On the night of May 13th. I was 2ic. of a patrol from 3RAR, which was ordered to patrol the feature below Hill 355, it was code named Cloncurry. This small hill was roughly half way between the forward positions of 3RAR and the Chinese, thus it was a constant source of dispute. Whilst making our way towards Cloncurry, we were alerted to the fact the Chinese had beaten us to it, thus we were to attack them.
This in itself was no big deal, the report told us that 15 Chinese had been seen, and as we numbered 16 it seemed quite reasonable an operation.
(Italicized entries in this report are from later research done by Peter
Standard procedure followed and we split into two sections of 7 men, my group took the left wing and my mate ‘Bluey’ Clark took his men to the right. The Commander and his signaler were in the center, and to the rear.
We began to run up the slope in extended line, my Bren-gunner, Tom Foot, called to me." There’s two Nogs in a hole here, what will I do?" Just about the same time a group of Chinese who were in a hole right in front of where I was heading, began to shoot and grenade at me. I yelled out to my friend."Shoot the bastards". From that moment on, it was quite obvious that someone had made a serious error with relation to the number of enemy we were attacking; the Bren gunner had two and there were five doing their best to finish me.
Serious fighting was going on all about, and the Diggers were serving it right up to our opponents; all except myself who had managed to shoot one in the face before the first grenade got me. I had thrown myself into a nest of large rocks then, and each time they saw me move I received more grenades. Fortunately you have a bit of time to move, if and when a grenade lands near you; it takes a moment before it explodes and that can be time enough to roll out of the way. It was a bugger of a situation to be in, and for some reason my Bren man was not there to help me; they had thrown eight grenades at me when I received a head wound and lost interest.
There appears to have been an order to ‘get out’ and the men were doing that, I was quite helpless and totally at the mercy of my four opponents; at that point John Kennedy appeared on the skyline behind the Chinese and dropped a grenade in the hole with them. They had nowhere to go in the time available, and our very effective grenade destroyed them. Kennedy ran across to where I lay and enquired if I could get out, foolishly I said yes and he took off in search of others it turned out. Fighting was still going on, but not many of our weapons were firing; it was then that I learnt that I could not stand up. There were no troops of either side alive in my vicinity, so that left me the task of crawling down the hillside; dragging my Owen gun beside me.
Eventually I reached the bottom and came across a group of our men with the Commander; I was helped to my feet and began to feel a little less groggy. This party was reasonably intact, both in number and health; but was in the act of being taken out under orders.
Duff, Lance Corporal Fred Roberts and Privates Len Murdock and Fred Prior had been wounded and four other men were missing: John Kennedy and Tom Foot and Corporal John Nicholson and Private John McKandry, a New Zealander.
The sound of at least one Owen firing was still coming from the hill, I realized we were leaving someone behind and protested; as did my fellow NCO ‘Bluey’. Together we stated that we had to go back, and the men were ready to come with us. There was a patrol from A Company not far from us, on ambush duties; and they were 16 strong as I recall. We had apparently been informed by radio that a group of Chinese was between us and the way we would have gone home. This had little bearing on the fact that we were four short, and some at least were alive and fighting back up the hill we had just left.
Bluey and I went to lead the men back when I was smartly ordered to stop, still being fairly shook up from my head wound I was not capable of mounting much of an argument; and at that time we heard the final burst from an Owen. Then two Chinese grenades exploded, followed by the most heart wrenching silence that I have ever experienced; our mate was fighting alone and we left him to die that way.
A very half hearted count took place and it was certain that we had left four good men to their fate, no matter we were still getting out but by a different route; and I with, as it turned out, some seventeen grenade pieces in me was ordered to lead the way. We soon passed through the A company patrol and headed off I knew not where, but lead I did; as ordered. The time eventually arrived as it had to, and I was unable to go any further without aid and I believe was finally carried back by stretcher.
Vaguely I can recall that we changed course at times to avoid Chinese patrols, prowling the valleys; then my next memory was sitting on the floor of a bunker with a field dressing around my head. The next day I awoke in the Indian Field Hospital and learnt that I was the only Australian there, they fed me with the hottest curry I had ever eaten in my life.
Upon returning to my platoon three weeks later, I learnt more of what fate had befallen our good men; those we had abandoned. The man who had saved my life, John Kennedy, had then come across my Bren gunner, Tom Foot; he was wounded to the extent that he could not walk; so this brave soldier stayed with him no doubt in the hope of rescue. I believe that he remained with him for quite a length of time, until the enemy troops actually got over their problems and came looking to see what we had left behind. That soldier was still alive at this point, some hours after our withdrawal; the other two who had been fighting on we have no idea about.
There was talk at that time that we were facing a Mongolian unit, I cannot vouch for this but I can state that we recovered no bodies from any such incidents; nor did any of our men who may have been captured during this period return from POW camps. We fought this unit on a number of occasions, and took our fair share of casualties, as did they; this however is the only time a capable fighting force of ours knowingly left its men to fight and die alone.
The final casualty count for us was three missing in action, myself wounded in action; and I think five wounded in action - remained on duty. In plain English, they had scratches. The radio operator told me that his aerial had either been broken or shot off part way up, and that our patrol Commander had cut himself on the sharp end, and just above his eye. This is purely hearsay for me; I did not see any such incident.
Until my time comes to depart this life, I will always in the night; hear that lonely Owen firing. Then I can hear the two grenades explode; and worst of all I will HEAR that terrible silence.
Ed Note: Cpl R. K. Cashman served two years as an infantryman in 3RAR. Often helping wounded mates to safety, himself wounded three times by grenade fragments, Cpl. Cashman was awarded the Military Medal. John Kennedy was mentioned in dispatches for his bravery.