Being a sniper is a dangerous job

Name: C W 'Frenchy' Ray
Date: 1953
Unit: Sniper 2RAR

Being a sniper is a lonely job. For a start you are hated by the enemy while your own troops also have a distaste for snipers.

'Frenchy' Ray volunteered to be a sniper in the Korean war to avoid having to undergo another period of basic training, having been recruited in England. He told the interviewing panel in Australia he had been a sniper in the Parachute Regiment so they were delighted to have him. Frenchy Ray was so called by his friends because he was born in Paris

He joined three other snipers, Eddie McMahon from Adelaide and two brothers, Hugh and Kevin Tupper from Brisbane. They were issued with a special heavy barrel 303 rifle with telescopic sights and were sent to Korea. Frenchy Ray fired five bullets from his sniper rifle before embarking.

After disembarking from the New Australia at Pusan in South Korea, they travelled to Camp Casey where they took part in a huge parade to commemorate the fact that the whole of the Australian Infantry was there, 1, 2 and 3 RAR. It has never happened again outside Australia.

After some little training and other duties, Frenchy Ray found himself in the real war. He and his partner Kevin Tupper were presented with a $3000 'Sniper Scope' infra-red rifle which had the ability to see in the dark. The weapon was still on the secret list and they were warned not to let fall into enemy hands.

Having been shown the impressive weapon, which needed a heavy car battery carried in a back pack to operate the sight, they realised there was no ammunition for it. There was an embarrassed silence when they pointed this out to the officer in charge.

"I was given a Jeep and a new slouch hat to go to the American line to swap the hat for carbine ammunition,"

Frenchy Ray wrote in his story of the war SITREP: Nan Tare Roger.

"We had no problem in obtaining a huge quantity of bullets which lasted us till the end of the war," he added.

On their first night patrol with the 'Sniper Scope' Kevin Tupper accompanied Frenchy to cover him with an Owen gun. Leading the patrol, Frenchy would stop every minute or so to examine the ground ahead through his infra-red scope.

"As the guys behind me could not see me, the only way they could stop was by colliding with the man in front," Frenchy wrote. "In no time, a good mortar bomb landing nearby would have collected the lot of us but that, at the time, was the least of my problems.

"Firstly I was scared, secondly I did not want to fall into a Chinese ambush, and thirdly I wasn't too happy at all the noise behind me: 'Shit…Move up…you bastard…etc'.

"Some 300 or 400 yards from our line I came across some bushes which required some investigation. I froze. I could see some dark green men (infra-red shows up green in the scope) holding black objects in their hand (obviously weapons).

"I kept on looking round to see how many enemy were in front of us, when the patrol commander pushed me in the ribs and said 'Move on, we can't stay here all night', to which I whispered in his ear 'There are some gooks in front of us'."

The officer was eventually persuaded and the patrol stayed put until shortly before daylight, before returning to their own lines.

They took the 'Sniper Scope' out every second night because the battery had to be recharged as there was no spare, so during the day Frenchy and Kevin reverted to being snipers.

"On 12 May at the crack of dawn I left for no-man's land with my faithful 303 rifle. I advised the forward platoon of my time of return and marched down the hill. It's the time of day when ambushes are unlikely. One can see fairly clearly ahead in the early morning light," he wrote.

"The area had been shelled so often that no trees could be seen, just a few sparse bushes covered the countryside. I organised myself for a day of sniping, laying under some bushes. After some hours of looking around I heard a rifle being fired some 200 yards in the west-front of me. My heart started to beat. At last I was close to a Chinese sniper.

"I kept on looking for a long time but spotted nothing. This time when the Chinese fired his rifle once more, I saw a tiny puff of smoke filtering through a bush. I knew now where he was hiding but still could not see him through my telescope. I waited a fairly long time just watching the bush when I heard another crack of the rifle.

"I lined up my rifle, nice and steady as if on the rifle range, and fired a single shot. Nothing happened, nothing moved. I waited another half hour and fired another shot. Still no move from the enemy.

I passed the rest of the day waiting for his next move. Nothing. I had only two options, I had either killed him or scared the daylight out of him. I was bursting for a smoke by this stage of the day, so I chewed a Camel cigarette from my C ration pack.

When it was time to move back, I started to worry that if I had missed 'Charlie' he might not miss me. Instead of boldly marching out, I crawled very slowly to the east, avoiding travelling the same way I had come.

"After a long crawl, I stood up behind a low ridge and marched briskly in the direction of our lines. Getting close to our forward trenches, I saw the dust of two bullets landing at my feet. I dived into a shell hole. I was fired on not by the Chinese but by our own troops.

I studied my map carefully, and came to the conclusion that I was a long way from my own line and was facing the Canadian position. I had drifted too far to the east. I poked my head above the rim of the shell hole and within a second a bullet crashed beside me. Thank God, who ever fired at me was a lousy shot, especially at such short range.

Knowing that the Canadians were mostly French speaking, I yelled in French 'Ne tirez pas' while waving my hand above my head. I heard the reply 'Avancez'. I took the plunge and jumped out of the shell hole and yelled that I was an Australian going in the wrong direction. A Canadian pointed out the right direction and called out 'bonne chance'."

After a spot of leave in Tokyo, Frenchy Ray's unit was sent to The Hook where they relieved a British unit. There the rival front lines were very close to each other and with talk of an armistice to be signed at any time, orders were given to company commanders to avoid Australian casualties. The men were not told this to avoid demoralisation.

