It was so cold he couldn't use the radio

Name: George Unwin
Date: 1952-1953
Unit: 1st Battalion RAR

It was so cold at times in Korea that Private George Unwin was unable to use the radio to warn Australian troops in the trenches of the return of his patrol, because his teeth were chattering so much.

Temperatures dropped to between 10 degrees Fahrenheit [ -12 Centigrade] and 25 degrees Fahrenheit [ -3.8 Centigrade] below freezing with the ground covered in a carpet of snow and ice.

Such conditions made patrolling extremely uncomfortable, according to George Unwin.

"I remember one night, sitting out there on ambush patrol, and it came time to vacate and move back into our line again."

"As we moved up the slope, I got onto our radio to call in and let them know in the trenches that we were coming back so they wouldn't fire on us by mistake. And I was so cold my teeth were chattering. I could barely utter a word so I just looked at the guys and indicated that we should forget it and we made our way back up the slope.

"Interestingly, I've heard that guys from 3 Battalion, after spending only three hours out there, were relieved by another patrol. When they returned they had a hot meal waiting. If that's correct they were living in luxury because we didn't get that treatment. And I honestly think it sounds too far fetched to be true.

"We spent the entire night out there, and when we came back in, our only consolation was that the platoon commander would be waiting for us in the trench with a bottle of OP rum and we were each given a thimble full to warm ourselves."

In August 1952, George Unwin was enjoying a rare moment of rest not having been sent out on night patrol.

"About 2am, word came through that a party of engineers had been ambushed. They had completed their task of checking and repairing breaks in our mine-field perimeter and were making their way back towards our lines when they walked into a Chinese ambush.

"The platoon sergeant, Des Cochrane, organised 12 of us to go down to clear the area. In other words, move into the area and make certain that the Chinese were not still hanging around.

"While we were doing this, the Chinese threw a grenade which landed alongside our chaps. Three guys were wounded, two of them copping shrapnel in the legs. The third, Len Carter, was hit in the right eyebrow by shrapnel.

"We put one of them on a stretcher. Then two guys checked a tree line about 25 metres to our right to see if the grenade had come from that area. They reported that the area was clear so we moved on.

"When we found the wounded engineers we discovered they had been ambushed and Captain Greville and Private Condon had been taken prisoner.

"The Chinese had opened fire and their initial burst had caught one particular guy front on. The fellow's name was Private David Garnon, a member of Captain Greville's Pioneer Platoon.

"The initial burst from a Russian-made 'burp' sub-machine gun hit David in the arms and hands, spinning him around. He was hit about 27 times altogether, about 17 times in both arms and hands and approximately 10 times in the back, some bullets penetrating through to his chest wall, and he was knocked over.

"The amazing thing about this is that Private Garnon was not even aware that he had been shot in the back. After our arrival to assist and carry back all of the casualties, David was still on his feet and walked back to our lines.

"It wasn't until Sgt Des Cochrane put his hand on David's back that they realised from the blood on Des' hand that David had been shot in the back. He was then transferred to a MASH unit.

"Another guy had his legs broken with the butt of a rifle. As we had not taken sufficient stretchers, we had to improvise by making use of two 303 rifles and one man had to remove his trousers.

"They then slid a rifle down each leg of the trousers and seated the casualty on the crotch area of the trousers and carried him back in this way, which must have been painful with his broken leg swinging. Thankfully, one of the wounded was able to use the radio to call for assistance after the Chinese left."

George Unwin often wondered if Private Garnon had recovered but it wasn't until 25 years later that he found a newspaper clipping in a pile of papers his mother had collected. The story featured Private Garnon on arrival at Mascot Airport in Sydney in which he declared he would be going back to Korea as soon as he was fit enough. He had already spent three months in hospital at Kure where all 27 bullets were removed by a Canadian army surgeon.

Back in Korea, George Unwin was detailed to look after some reinforcements who had just arrived.

"They arrived there about 3pm and I showed them where to bunk down," George recalled. "They slept in a 'hutchie' and that night we were hit pretty heavily by a mortar and artillery barrage. It was so heavy I thought it could be the prelude to an infantry attack so I rushed over to where I had told the guys to bunk down.

"They had lowered the black-out blanket at the entrance to their hutchie and it was very dark inside. I went in and could sense no movement. I thought they might be asleep and called out but received no answer."

George went outside but then heard voices coming from inside so he went back in and shouted at them to get on their feet and follow him.

"I showed one guy to a fighting bay and told him to stay there and keep his head down. I added 'As soon as the barrage lifts, get your head up and look down the forward slope and see if you can see and enemy coming up'. I took the other guy around the corner of the trench to another fighting bay and told him to hang on there.

"I made my way back through the trench to check on the first guy to make sure he was still okay; he was. I went back through the trench again to the second guy just as a mortar seemed to be coming straight down on top of me.

"There was no time to go forwards or backwards. All I could do was pull my head in and duck. It landed on the trench wall immediately to my left, blowing a section of the wall in. I got up and moved along the trench to where the second guy was and he was okay.

"I said 'You've struck it at a bad time, arriving here today, your first day on the front line'. He said 'Oh no, this is what I joined up for, a bit of excitement'."

The other soldier caused a few problems with an Owen gun. George and a mate were standing in a trench talking when there was an explosion on top of the trench right in front of them followed by the rata-tat-tat of a machine gun.

"We pulled our heads in then stuck them up again to see who was coming but saw no one," he said. "So we walked around the trench corner and found this chap, and we said to him 'Did you see that grenade come in?' He said 'Yes, I threw the grenade, then I fired the Owen. I heard a noise over there'.

"He was one of the guys who was trigger happy, panicky and could not altogether be trusted. It takes all types…."

The material for this article was supplied by George Unwin of New South Wales


Last updated: 4 June 2019

Cite this page

DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) (2019), It was so cold he couldn't use the radio, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 14 August 2020, http://anzacportal.dva.gov.au/stories-service/australians-war-stories/it-was-so-cold-he-couldnt-use-radio
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