This is a rare example of an autobiography written by a non-commissioned National Serviceman recounting his experience of the Korean War. Neville Williams was called up in 1951, joining the Welch Regiment, and spent most of his two years of National Service either in Korea, or travelling there and back.
Williams was inspired to write this book by two chance encounters over a short period. The first was with a Korean engineer and his wife travelling in Europe, an encounter that helped convince him that the Korean War had indeed been a worthwhile fight. The second was with a photograph taken while he was in Korea, showing one man from nationality serving in the Commonwealth Division.
We start with Williams' call-up and training. This gives us a useful insight into the training of post-war conscripts at a time when there was a real chance of active service, which must have made the whole experience feel rather more relevant that it might have done. The section on the journey out to Korea is fascinating, and gives a real sense of the excitement Williams felt during the long sea voyage as he passed through Egypt, Singapore and Hong Kong on his first trip outside Britain.
Williams entered the front line in a quiet sector, spending the winter of 1951-2 serving in the intense Korean cold. After a short period in reserve, his unit (the Welch Regiment) then moved onto a much more active sector, where it endured some heavy Chinese shelling. After a short final spell on another quiet sector Williams returned to Britain to be demobilised.
Williams served as a regimental signaller during his time on the front line. This was one of those jobs that was actually rather more dangerous than one would expect, for one of his duties was to fix breaks in the telephone wires that led from the communications bunker to the front line positions. Even on the relatively quite sector that Williams first served on this could be risky, but during his stint on a more active sector it meant that he was often above ground and exposed during heavy Chinese artillery bombardments.
The focus here is on the life of the soldier, and Williams has produced a very valuable account of day-to-day life on the front line during the long period of stalemate that followed the early war of movement in Korea. What immediately impresses is how similar his experiences were to those of men serving on quiet sectors of the Western Front during the First World War, where the fighting was largely limited to artillery duals, patrols and small scale raiding.
This is a valuable addition to the literature on the Korean War, presenting an unusual view of the fighting from a rarely seen perspective.
1 - The Imperial War Museum, London
2 - Basic Training
3 - Joining the Battalion
4 - Battle Training in Earnest
5 - Final Preparations for Active Service
6 - Embarkation
7 - Korea - Pusan and Beyond
8 - Danger Everywhere
9 - Creature Comforts
10 -The Battle Continues and Voices from Home
11 - Christmas at the Front
12 - Operation DISAPPEAR, Comforts and Comradeship
13 - The Prisoners and a Prelude to Spring
14 - Porters and Poetry
15 - Reserve, Burying the Dead and Boxing
16 - Hill 355 and a True 'Thunderbox'
17 - The Bombardment and a May Day Surprise
18 - R&R Leave in Tokyo
19 - The Attack, Boxing the Norfolks and Thoughts of Blightly
20 - Home, Everlasting Love and Lessons for Future Generations
Author: Neville Williams
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military