Recollections of Hugh Jones
Hugh Jones in the Middle East in 1953. We, humans, are programmed to forget, that is a natures way, so no one need to apologise for having a bad memory. I have no notes about my army service, not having kept a diary so I am relying on my fickle memory, but I endeavour to be as accurate as I can after 50 years.
In Korea during the war the air mail would arrive at Kimpo (K9) in the mid morning, from Tokyo I think, curtsy of the Royal Australian Air Force. From Kimpo it was taken into Seoul to the Army Post Office located in a bank in the Forward Maintenance Area.
After sorting the incoming local mail for any miss-sorts meant for the Commonwealth Division. It was off on another milk run. The Commonwealth Division was located 20 miles north of Seoul on the Imjim river where is cuts across the 38 parallel.
Twenty miles may not seem to far a distance to travel when the road to travel is a modern four lane highway, but the Korean roads in those days were in poor shape having to bear the constant and incessant military traffic that never seem to stop, feeding and supplying the United States 1 Corps of which the Commonwealth Division was an important element. That highway was known as Route 3 in those days which we took to Uijongbu, Route 3 continued going to the north east, but we went north on Route 33.
This took us to the Tokchon rail head and the NAAFI road house where there was always a welcome cup and a wad. We then had a choice of two ways of getting the Commonwealth Division rear HQ at Fort George rear. Left through a pass between a hill range which took us the rear echelons, and the rest area for the brigade that was out of the line and, the Widgeon crossing of the Imjim below the 38th. Up stream above the 38th was the Teal crossing. This is the very area of the battle of the Imjim the previous year when the Gloucestershire Regiment was surrounded by 63rd Chinese Army and taken prisoner.
Most times we went directly north to get to the Army Post Office.
While the process of exchanging incoming and outgoing mail, we would have the ‘lunch’ we brought with us. However, there were times when we had to make a side trip to the Canadian army post office at the 25th Canadian Infantry Brigade, then we threw away the lunch we brought with us. When I first went into the Canadian ORs mess the cook asked me:
“How do you want your eggs guy?”
“Eggs?” I said, “Not that powered junk?”.
“No” he said, “Sunny side up or easy over?”
Eggs of course meant plural so I said “Two”. Then I was asked how did I want my steaks. What followed was white bread and butter, plus fresh vegetables.
The Canadian cuisine was a closely guarded secret and it was not realised why there were eager volunteers to go to Commonwealth Division when there was a side trip to the 25th Brigade.
Early in the morning someone had to get up before reveille to meet the EUSAK express (Eighth United States Army Korea) from Pusan, at the Seoul railway station there was a stall giving out free coffee and doughnuts, no limit. That again was a closely guarded secret.
A telegram service was available to anyone who needed to use it. All it took was a trip to a British Army Post Office, I think it might have been 10 words for 1 shillings and 6 pence. (The basic pay for a national service man was 4 shillings a day, this might give some idea of the relative cost of a telegram) Another method was to select numbers, number one might have said “Happy birthday” by choosing a combination of number a sentence might be composed. I do not recall what the cost was.
These telegrams were sent with the mail to Seoul. When all the telegrams of the day had been collected they were then taken to a nice residence in an up class district of Seoul. That was the home and office of Cable and Wireless. There were perhaps four or more technicians there who wore officer’s uniform, but no insignia of rank, just officer status. They relayed the telegrams to Hong Kong. One technician alone could have handled the work load we produced, so I guess they must have been engaged in some other activity, but I have no idea what that might have been.
Our O.C. had the job of taking the mail for the British POWs in North Korea. He took the mail to Pamunjom and with precise timing entered a tent at the same time as a North Korean officer, to meet face to face at a table. Both to salute each other, then exchanged mail bags.
If negotiating between the UN and the Communist were going smoothly the north Korean would be in a good mood. If negotiations were not going well, which was most of the time the North Korean would be downright hostile.
A sapper APO driver was cruising along going about his lawful occasions, perhaps pushing it a little. A god like voice booms at him, “Limey truck pull over” looking out of the rear view mirror a white jeep of the US Army military police can be seen. I seem to remember it was called “Safety Patrol”. Anyway this Limey truck does pullover, then it is seen that this Military Police jeep has a metal pole with a load speaker attached to it. A speeding ticket is issued. The driver of the Limey Truck then takes an interest in the local mail coming from the US Army Post Office, and sure enough there is a notice to our O.C. informing him of the speeding infraction. Some how or other the O.C. never did see the infraction, it got lost.
