in 1945 and went into the reserves. In 1950, just before his 6 years reserve service were due to end, he was called back for the Korean Emergency - he was not amused ! He found himself in the 8th Royal Irish Hussars as a scout car driver. Despite everything he found time to write to my mother nearly every day and I'm gradually transcribing them.

    I thought these small extracts from Xmas 1950 might be of interest - nothing of major military import but hopefully you'll enjoy.


    Pusan 1951 (2).JPG

    Short Rations

    Sunday 10th Dec

    After almost a month in Korea the troops were becoming acclimatised to the bitterly cold weather. Rations were basic and in short supply and the troops looked to supplement them. In comparison to the well supplied American forces, the British were forced to rely on stock piling, barter and the soldier's traditional 'scrounging'.

    Hello Ruby,

    How are you and the kiddies ? Keeping well I hope. I'm still OK but a bit dirty. I've been driving all morning and got covered with dust. I've just put the water on for a wash and shave.

    The weather is nice, cold but dry. We're getting used to it now and don't feel it quite so much. I'm getting enough food too. We scrounged some from the Yanks yesterday. On the scout car we have 24 tins of salmon, 20 tins of milk, 14lb of tea, 50lb of sugar, 7lb of bully, 10 tins each of pineapple, peaches, fruit salad, pears and cherries, 4 big boxes of ginger snaps and several boxes of currant biscuits. We also have a lot of icing, castor and brown sugar and flour. I might try making a Xmas cake.

    It is difficult to imagine how much room was left on the small Dingo scout car for any regulation equipment. With the Korean population barter for food was the chief form of commerce.

    The other night I had to wash my overalls and after boiling them for half an hour I went to rinse them out with cold water. A Korean woman with a baby on her back was at the pump. She took them off me and rubbed them over and over again for nearly an hour. You should see them now. Not an oil mark on them, and all it cost me was a tin of bully.

    With plenty of food on the scout car, cigarettes and tobacco were the next priority.

    I saw Gordon (Hockey) yesterday for the first time since we landed. He's as noisy as ever. I tried to get some cigs off him but he'd got none. A Yank asked one of the tank crews if they wanted a package of cigarettes. They thought they were getting a 200 carton, instead they got 10,000! They're keeping them to themselves as well. I've been looking for the Padre. He's got some but at the moment he's out somewhere. I hope I can get some tonight as I'm on guard. It's about time we saw something of a NAAFI. There's plenty of cigs on sale in the town but they will only accept Dollars and Wons (the Korean money). As we are paid in Sterling we are unlucky. I've got pipe bacca but you know how I like my cigs.

    Boxing day ‘50

    Hello Darling,

    Had a nice Xmas ? I hope you have. I got drunk proper on Xmas Eve and suffered for it yesterday. I was on guard last night too.

    I didn’t have my stocking filled Xmas Eve (except with my foot, I got into bed with them on) but we had tea in bed at Reveille served to us by the Sgts. I didn’t get up for breakfast and only just managed to rise for dinner. We had pork, turkey, apple sauce, tinned veg and dehydrated spuds. Of course the old pudding was there and any amount of beer. We also got fifty fags as a gift.

    For tea we had different kinds of fruit, jelly, cake and mincepies. There was a sing-song in the evening but I was out in a slit trench on guard. Still it wasn’t a bad guard and it didn’t get cold till three. I came off stag at eight, had a lie down till ten and went for a kick about with the ball.

    We’ve got the Recce Troop “orchestra” going full blast again tonight. They’re getting quite good on combs and mess-tins. It’s opera tonight because Benny is here. He’s a Cpl in the troop and if he went on the films would make a fortune. He’s got a terrific moustache and his facial expressions are a proper laugh.

    A kid out of our room has spent Xmas in the guard room. He let off his rifle in this room on Xmas Eve. The bullet went through the floor into the Officers Mess and just missed the Mess Sergeant. The kid said he didn’t know it was loaded. He’s got seven days Field Punishment. He’ll look in future to see if it is loaded.

