A personal experience

A MEDIC IN THE KOREAN WAR – A PERSONAL EXPERIENCE

On the 18th November 1952, as a National Serviceman in the Royal Army Medical Corps. I left Southampton Docks aboard HMT Empire Orwell, a ship of some 17,362 tons and prior to 1939 a Nazi cruise ship (and a British ‘prize of war’ in 1945). On the 19th December we arrived at Pusan, to be welcomed by an American Military Band, who you will all remember played very lively music. It turned out that only seven of our small detachments of twelve men were needed at this time and the remainder were to go on to Kure, Japan. I had many thoughts and ideas of what it was going to be like in Korea, now suddenly all that had changed and I was going to Kure. However there was little time to think as the troopship docked at this major port on the island of Honshu just four days prior to Christmas. I was very soon to learn that because of my previous experience of operating theatre work (at Tidworth Military Hospital) I was to join the surgical team at the British Commonwealth General Hospital, Kure.

Britcom General Hospital was a large Military Hospital (it was opened in 1889 as Kure Naval Hospital see note 5) with about 600 beds, although I cannot be precise about this number. The largest ward was the casualty ward with some 60 to 80 patients. In addition to surgical and orthopaedic wards there was ENT (80 beds mainly facial injuries) medical, psychiatric (one unit), venereal disease, dermatology and outpatients.

The hospital itself, I understood, was built on some form of huge roller system that had been devised by the Japanese to withstand earthquakes. Colonel Meneces the Commanding Officer had overall responsibility for the hospital.

The operating theatre team consisted of Australian (male and female) and British (male) operating theatre technicians (OTT) and nurses. British, Canadian and Australian trained nurses holding officer rank. Major F.V.Hynes (QARANC) was the theatre sister in charge and Colonel Wright (RAMC) was the surgical specialist supported by surgeons from UK, Australia and Canada. QARANC personnel lived at the women’s services officers’ mess, this residence was situated to the rear of the hospital and about ten minutes walk away. The RAMC medical officers were in quarters near the officer’s ward in the hospital. RAMC (other ranks) personnel working at the hospital were in residence at the Australian Signals Camp in Kure and just a short walk from the hospital. It was at this camp that I experienced my first earth tremor, it was at night, and I awoke wondering what was happening! However, during my service, in Japan, I experienced numerous tremors.

In August '53 some 150 men (RAMC other ranks) moved from Signals Camp to barracks at Tenno, a few miles west of Kure. The camp had been used as an annex to the hospital for infectious diseases and prior to that was Tenno Hospital, founded in 1944 and formed part of the Kure Navy Base (see note 5). These barracks were also shared with the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps who were accommodated with NCO’s (RAMC) in the quarters just across the road and railway line, opposite the main site. The camp was situated on the waters edge and swimming in the sea became a favourite pastime, unfortunately I couldn’t swim at that time and missed out on a lot of fun.