Ed Hollyer, front, had to call in an artillery strike from Don 'Reg' Redknap's men on his own position to repel an attack.
Read more about Edgar Hollyer in the "Memory Project" here.
Ed Hollyer and Don "Reg" Redknap have been friends since they met while training at Petawawa in 1950. They live in Kanata now, within easy artillery range of each other, and that's what their story is about.
On the night of May 2-3 in 1953, Mr. Hollyer was in a situation in which he had to call down artillery on his own position, and about four kilometres away, Mr. Redknap was in a position to send it. Mr. Hollyer was infantry, Royal Canadian Regiment. Mr. Redknap was Royal Canadian Artillery.
Mr. Hollyer survived the massive barrage, so over lunch this week, Mr. Redknap let him do most of the talking. First, Mr. Redknap explained his position at the guns that night. When at rest, the guns were targeted at defensive positions. "I heard the order: 'Down 200 yards and give us everything you've got!' That would bring it down right on our own lines, so I asked for a repeat."
"The voice on the other end (not Hollyer's) was screaming. The order was correct."
That order had worked its way up the line from Mr. Hollyer, who says he too was screaming orders. Before the night was over, an estimated 8,000 "friendly fire" shells would rain down on Mr. Hollyer's position.
It went into the books as the battle for Hill 187; the last major battle fought by Canadians; one that included artillery, armour and infantry.
Mr. Hollyer: "I watched a 16-man patrol go out into No Man's Land and disappear into the darkness. About 11 p.m., there was shooting. They had stumbled into a major Chinese force, probably battalion strength (about 800) preparing to attack. It blew the surprise planned by the Chinese but cost the patrol heavy losses. Another patrol was ordered out to check the first and I was trying to countermand that order, because I could see the attack coming in. I was also ordering artillery onto my position."
That position was on a ridge jutting out from the hill towards enemy lines. He was in charge of a platoon (32 men). There were also South Korean troops in the mix, about platoon strength, providing labour and added firepower.
At that point in the war, the human wave attack was a much-used Chinese method. Heavy artillery was the only hope of evening the odds. Canadian artillery let loose with 72 guns (25-pounders), supported by eight British 5.5 medium guns and six American eight-inch howitzers. The shells poured in all night, with Chinese soldiers throwing hand grenades and mortars into the mix.
"I was knocked down many times, but didn't get a scratch," says Mr. Hollyer. A mortar shell landed beside him in a hole. The shrapnel from it blew upwards. Canteens placed around the lip of the whole were punctured. "I got soaked. It was raining on me (from the canteens) but I wasn't hit. I often think about it. How could I have been moving around in that without getting hit?"
Among stories that would become legends that night, was Sgt. Peter Stone. Concussion from a near miss knocked him out, and blew sandbags on top of him. He woke up to great weight on his back. A Chinese soldier was sitting on him, talking into a radio. The enemy soldier believed the man under him was dead, and Sgt. Stone would later explain he did nothing to change that impression.
Canadians fighting in that war were not well supported by their government. Most were equipped with the First World War Lee Enfield bolt action rifle, facing an enemy equipped with rapid fire "burp guns." One of the items in plentiful supply was whisky, and Canadian soldiers were trading it for American weapons. Canadian officers were ordered to take such weapons away from their men, but it was one of those orders that wasn't enforced with vigour.
As the tide turned against UN forces, Canadians were being sent into action without proper training. There was a story about an untrained man setting off a hand grenade and killing himself. An order came up from the rear that grenades were to be defused until needed.
At one point during that noisy night of battle, Mr. Hollyer stumbled into an abandoned fighting hole and found a box of grenades. "I was pulling the pins and throwing them as fast as I could towards the Chinese. It took awhile to realize they weren't exploding. I had stumbled into the hole of the only man in the army who obeyed that order to remove the igniters."
Back at the guns, Mr. Redknap was able to increase the strength of his battery from the usual eight guns to nine. "There's usually a spare, and we got it into action. The crew included cooks."
The shells they were using had almost as much history as the Lee Enfields. "At the fall of Hong Kong during World War II, before they surrendered Commonwealth troops dumped their ammunition into the harbour. After the war, it was recovered. That's what we were using. Sometimes the metal containers the shells were so rusted we couldn't open them."
Legendary war correspondent Bill Boss would capture some of strangeness of battle. One Canadian, seeing a Korean struggling with a litter at the height of the battle, jumped up to help. He took the other end of the litter, and let the man at the head lead. It would be too late when he realized the stretcher bearer and the wounded man were Chinese. He spent the remaining three months of the war as a prisoner.
Another Canadian was in a latrine when the attack started, and a Chinese grenade thrown in went down the hole. He would spend the rest of the battle as the smelliest soldier on the field.
Just before dawn, the attackers started to withdraw and the barrage lifted. As the Chinese withdrew, their stretcher bearers picked up dead and wounded, often within easy range of the Canadians. There was no shooting. It was over.
From the RCR ranks, 26 had been killed, 27 wounded, and seven captured. Korean losses were similar. Chinese attackers killed inside the Canadian lines could not be retrieved by their comrades. Mr. Hollyer remembers a shattered landscape littered with bodies. Chinese losses aren't known, and Mr. Hollyer guesses at "hundreds."
For his actions that night, Mr. Hollyer was awarded the Military Cross. Another went to the artillery's forward observation officer (FOO), Lieut. George Ruffee of Wolfville, N.S. Lieut. Laurie "Larry" Cote, of Aylmer, a signals officer who gave up his radio for a machine gun that night, also won the MC. The latter two men have died. Canadians killed in action in the Korean War (1950-53) numbered 516.
The two lieutenants, Mr. Hollyer and Mr. Redknap, would stay in the military and retire as lieutenant colonel and major, respectively. Mr. Hollyer couldn't resist, and pointed a finger at his friend. "He wound up working for me."
Came back the reply: "You know, he was much taller until I started shooting at him that night."
Lt.-Col. Hollyer (retired) is five-foot-four.