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Prison Life

by Corporal K. Walters
(Back Badge, 1953)

I shall never forget how on that last morning (Wednesday 25th April 1951) Colonel Carne strolled around our positions, cool, calm and collected, dropping words of encouragement here and there. Or the sight of Captain Farrar-Hockley going forward to "A" Company and standing fully exposed, rallying them back to their trenches after they had broken. By this time "A" Company had taken more than any rifle company could be expected to take. In the thick of it right from the start of Sunday evening, suffering severe casualties and, in those last hours, under deadly mortar fire, it was only his example that made them grit their teeth and hang on.

When the order came to break out, if possible, I found myself on my own and started down the hill. I had not gone far when I came across some of our wounded. Stopping to take account of the situation, as small arms fire was streaming in from all directions, I gave them a cigarette. The next thing I knew was a Chinese soldier shouting hubba-hubba and pointing down the hill. I hubba-hubba'd. We were taken to a small re-entrant to join other prisoners and it was there that a Chink spotted my ring and watch, which he promptly took. They gave us water and a little food, and seemed to appreciate the fact that they had been hard put to get us.

Then started the march back. Most of us were too dazed and tired to think of escape, except the Adjutant, of course, who made a break crossing the river. However, a few days later, after we had stopped for a couple of days rest, two Privates, Hart and Sheldon, and myself decided to have a go. We estimated by the direction we had been marching and the distance we had covered, that we were near Pyong-Yang, and therefore decided to try to make for the coast and steal a small boat of sorts. However, after 4 days out, 2 of us were suffering from dysentry and we had no food; so, in a weak condition, we decided to give ourselves up. We were handed over to the North Korean police and thrown into dungeons. We received one small bowl of millet twice a day and a mug of water. After three days we were marched to the Mining Camp, which is a staging area just outside Pyong-Yang. Conditions there were bad, and it was a last stop for many British and Americans.

We set off north again with a column of Yanks about 10 days later, and arrived at Camp I some time in June. Conditions here were bad as well when we arrived, and the journey to "Boot Hill" was all too frequent. It is known that at least 600 bodies were buried at this camp. They died mostly from dysentry, beri-beri or malnutrition. The vast majority of those died in the winter and were Yanks. Their conditions during that winter were quite obviously worse than we experienced, and, God knows why, our conditions for the first six months were bad enough. Food for the first two months consisted of two meals a day, which most times was barley, now and again rice, and later barley bread once a week. With these meals one got a small side dish, enough to fill a teacup, which, nice times out of ten, was beans or turnips. Once a week we got pork, one pig, very fatty, between 600 men.

Medical care during this period was only a pretence. But then a woman surgeon arrived from China with a medical team and, although working under appalling conditions, improved our treatment tremendously. No prisoner who met her has a word to say against her. Ater the first Christmas things slowly improved and at the end we were getting bread regularly, also meat. They let us celebrate Christmas and issued a bottle of beer per man, a few tailor-made cigarettes and candy.

I was arrested with many others for may alleged crimes and spent six months in solitary. Then on 22nd December 1952, I was taken out to join three others and sentenced to three months imprisonment. For this we were moved to Camp 2, where a small jail was set up just outside the camp. When I arrived there were five other British and 15 Americans. We were not allowed tobacco, but the men in the camp used to make a collection every week and send some up in the bottom of the barley bucket from the cookhouse.

On 22nd March I was released to go to the camp where I found about 25 British and 100 Americans, all men who had been trouble with the Chinks at one time or another. Then on 8th June, they broke up the camp, sending half to Camp 5 and half to Camp I. I went to Camp 5. This I found to be a much worse camp than either Camp I or 2, although the opposition to the Chinks was much more passive than in Camp I.

I have not yet mentioned study, so in passing, will say a few words. For about the first nine months they ,pumped us with communism and how "backward and oppressed" we were in England. Every day there were lectures and study groups by squads until thank God, they agreed at the peace talks to use no more indoctrination. The instructors we had were obviously men of confined intelligence, men who had studied books and articles of a one-sided biased nature, and were unable to carry on any intelligent argument. Thank God that only a very, very few fell for their one-sided teachings.