Myself, I do not think the O.C. would have taken any notice of the infraction, but it is best to be safe than sorry.
A lot of names I have forgotten, some I do recall. Ford, Ferguson, Bailey, Naylor, Napper, Laid law, Miloy, Walton, and Barnard. Not forgetting our Korean houseboat Bak Hyong-Woo and that gentleman of the first order Lt. AB Stuart RE.
All things being equal a British soldier only served one winter in Korea, and seeing that I still had 2 more years to do on my overseas tour I was reposted. Not for me a cushy posting like Hong Kong or Singapore, it was out of the frying pan into the fire so to speak, my destination was Egypt, a pig of a posting, it was active service.
The first place of work was Gordon Barracks Moascar near Ismailia and the Sweet Water Canal. Moascar was the main garrison in the zone, but GHQ was in Fayid.
The Sweet Water canal was anything but sweet, it was the hosts of all kinds of nasties, drink that raw water at your peril. A loaded mail lorry went into the Sweet Water, no attempted was made to sort out the mail bags when they were pulled out, a torch was put to the unopened mail bags.
Whenever an inquiry came through regarding a missing letter or parcel, “It was assumed to have been burnt at the Sweet Water”. After a while it was realised that more mail was assumed lost in the Sweet Water than was in fact lost.
While Moascar we were called upon to do garrison duty which involved practice alerts. When the alarm went off, we would grab our unload rifles jump onto a lorry and be driven to a road bridge over a railway line. That was our duty to protect should the Egyptians try to expel us by force.
During these exercises some officers had white armbands which made them invisible. A sapper on our crew was laying down with his rifle aimed in the firing posture. He was cocking the rifle and putting the trigger “Bang” he would call out. “What are you doing?” asked an invisible officer. “That Egyptian will not lay down” was the reply. So much for defending Egypt from the Egyptians.
After a time at Moascar it was off to RAF Fayid, that was the point in which air mail from the outside world got into the Canal Zone. The postal sorting unit was a combination of postal sappers and Air Force posties. The O.C. and the Sergeant Major were RE. About 50% of the postie crew were RAF.
From RAF Fayid the air mail was taken to Moascar for all units to the north. The milk run was a triple lorry affair during the height of the emergency. The first lorry was an armed escort, two armed guards in the front of the lorry one in the back. The middle lorry carried the mail, all were armed. The third lorry was the same as the first. The Egyptians tactic was to force a lone lorry off the load into the soft sand and shoot it up. There is safety in numbers. Later on when things cooled down it was reduced to two lorries for the mail run.
The next move from RAF Fayid was to the L.of.C Postal Unit in Fanara, mail was received from RAF Fayid for local distribution. The OC of this unit was also responsible for the Postal Unit with “O” Force in Aqaba Jordan. I was asked if I would like to go there as NCO i/c, so with two hooks I went to one of the best posting in my 5 years of army service. My pay went up to a pound a day, plus 4 shillings local overseas allowance, and no need to for a rifle.
A British merchant ship calls into Aqaba and one of its crew is an old postie from HPD. He goes into the APO and ask is Hugh Jones here? I had not see Bill West for 2 or 3 years when he took his discharge from the HPD.
Who knows what the odds are against such an encounter taking place. It was good to see Bill West in my mind he has to be the most Loveable scoundrel London ever nurtured, with a heart of gold. (Are you reading this Bill?)
Mail to Aqaba was twice a week as I recall from RAF Fayid. There was a daily flight from RAF Fayid to RAF Amman the capital of Jordan. A parachute mail drop was introduced for the days when there was no milk run from RAF Fayid.
Most times the drop was routine and on the nose to a maker on the desert floor. One time the drop was an over shoot miles up the wadi (valley) and it took and RAF Anson aircraft to locate it for us. Another time the drop was short and the parachute went in the Gulf of Aqaba, Saudi Arabian waters. That was a right off.
The only other event I recall was when the parachute failed to open. When the container hit the desert floor it bounced back up in the air, perhaps 6 feet, but left a created a crater about two feet. The parachute container was a write-off, but the mail survived. In the batch there was a letter for me from home, with a picture of my sister which I still have, and the picture still has a crease in it from the hard landing.
Soon my 3 year overseas tour came to an end, and also my 5 years in the colours, it was back to Civvy street with the civvy suit from a grateful army given to me.
After 50 years it looks like the government might award a General Service Medal for service in the Suez Canal Zone, by the time this essay appears in print the medal might have been awarded, or once again denied.