    Another bit of excitement over Xmas was the Sgts Quarters catching fire. The roof caught alight and we were all dragged out to help put it out. As the place is joined to the cookhouse we all dashed to save the Xmas dinner. We dashed all over the place looking for cans of water and my car commander, Taffy Watkins, cursed like anything because he couldn’t find a can of petrol in mistake for water. We managed to put it out, though after making sure that plenty of water went over the RSMs kit.
  2. CL1

    CL1 116th LAA and 92nd (Loyals) LAA,Royal Artillery

    thank you for posting, most interesting

  3. Guy Hudson

    Guy Hudson Looker-upper

    Interesting, enjoyed the cigarette story!
  4. Charley Fortnum

    Charley Fortnum Dreaming of Red Eagles

    Any idea whereabouts in Korea he was?
    (Christmas and more generally)
  5. Tolbooth

    Tolbooth Patron Patron

    He arrived at Pusan in November, moved up to Taegon in January and was at the Imjin for the April attack of the Chinese. Not sure after that -Suwon rings a bell. He was part of the HQ squadron and didn't see much actual fighting.

    If people are interested I'll post a few more extracts
  6. Charley Fortnum

    Charley Fortnum Dreaming of Red Eagles

    I'm interested, for one - Suwon is just around the corner, relatively speaking, from where I live (although I'm typing this from Blighty).

    For the avoidance of confusion, Pusan is usually now Romanised as Busan and Taegon (assuming it's the city I'm thinking of) is usually rendered Daejon.

    I've often said that although I wouldn't much want to fight a war anywhere, Korea would be near the top of my list owing to climatic extremes and tough terrain.

    The only point in its favour is that there aren't many unpleasant diseases floating and buzzing about the place.
    Last edited: Dec 17, 2016
  7. Tolbooth

    Tolbooth Patron Patron


    He certainly talked about the cold! There's mention of a non-stop five hour drive in an open-topped Dingo scout car during January - he had to be lifted out of the seat at the end of it.

    As a few people seem to be interested, here's the first letter sent after arrival

    17 Nov 1950

    Hello Darling,

    Well at last I’ve found time to write to you. How are you all?

    We got into Pusan on Tuesday morn but owing to a very bad outbreak of small pox in the town we had to be vaccinated again and stop aboard until Wednesday afternoon. We came to this camp in trucks and it was bitterly cold. The buildings we are in are about twice as big as our living room with four windows in bigger than ours. There's no glass in them and no floorboards. They were full of filth and rubbish from the people who had been here before and were in a terrible state. We drew three more blankets, making four in all, a sleeping bag and a camp bed. It seemed warm enough when I got in but woke up at three am frozen stiff. Everyone was the same and a good night’s sleep wasn't had by all. All yesterday morning and this morning we've been making it a bit more fit to live in and we haven't done too badly.

    We are about six miles from Pusan and the town is out of bounds for hygiene reasons. I can understand that too. As we came through on the trucks we were nearly sick with the smell. It's terrible everywhere. Yesterday afternoon we were taken for a walk and we went through some of these mud villages. We've got mountains on three sides and the sea just in front. It's healthy enough but there's not enough food to satisfy us. It's been all Yankee rations so far and they're too fanciful for us.

    No one has the foggiest idea what is going to happen and the latest rumour is that the 'Empire Fowey' is waiting five days as it may be bringing us back. That sounds much too good to be half true.

    They started the guards last night and are going through alphabetically. I was on last night but it was a lot warmer, thank goodness. There's thirty on guard at a time and we did one hour on and two off making four hours on together (
    I assume he means one hour on, two off and one on again). We were a bit keyed up after hearing all these rumours about snipers and that, and you can tell Margaret and Phillip that their Dad shouted "Halt" to a little tree, and nearly shot it because it didn’t!!! Tubby Brookes who was with me laughed his head off. On the next relief Tubby said "Listen! Machine guns". We both ducked into the shadows, listened and found out it was the waves rolling the big pebbles on the seashore.

    Anyway I’m room orderly today and don’t do any work. I just have to sit here and look after the kit. There’s a lot of young Koreans knocking about and they’ll pinch anything they lay their hands on. They take all the empty tins from the cookhouse, boil them and drink the juices. How lovely!
  8. Charley Fortnum

    Charley Fortnum Dreaming of Red Eagles

    And Busan is the balmy south!

    I've been in the mountains at night in January and it was about -25°C. As far as I'm concerned, to my British blood, it's impossible to feel much difference after about -15°C, you just die quicker.

    Then when summer rolls around you have a short rainy season and rapidly rising temperatures to a maximum of about 35°C with high humidity and omnipresent mosquitoes - especially in the mountain woodland. Some of the natural scenery is stunningly beautiful, but with kit and enemy fire, I can think of plenty of places I'd rather be.

    Although I've read very little about the Korean War, I have seen a lot of photographs of the era and the development of the country since 1953 is near-miraculous.

