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Central Leader - - FRONT PAGE - By JOE DAW­SON

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.

Photo: JOE DAW­SON

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’’.

Photo: MICHAEL FIELD

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.

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