Back to the front

17:00, Jul 25 2013
NRN Vets
UNFORGETTABLE: Korean War veterans fly out from the Whenuapai airbase to mark the 60th anniversary of the Armistice commemorations.

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.

RETURNING: Veteran John Bridgewater is pictured with a Christmas card dropped to soldiers by North Koreans during the conflict. A message in the card urged non-US troops to stop being led by ‘‘the yanks’’.

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.


New Zealand had a military involvement in Korea from 1950 to 1957, first as part of the United Nations police action to repel North Korea's invasion of its southern neighbour, and then in a garrison role after the armistice in July 1953 4700 New Zealanders served as part of the New Zealand contingent – Kayforce – under UN Command 1300 served on the frigates during the war and for a period after the Armistice from 1953 to 1957 33 New Zealanders were killed during the war.

Central Leader