In December 1950 Korea was experiencing some of the lowest winter temperatures ever. As the British 29th Brigade bivvied on bleak hill positions, the night time temperature dropped to -38C. As ever, winter clothing and equipment was sub-standard; 'Finnish pattern' winter boots that had been in store since 1919 disintegrated almost as soon as they were issued, wind smocks were not waterproof and rifles and machine guns had to be dried of all traces of oil and grease, which froze and jammed the weapons - they would only work completely 'dry' under those conditions. Rice straw in the tents and dugouts, lining tank hulls and crammed into clothing helped stave off frostbite. Engines needed to be run every twenty minutes. As if the cold wasn't enough, the lads of the Glosters, the Ulster Rifles and the Northumberland Fusiliers, not forgetting the Hussars and 45 RA, were put in the line to rearguard the US 8th Army; beaten, panicked and in full retreat in what became known as the Great Bug Out.
The septics were in full flight and burning and destroying everything they couldn't carry. Demoralised further by the death of their 8th Army commander, General Walker, in a traffic accident, morale was shot and chaos and defeatism ruled. The British 29th Brigade was one of the few units that could be relied upon, but as Christmas approached, the Chinese advance appeared unstoppable. Men like my father, who had been on almost constant active service since 1939, wondered whether they'd make it this time. It seemed unlikely.