Family ties have been strengthened in the Hickman clan of Traralgon with a tour of the historic Korean War battlefields.
84-year-old Korean War Veteran, John Hickman and his 31-year-old grandson, Leigh Hickman, are touring South Korea with 14 members of Australia’s Federation Guard. The Guard is the ceremonial unit of the Department of Defence supporting Australian and New Zealand commemorative events marking the 60th Anniversary of the Korean War Armistice.
They have been joined by Korean War veterans from all over Australia.
For John it has been a flood of memories as he visits places in South Korea that he has not seen since 1954.
“I never thought I would be back. The whole thing has been terrific,” John said. “They have looked after us with everything,” he added.
Leigh said he decided to go to Korea “to be with Pop.”
“I wanted to hear his stories I probably would never have heard, to see the places he spoke about and to recognise the veterans for the things they had done,” Leigh said.
John said he got a shock to see his grandson in Korea.
“When he told me he was coming, I told him to stay home, but I am happy to see him now,” he added.
Before enlisting in the Army in 1952, John worked as a truck driver in Melbourne. He served as a private in the infantry. John embarked for Japan in October 1952 and joined reinforcements for Korea in January 1953. He was posted to the 3rd Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment.
John’s service in Korea coincided with the period of static warfare when the opposing armies faced each other from trenches overlooking no-man’s-land and engaged in a constant round of patrols.
He recalls the freezing cold of winter and heat of summer and his life in the trenches, where he and his mates ‘lived like rabbits.’ After the armistice John remained in Korea, where he served as a guard on the South Korean side of the demilitarised zone. He has remained friends with men he served with in Korea to the present day and has been an active member of the RSL for fifty years.
Meanwhile, Leigh admits his time in Korea with his grandfather will live with him for the rest of his life.
Australia committed about 18,000 troops, Navy ships and aircraft following a request from the United Nations. From the beginning of the war in June 1950, until the Armistice on 27th July 1953, Australia suffered about 1600 casualties, including 339 killed in action. During the war, 30 personnel were captured. 29 of these were repatriated, and one died in captivity.
Forty three Australians are registered as missing in action.