    Did your father ever re-visit the country in peace-time?
    Last edited: Dec 16, 2016
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  9. BrianM59

    BrianM59 Senior Member

    My dad was in Korea with 55 Field Squadron RE at the same times 1950-52 (?) He didn't write much - that my mum kept anyway. I'll dig out some photos and book references. I will say that, as a general impression, he found his service in WW2 (D-Day,Walcheren, crossing the Rhine) to have been a comparable adventure. Bearing in mind he ended up in Korea because he was an A Class reserve, it was the only time he ever used the 'f' word in front of his family, to describe an experience.

    He'd been in an Assault Regiment at D-Day, but as far as I know after the war had specialised more as an electrician. In Korea he built (and blew up) bridges, made roads, dug wells, laid water pipes, and was a storesman when the Chinese entered the war and someone threw him a rifle. I do know he'd written to my mum just before the battle of the Imjin to say he was safe behind the lines and he was with the Gloucesters.....
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  10. Tolbooth

    Tolbooth Patron Patron

    As this thread seems to have moved on I've changed the title.

    Hopefully I won't offend too many people with this letter from January 1951. Although he liked and got on well with American soldiers, Dad was not impressed with the American Army in general!

    8th January 1951

    Hello Ruby,

    Well here’s a letter at last, sorry to keep you waiting but we’ve been moving round for the past five days. We seem to be staying here at Taegon for a few hours at least so I’ve managed a good wash and shave and sit me down to write to my luv.

    Well I’m quite OK after a very near miss, not from the Chinks but a crash. Two days ago I had just moved out from the place where we were leagured and I got into a skid on the ice and mud. I got out of it and managed to save us from going down the bank on one side.

    I’d finished up in the middle of the road and an American jeep came whipping down the road, hit me and we locked together and went over a fifteen foot drop on the other side of the road. If we hadn’t been locked we would have turned over. One of the Yanks hurt his leg but our MO who attended to him said he was making a lot of fuss over nothing. The other two just had cut foreheads.

    The jeep was a wreck but my car just got a steering rod bent. It’s going into the workshops as soon as we reach Tague and I’m now on the non-operational list. We are moving south in stages and it definitely looks as if we’re coming out of it. We are waiting for the railway flats to get the Centurion tanks back to Pusan.

    The Regiment has been into action and struck it bad on the night of Jan 2nd or 3rd. What happened when the Centurions weren’t to be used was that a squadron was made up of six Cromwell tanks of our troop and two of our Dingos together with eight Cromwells from the Artillery.

    Well, on the night it happened they had the trucks up with them, sitting pretty, when they were attacked from close in by the Chinks who were yelling and blowing trumpets. The Chinks put phosphorus bombs on the tanks and that was them finished. The Ulster Rifle blokes who were travelling on the tanks ran out of ammo and finished up by using the butts of their guns.

    The trucks managed to get away except two which were turned over. Well so far only four of our troop have got back, four more wounded ones were rescued by helicopter and have gone to Japan. We haven’t yet found out their names. One of my mates, I think I wrote of him before, Taffy Chapman, is among the missing. In all there’s thirty one of our troop missing and one dead. I don’t know what the Artillery lost but only one got back.

    The one dead of ours I’ve written about before, Lt Alexander. There is just a very slight doubt about him but it is slight. His gunner said he knocked him and said “We’ve got to get out of this Sir” and when he knocked him his, Alexander’s, microphone dropped from his hand. The gunner said he was just sitting up in the turret and his head and shoulders out the top but he could see no marks or wounds on him. Later somebody who got away said he saw no one on the tank. My troop officer, Capt Ashley Cooper was last seen crawling towards the enemy along a ditch. Still we are hoping some of them have managed to scramble away.

    I’ve definitely had a bellyful this last few days. It’s heartbreaking to see the refugees and it looks as if they’re all moving south. I saw a young woman yesterday and she had her mother strapped to her back and what clothes she’d managed to bundle on her head. With her was a girl of Margaret’s age carrying a big bundle on her head and a boy of about four with a very young baby strapped to his back. The trains are absolutely swarming with them and they get on wherever they can find a foothold and strap themselves on. We saw one yesterday and the engine was covered with them.

    They’ve been told to keep of the main roads and walk along the railways. There are still some on the roads though and the Yanks give them a helluva life. The night before last a Yank knocked a little child over and didn’t stop. A Yankee Redcap said “I’ll catch that sonofabitch and peg him on fifty different charges”. He said the Yanks had killed more civies on the roads than they’ve killed enemy.

