Korea – October 1971- Ex. Focus Lens II
B Troop D13/R234
Provide a rear link from Taegu, South Korea to DCN Hong Kong
This exercise (Focus Lens II) took place in one of the more ‘unusual’ locations and one that held a lot of Regimental Memories for the British Army. With 14th Signal Regt having the Freedom of Gloucester and that city’s association with the ‘Glorious Glosters’ it was probably fitting.
The trip out to Korea was to be ‘out of the ordinary’ in that instead of the more regular C130 Hercules from RAF Lyneham, this journey was by Belfast from RAF Brize Norton, but the usual deviation via the ATLO organisation at South Cerney was still considered ‘essential’. Although the Belfast was operationally slower, with a shorter range than the Hercules, it had the advantage that the complete D13 and crew could be carried by the one plane. Additionally the seating was slightly more comfortable, rear facing in ‘proper’ aircraft seats, some on the tail ramp (a cold spot though!) and some on a false deck just behind the cockpit.
A Belfast at RAF Masirah
The destination was USAB Taegu in South Korea, via refuelling stops at Cyprus, Masirah, Gan, Singapore and Hong Kong. Eventually reaching Taegu (also spelt Daegu). This US Air Base played a very active part in the Korean Conflict and the post-war period (it was often referred to as K-2 at that time). The flight weary troop and their equipment were transported across the city of Taegu (the third largest city in South Korea) to the Army camp (Camp Henry in the city itself) where the D13 was set up and the Troop accommodated. Situated between very high and rugged looking hills, the camp itself was flat and antenna erection pretty straight forward. The accommodation was memorable for the coin operated drink vending machines that were inside the entrance and found to contain beer and regularly empty in a morning!
The centre of Camp Henry was set aside as a golf course and the D13 was situated on it, with the receiver complex close to the accommodation buildings and the transmitter at the opposite side but within walking distance. All very cosy. The camp was predominantly American GI’s but with some Korean Army also billeted there. Whilst the golf course made for a very convenient site for the equipment, it was also a very dangerous place at first and last light when the golf-mad Koreans would be knocking golf balls everywhere. Going from the accommodation to the equipment sites at shift change was frightening.
The American signals people who visited the D13 could not believe that we could set-up and operate for extended periods with such a small crew and (by comparison to theirs) tiny generators. Several times we were asked when the rest of the Brits were arriving!
Whilst Camp Henry housed accommodation and mess halls all the social clubs (Officers, Top Graders and OR’s) were spread out in the City itself. In order to eat in the Mess-Hall, we had to buy each meal on the all-on-one tray, using US Dollars, although both Dollars and Korean money was accepted in the clubs. (And just about everywhere else in Taegu!).
Once the shift pattern was established it was time to go and explore. We were told by the American ‘Liaison Officer’ that he recommended that we only drink in the American Military Clubs or those bars on the main ‘drag’ and not to venture into the bars situated to the left of the camp entrance. Initially this advice was taken but all these bars seemed a bit ‘tame’ with little going on.
After a few ‘quiet evenings and deciding to ignore the advice, Tug Wilson led a group out of camp in search of a more suitable drinking place. Feeling as though some sort of challenge had been set down, the group turned left! A little way down the road (loose term) was a well-lit bar with ‘Blues’ music playing. In they went! The place was full of 8ft 6ins Afro-Americans (well they seemed that size to me!). All conversation stopped immediately, all eyes turned to look and followed the group to a table. Trying to act un-phased, Tug ordered beers from the Korean waitress and at that point the ‘giant’ nearest, walked across and asked if we were Brits. Getting an affirmative, he turned and shouted the rest ‘”Hey they’re Limeys!” The atmosphere immediately changed and a very sociable evening followed. The evening ended with a standing invitation to drink in the bar anytime being given and accepted (several times).
Taegu is a major textile and garment producing centre in Korea and virtually any style of garment could be produced almost overnight. Many of the Troop bought ‘Snoopy’ patches and flying jackets from the little Korean tailor who had a shop immediately outside the camp gate. Unfortunately he couldn’t understand our wish to have ‘Snoopy’ reclining with a beer glass on his belly!
The US Signals team in the camp hosted a Bar-B-Que towards the end of the exercise and provided huge steaks, burgers and salads plus lots of (rather weak) American beer. It was very sociable and entertaining with the absolute minimum of speech-making.
BBQ for the crew hosted by the Catering Chief ‘Rusty’ – Camp Henry
At the end of the exercise the troop were informed that the RAF had no available aircraft to get the Troop and equipment back to the UK before Christmas. It was decided ‘high up’ that the equipment would have to stay in Korea to await RAF Transport with three ‘volunteers’ to ensure the safety of the Crypto equipment, whilst the rest of the troop would fly home via civilian transport.
So leaving three stalwarts behind to ‘guard’ the equipment, the majority of the Troop started their long journey home. Starting with a local internal flight from Taegu to Seoul on a twin propped Fokker Friendship, which was a trifle cramped for the larger members of the team. At Seoul, it was a quick change to a much higher spec. four engine jet operated by Cathay Pacific with very pretty cabin staff and free drinks, for a flight to Hong Kong via Taipei. At Hong Kong Kai Tak Airport, the landing was on the gut wrenching runway with the approach between the skyscrapers and full reverse thrust to stop (hopefully) before reaching the end and dropping into the harbour! A never to be forgotten experience!
The crew in the NAAFI – RAF Kai Tak
With a day and a half to wait for the BOAC flight, the Troop was accommodated at the (then) very run-down RAF Kai Tak camp. This did enable a night out in Honk Kong itself and a bit of sight-seeing. The flight to Heathrow in the BOAC 707 was again superb with pretty cabin staff, very reasonable meals and plenty of free drinks. With refuelling stops at Bombay (now Mumbai) and Tel-Aviv, everyone was plane weary and relieved to board the old green Bedford 40-seater bus at Heathrow to make their way to Worcester and home.
While the majority of the Troop returned to civilisation for Christmas and more exercises, the three ‘volunteer guards’ (Sam Rhodes, ‘Larry’ Lamb and ‘Tich’ Manning) settled down for an extended wait for their trip home. The exact duration of their extended stay has become clouded with time but it was certainly long enough for them to ‘go native’!
It was suggested that the three initially assist in the U.S. Signals Workshop but managed to clear the ‘fault lists’ in an embarrassingly quick manner (for the Americans that is) so were then left to their own devices for the remainder of their stay. Becoming firm friends with many of the Americans, they were well entertained on various trips out. At least a couple of visits to the capital Seoul were experienced which were very enlightening.
The trio also accepted a long weekend visiting one of the remote signal sites. It is recalled that the GI’s stationed there were very much akin to the guys in ‘Deliverance’ in appearance but in reality, a great bunch of guys. A ‘hunting party’ was organised for the trio who were handed some pump-action shotguns, several packs of beer and accompanied by a hunting dog, set off to see if they could shoot anything of note. They trudged through miles of woodland, shot the tops out of lots of trees and drank all the beer. Unfortunately, the dog became so tired of chasing ‘fresh air’ it became exhausted and had to be carried back!
Eventually the RAF had transport available and the ‘volunteers’ plus equipment were safely returned to Worcester, via the QM stores for new uniforms and the barbers for more acceptable haircuts.
Memories – Kerry (Titch) Manning and Orph Mable