Back to the front
THE ONCE war-torn country of Korea was barren and desolate when John Bridgewater last stood on its soil.
Mr Bridgewater spent three years serving as a gunner there during the Korean War and is back this week to mark the 60th anniversary of peace being declared.
This time he expects to see a much transformed landscape.
The Mt Albert resident is one of 30 veterans attending a commemorative service in Seoul today.
He has vivid memories of how Korea used to be.
‘‘There wasn’t a living tree, everything had been chopped down and it was just barren land,’’ the 88 year-old says.
The all-pervasive cold that no jacket or thermal underwear could keep at bay is something he will never forget.
‘‘You just froze,’’ he says – recalling winters on the front line.
Efforts by the North Koreans to unsettle troops and turn them against their leaders were constant.
‘‘They used to send these little planes over and play songs,’’ Mr Bridgewater says. ‘‘If they were over the Australian lines they would play Waltzing Matilda.
‘‘And they would fly past and say ‘ we’re going to attack you tomorrow’. They would also drop cards and propaganda.’’
Messages in Christmas cards and other notes dropped from above urged soldiers to stop following ‘‘the yanks’’ into battle, and told how those who had been captured would soon be back with their families for the festive season.
Mr Bridgewater returned home to become a firefighter and a plumber. His last 25 years before retirement were spent looking after the maintenance of Mt Eden Prison.
Returning: It’s 60 years since the Korean War ended and veteran John Bridgewater is among those who’ve returned to attend commemorative services. He is pictured with a Christmas card dropped to soldiers by North Koreans during the conflict. A message in the card urged nonUS troops to stop being led by ‘‘the yanks’’.
Special trip: Thirty Korean War veterans prepare to leave New Zealand for Korea. They were drawn by ballot to fly on the Royal New Zealand Air Force Boeing 757.