    The child was picked up by Billy Butcher, one of our chaps, and brought into the MO. Luckily he wasn’t hurt badly, just a gash on his head. Old Billy Butcher was crying though and said when he gets the chance some Yanks going to pay for it.

    About half an hour after a Korean came running into us shouting “Come, Come”. We went with him about two hundred yards up the road and found a refugee half dead. He’d been hit by a tank, a Yankee again, which hadn’t stopped. So the MO had another job.

    Yesterday morning just before we moved from that spot a Korean lorry full of soldiers skidded and went off the road in exactly the same spot that I did. Last night on the drive here I saw a refugee lorry that had turned over off the road and women and kiddies lying all over the place. We also saw an American go along the road in a jeep hitting the refugees across the backs with a big stick to make them get off the road. I know the roads have to be kept clear but some of these Yanks are inhuman about it. In five miles yesterday we saw fifty eight American lorries which had been burnt up on the roadsides. The other day two of our tanks were going along a road when one conked out. A Yank came up and said “If this goddamn tank ain’t moving in five minutes I’ll get a bulldozer and push it off the road”. The sergeant in the other tank said “You lay a finger on that tank and I’ll blow you and your jeep off the road”. The Yank said nothing.

    There’s a story of when the tanks were up Pyonyang. They were held up by a Yankee convoy going the opposite way which was halted and the Yanks standing smoking. The officer with the tanks said “Right lads. We’ll test the twenty pounder gun. Fire one round each into that hill over there”. They fired and within five minutes that Yank convoy had moved and was out of sight.

    On Saturday afternoon we had a service for the lost boys and the Padre said after that from what he had picked up he will be leaving us soon. We asked him why and he said when we go he will be staying with the Brigade. So keep your fingers and legs crossed till I get home.

    Well Darling this must be all for now so cheerio and don’t worry.

    All my love sweetheart and God bless
    You loving husband


    PS I’m sorry I couldn’t get this letter away as we moved and there was no P Office about. We’ve left Brigade HQ now and it’s a job to post it. We’re on the move again and have just finished a hundred and twenty mile drive and it was a terror. Trucks ditched all over the shop. Tonight we are spending in Tague and in the morning we move on to Pusan. After that, well we don’t know. Someone has come in and said that we are definitely going to Japan and that a brigade of regulars is on its way to relieve us. I hope it’s right, I can’t stick this much longer.
  11. Tolbooth

    Tolbooth Patron Patron

  12. Don Juan

    Don Juan Well-Known Member

    The 8th Hussars HQ was in Suwon before Imjin. After Imjin they briefly went to Seoul and then moved to a place called Sangbi-Ri, which probably goes under a different name these days, and I don't (yet) know where it is. For the second half of 1951, the 8th Hussars were mostly based at Chonghu, which I think is now Cheongju.
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  13. Charley Fortnum

    Charley Fortnum Dreaming of Red Eagles

    Near the Imjin battlefield at Solma-ri (to the north-west of the marked area).

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  14. Charley Fortnum

    Charley Fortnum Dreaming of Red Eagles

    Current location.

    Screenshot 2021-02-02 at 1.16.41 AM.jpg

    It seems now to be Sangpae-dong, a neighbourhood in the suburbs of the city of Dongducheon to the east (shown as Tongduch'on on the other map):

    Dongducheon - Wikipedia

    The nearest equivalent name ('-ri' is an administrative suffix for a village), would appear to be Bongam-ri (marked), but that's to the west of the location on the map in my previous post and the boundaries are very different.
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  15. Don Juan

    Don Juan Well-Known Member

    Thanks very much Charley. I am in the very early stages of researching all this in detail.
  16. Charley Fortnum

    Charley Fortnum Dreaming of Red Eagles

    Feel free to get back to me with any questions on the geography.

    The map, incidentally, is from the Official History, which is very good indeed.
  17. Don Juan

    Don Juan Well-Known Member

    Does anybody know why Lt. Col. James Phillips was replaced by Guy Lowther as CO in Feb 51? Was this always an intended handover?
  18. AB64

    AB64 Senior Member

    Pretty sure this is "Benny" and his "terrific moustache" he had served during WW2 with 46th (Liverpool Welsh) RTR (including being wounded in Greece 24/12/44) - seems to have been similar to your Dad in going into the reserve then recalled for Korea. I don't suppose there is any other mention of him in the letters you have transcribed?

    IMG_20230726_0002.jpg IMG_20230726_0001.jpg
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  19. Tolbooth

    Tolbooth Patron Patron

    Great find! Certainly a terrific moustache.
    I can't remember off hand any other mention of him but I'll have to check.
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