Dutch Volunteers fighting in the Korean War

written by Elie van Schilt, veteran NDVN soldier

Chapter I : The Establishment of the NDVN and it's Transfer to Korea

This is the story of the first detachment that was shipped to Korea late October 1950. The war had started on June 25th 1950, when North Korean troops had crossed the 38th parallel. The South Korean Army was not able to cope with the superior invading forces and had to watch them occupying the larger part of South Korea.
Thanks to the assistance provided by the United States and the United Nations, the invasion was halted, at the cost of a large number of men wounded and killed in action.
In the middle of August 1950, in the Netherlands newspapers and radios reported that volunteers were asked to enlist to fight in Korea. In the middle of September the first of them arrived in Den Haag to be selected; volunteers of all 11 provinces were represented. Don't ask why they volunteered, every one of them had a different reason. This group was to become the first Netherlands Detachment United Nations (Nederlands Detachment Verenigde Naties, NDVN) under commander Colonel den Ouden. The first detachment was instructed at the Alexander Barracks (Alexanderkazerne) in Den Haag.
Officially, the NDVN was established only on October 15th 1950. After an instruction of only 6 weeks the battalion embarks on the Zuiderkruis heading for Korea. The Military Music Corps plays a serenade as a farewell greeting. Domine Timmens and almoner van de Vrande accompany the battalion to give spiritual; counsel. They are two old hands and know to find just the right words to deal with the troops.
The larger part of the battalion had earlier served in the Netherlands' Indies, the voyage, for them, thus was an old hat. On November 23rd they arrive in Pusan, a different scene than the Netherlands, mountains bare, without overgrowth, the harbour was a bay, and thereafter lay Pusan, easily visible because it is built on the slope of a mountain facing the sea. The arrival was just as the departure from the Netherlands had been, a South Korean military band played military marches, reinforced by a negro band which played a different style of music. When Colonel den Ouden is the first to climb the wall, he is welcomed by a little girl handing over a present of flowers. Later the troops disembark, receive their new equipment and are permitted to visit the city. The next day they were to enter a train with destination Taegu, with an average speed of 15 km/h. There is not much to be seen along the way, bare mountains, rice paddies, a river segment, and often tunnels were passed.
It was dark when they arrived at Taegu and the soldiers were given primitive accomodations. It was biting cold with a stiff wind against which the jackets from Holland offer little resistance. It is an international camp, U.S., British, Australian and South Korean army units.
Here the battalion again was instructed to learn how to use American weaponry, to practice shooting, to go on patrol, to become combat-ready. After a few days, the battalion moved to Suwon, just south of Seoul. It was a rough train ride, no window panes, no heating. To overcome the cold, a small fire was lit on a plate in front of each seat which had not been removed in earlier trips. If the train stopped anywhere, everybody left to increase his body temperature by walking up and down the platform. The train arrived at Suwon the next morning, and again did the soldiers walk up and down the platform, burned fires on the right and left. It didn't help much' was your frontside warm, then your backside froze.
There also arrived a train with Korean refugees, a sad sight, women with babies which are cramped of the cold, everybody hungry, soon the soldier's rations disappeared towards the refugee train which was so overloaded that men were sitting on the locomotive. In this frightful situation men die and men are born. Thus, Suwon is the battalion's new location. Over day it is okay, but at night it is bitter cold and there is an icy wind blowing in your face. The battalion is lodged in public buildings, among which also a wooden building. Files had to be fed constantly to keep them a little warm, which led to a couple of fires. The kitchen burnt down in one of these.

This page is part of World History at KMLA
Last revised on February 15th 2002

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