Posted by: Bob Ringma | June 24, 2011

First POWs

On 19 May 1951, the 25th Canadian Infantry Brigade Group was placed under the operational control of 1 US Corps (known as “I” Corps) to take part in an offensive.  On 25 May, under command of 25 US Division, the brigade advanced with the second battalion of the Royal Canadian Regiment on the left and the second battalion of the Van Doos on the right.  It was to be the formation’s first taste of action.  It encountered only light opposition over the next couple of days.  On the 27th they occupied high ground overlooking the 38th parallel.  Nearly thirty miles had been covered in a few days.  Small wonder that, a week earlier, my batman and I had found nothing in several miles of no man’s land.


The brigade axis was the Main Service Route (MSR), which paralleled the P’och’on River.  On 28 May I sited the laundry and bath unit on the river, miles north of Uijongbu but still south of the 38th Parallel.   Knowing that I might have to move the MLBU again to keep up with the brigade I went north on another recce to find a site.  On my return, I found my boys standing guard over two Chinese soldiers who looked disconsolate and not very dangerous.  Dressed in running shoes and pieces of uniform, they had one rifle between them.  It was of Russian manufacture and had a multi-grooved bayonet, which could be hinged back under the barrel.  Picking the weapon up, I drew back the bolt to find a bullet still up the spout.

Soviet rifle (NOT the captured weapon)

“Where did these guys come from?” I asked Sergeant Major Reid.  He replied that some Korean civilians had come into our camp, and through sign language, told him that there were enemy soldiers hiding in a nearby hut.  Reid took a Bren gun, a few men with rifles and hand grenades and followed the civilians to the hut.  He received no response when he called for the soldiers to come out so fired a few shots into the building.  That got their attention, and a flag appeared at a window, followed by the two Chinese.  Although they only had the one rifle, they had a good supply of homemade bombs ready for use.  One of our men was dispatched to fetch some MPs off the nearby MSR to take the prisoners away.  Three days later, on 31 May, the MLBU took three more prisoners under similar circumstances.


Surprisingly, the two POWs taken on 28 May were the first enemy prisoners taken by the Canadian Brigade in Korea.  It was a red-letter day for our little service unit.  In one sense, this first capture was not surprising, since the brigade had just gone into action a few days before and because the enemy had withdrawn.  What was surprising was that a support unit, a laundry and bath unit at that, was credited with this “first”.  “Strange Battleground”, the Official History of the Canadian Army in Korea, records the event.  There was nothing heroic about the two incidents, but they were unusual.  However, they wouldn’t have happened at all if our unit hadn’t been as far forward as it was in the Brigade area.


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