Private K.V. Godwin

The enemy had continued his attacks with the result that Wednesday morning (25th April) found the Battalion in a well-organised tight perimeter heavily engaged. By mid-morning we all knew the situation to be serious and were informed that we were to evacuate the hill, and in organised fighting parties endeavour to reach our own brigade in rear. Meanwhile, morale amongst the men remained as normal, with the result that the Chinese had to pay an extremely high price for any slight advance. We evacuated our positions as arranged, with the now well-known results. We were all extremely chuffed when we heard later of Captain Harvey's success, as we knew he was able to give so useful and much needed information.

After a period of several days, when we had been rounded up, we commenced the grim 310 mile march to our prison camp in north Korea. The Colonel and Major Harding were at the head of the column all the way. The Colonel's conduct then, as at all times, was a continuous source of inspiration to us all: we were immensely proud of him during his confinement. On arrival at Chungsong, our prison camp, we found very primitive sanitation with "Boot Hill" playing a prominent part in the camp daily life. Food consisted of sorghum, millet, beans, with rice one meal in ten. There was no hospital; medical supplies consisted of iodine, hot water and Epsom salts. Officers, senior NCOs and other ranks were separated into their respective groups and allocated independent parts of the camp.

Almost immediately after the sorting, study commenced; this was compulsory. If any man (and there were several) refused to study they were imprisoned for refusing to obey camp orders, such as "every man must parade whenever ordered and listen to any speech by any authorised persons." With regard to freedom of speech and expressing one's own political view, here is a quotation from the Camp Commandant of the 19th July 1951: "Any POW can hold any different political opinion or view on any subject. In fact, we welcome such differences with the Chinese Peoples Volunteers, as long as he or they do not stubbornly regard such views as correct and those of the instructors as incorrect. Should he maintain such an attitude, he or they will be punished." Compulsory study continued until spring 1952. After this period it became purely voluntary.

On 25th September I was sent to RHQ, where later, upon being joined by about 14 more prisoners, we were kept isolated from the rest of the camp and compelled to study 6 hours daily for 6 days a week. The assistant political commissar gave the excuse that we were "backward students" and required more personal education. We remained there until 19th December.

Meanwhile, living conditions had improved and continued to do so until we were released. Both food and sanitation were on the up-grade and the Chinese converted a Korean temple into a hospital. Football now played a large part in the lives of the men and I am sure it was the football which was responsible for the comparative fitness of all on release. Mail was coming through spasmodically, to help lift the men's morale which was rarely very low. I received one letter whilst a POW, the rest, handed to the Chinese, were withheld from me for obvious reasons.

Naturally all the camps had jails which were used frequently for indefinite periods. In Chungsong every single man who escaped, and later caught, spent a period in jail. On 2nd June 4 of us were sent to jail for illegal activities. It was not until February the following year that I was told what I was charged with. It was here that I met many, very many, grand chaps, both British and American. The Chinese were very fond of using the little wooden boxes in which you lived. They were very uncomfortable, and lying down straight was impossible. Another thing the Chinks were fond of using were handcuffs, which they used in a very unpleasant manner. I was extremely pleased when after 8 months, night and day, they eventually freed my wrists. Whilst in jail no letters were allowed to be written or received, at least not until a confession had been written.

The guard, until November 1952, could not be termed human beings. We were not even allowed complete freedom to perform the natural functions. The vast majority of the men held in jail were in solitary confinement until after sentenced. Some of us continued to be so after sentence. No man was ever tried, only sentenced!

There was one company unique from the others - Company 3 Camp 2, numbering approximately 130. The men had arrived from various camps between July and September last year. They consisted totally of men who had the ability to organise the rest or who had the ability to command the attention of the men or were termed "reactionaries" by the Chinks. When we were being repatriated a Chinese officer, well known to some of us "jail birds," said to us "I shall be pleased to get rid of you as you are to be repatriated." I gather from the comment that the Chinks had received more than enough of the British spirit, which prevailed abundantly in all camps. Another Chink stated, "You British, you cannot forget you are soldiers."