An Australian soldier who fought at the Battle of the Apple Orchard during the Korean War has spoken to the media for the first time in 66 years about the incident that left him wounded on the battlefield
Friendly fire incidents were classified as secret by allied forces during the Korean War but Max Quinlan – a resident at Ryde’s Clermont Aged Care – chose ANZAC Day to reveal the truth about how he was shot and by who.
“I was serving as a private with the 3rd Battalion, C Company, when we were sent up a hill on patrol,Ó he told The Weekly Times in an exclusive interview.
“As we were climbing the hill one of our boys tripped, his rifle went off and I was shot in the leg.
“The bullet passed straight through my knee, deflected and hit a sergeant in the foot.
“There just happened to be a chopper in the vicinity and I was airlifted to Tokyo.
“I’m lucky to be alive to tell you about it.”
Max’s war experience reveals just how common friendly fire incidents can be in battle and how easily they can happen.
“We were told that when Charlie (North Korean soldiers) popped their heads up to drop them and that once you fired your shot to get your own head down or Charlie would drop you,” he said.
“You never got to see who you killed.”
This tactic was effective but it meant that wounded Australians returning to Allied lines were at particular risk of being shot by their own side.
“One night one of the boys said, excuse me sergeant ..I can hear someone coming.
“We had a Bren machine gun covering us and we were about to open fire when we heard something that sounded like .. I’ve dragged you this bloody far, mate.
“It turned out to be our soldiers and when they reached our line they asked if we were actually going to fire our Bren gun at them.
“My oath we were and to this day I can never work out how they actually made it back alive.”
Mr Quinlan recalled the arrival of a smart young officer who was about to use a communal toilet when a hand grenade was thrown at it.
“The toilet didn’t survive but he did, although he smelled terrible afterwards! ”
A more macabre story was when Max and his mates stumbled across a barrel of Sake.
“We thought it was our lucky day and we were helping ourselves to the Sake when a Yank soldier saw us and looked at us with horror,” he said.
“You see, what we didn’t know at the time about the barrel of Sake was that there was a dead body in it.Ó
Parcels from home were always well received and Max recalls a special one.
“In Tokyo a Pommie ship came into the dock and the crew sold me four kilos of tobacco which I posted home to my dad,” he said.
“In return, Dad posted me a few loathes of bread, which seems a strange gift, but inside each loaf was a bottle of Scotch .. to keep us warm!”
While acknowledging the odd and often horrific side of war, Max retains an enormous respect for the bravery of the Allied soldiers who fought at the Battle of the Apple Orchid, known in Korean as the Battle of YongJu, October 1950.
“We stopped a whole enemy division, God knows how we did it because every day we always thought that this could be our last day.
“One American Colonel actually stated in a dispatch afterwards that he had the pleasure of seeing an Australian Company in action.”
Mr Quinlan recalled that many service men and women were superstitious, as well as religious, which is not surprising when good luck can be critical.
“My elder sister was serving at South Head the night in World War Two when the Japanese midget submarines attacked Sydney Harbour,” he said.
“What the subs didn’t know was that as they came past South Head they passed right by a ship that had just been loaded with a massive amount of ammunition.
“We were lucky because if that ship had blown up there wouldn’t be a South Head left today.”
Mr Quinlan hopes today’s students will take an interest in Australia’s wartime conflicts, particularly World War Two.
“A good place to start is to learn about one particular Service they like, the Army, the Royal Australian Navy and the Air Force all have a proud tradition.”
Clermont Aged Care commemorates Anzac Day and staff and residents paid tribute to the men and women who served in the Armed Forces in times of war and peace.
CAPTION: Max Quinlan is pictured at Clermont Aged Care on Anzac Day. TWT on-the-spot PHOTO