Meanwhile, the fighting continued. Frenchy and Kevin found themselves a bunker inside a tunnel from which to carry out their sniping.

"The bunker has been the site of a lot of fighting judging by the number of dead Chinese around it," Frenchy wrote. "The head of a freshly decapitated Chinese was staring at us through the opening [a 'window' consisting of a wooden frame supported by sandbags].

"We were told that all the forward troops would be on 'stand to' alert all night and every night. This was perfectly logical as all attacks started at night.

"We could see the Chinese trenches about 200 yards [183m] in front of us. On our left, we could see behind the Chinese trenches facing the US Marines on Hill 111. On the night of 13 July the Chinese started to attack.

"We did not know it at the time but the Chinese did not intend to take The Hook. Such a prospect had been too costly for them in human terms with our deadly accurate artillery fire. They assumed we were numerically bigger than in reality.

"At the time we had two companies in the front line, Charlie Company on the left and Baker Company on the right, probably around 300 men. The Chinese could be counted in thousands."

As the days dragged by there was still no sign of an armistice.

"About 11 o'clock [on 23 July] two Chinese officers (we guessed because Chinese do not wear badges of rank in the field), one carrying a large pair of binoculars, the other with a map case, were both standing on top of the trench, right in front of us. What a beautiful target. Selecting one each, we fired simultaneously. They fell backwards in perfect unison. No other Chinese officers appeared for the rest of the day.

On 27 July, just after breakfast the company was told to parade.

"We were to leave only a skeleton crew to defend the place. To our ultimate surprise we were instructed by the CSM to leave our weapons guarded near the Company's command post to avoid shooting each other by accident.

"[We were] addressed by the CSM who explained the terms of the truce and the ultimate details of the cease fire. Nobody leaped for joy or showed any great sign of satisfaction. It was not a surprise. The armistice had been negotiated for months.

The troops were told to avoid any incidents which might irritate the enemy and to start packing up. They had 72 hours to move 3 miles [9.6km] from the front lines after destroying the bunkers, tunnel and weapon pits. The Chinese had to do the same, leaving a strip of six miles empty of all troops to be called the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ). The truce would come into effect at 10pm.

"That day passed slowly," Frenchy wrote. "No one wanted to be the last casualty of the war. We were at the receiving end of some Chinese bombs but the whole front was rather calm. Presumably to get rid of an overload of ammunition, the Chinese started shelling our lines seriously as soon as it got dark, as well as firing all sorts of coloured flares in the sky.

"At 10pm all firing stopped. It was unreal. The whole front was quiet. We became aware of the complete silence. We could speak softly once more. It was rather eerie and strange and it was hard to get to sleep in such silence.

"Few men, from generation to generation are privileged to be witness to a historical event. We knew when we got up at 4am that this day would be unique. The experience would remain engraved in our minds forever.

"The valley in front was covered with a thick fog. We decided we would go and meet our enemies on the opposite trench. To show that we were friendly, we took off our tin hat and flak jacket. We were bare to the waist. In my case I decided to carry my large pair of binoculars.

"Our faith in the Chinese was based only on the fact that they had stopped firing at the time stipulated. We hoped that they were good at keeping their word.

"When the fog lifted, Kevin and I took our first site through 'Green Fingers' the site of previously deadly ambushes. We could hear Chinese music being played on loud speakers and as we got nearer we saw large flags of all colours lining the side of the Chinese trenches.

"We walked slowly, not knowing what was going to happen. Suddenly we froze. Like a rabbit out of a hole, a Chinese appeared from an opening in the ground. We were about four feet from a smiling enemy.

"He wore glasses and a green cap. To our complete amazement he said in perfect English: 'Good morning gentlemen. Have you had breakfast yet?' We were stunned and we mumbled 'Not yet'. 'Well, if you don't mind, gentlemen, can you please come back a little later whilst I have my breakfast'."

Frenchy recalls that he was told not to come in because of his binoculars.

"They were taking me for a spy. Kevin and I sat on a rock and smoked a cigarette. After a while Kevin went to see if our Chinese was ready. I stayed relaxing on the rock."

Just then a war correspondent arrived with a movie camera saying he was filming for the BBC. Frenchy advised him not to go into the Chinese trenches until the fog had completely cleared. As he sat on a rock, the cameraman knocked his camera which fell into a bomb crater. As he moved to get it, Frenchy advised him that most bomb craters were either mined or booby-trapped in some way.

"I left him nearly in tears. I was thinking that I had missed an opportunity to be famous. In fact no film was ever shown of the Australians meeting the Chinese on Armistice Day."

He moved a few yards and met three Chinese soldiers with whom a shook hands and exchanged cigarettes.

"At this stage, the number of Chinese soldiers had increased considerably and many Australian Diggers joined in. We saw little groups exchanging souvenirs, some showing photographs of their wives or girl friends.

"The vision of peace was marred by the extraordinary sight and smell of the thousands or rotten Chinese bodies laying all over the place. In the course of the afternoon the Chinese brought in a bulldozer to dig a large trench to be used as a mass grave. The bodies were brought in on stretchers and dropped over the side. When completely filled, the bulldozer pushed some earth on the top of the grave. No ceremony of any sort was carried out."

The material for this article was supplied by C.W. Frenchy Ray of Queensland


Last updated: 3 June 2019

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