This statement is a summary of what are probably the important and relevant parts of our three hour discussion on 12 September 1998, and subsequent follow-up discussions, concerning the conditions of, and the illnesses, diseases etc suffered by veterans during the Korean war, and subsequently. It is based upon my detailed recollections, a study of several books written on the part played by Australian nurses in the Korean war, my own detailed research for my forthcoming book and a study of the contents of your 16 KVAAM&HSC research papers.
I was born on 22.6.1929. In 1947 I commenced four years of nursing training at the Brisbane Hospital, where I received a thorough grounding in theatre and surgical work, working with some very experienced specialists, followed by one year at the Cairns Hospital where I concentrated on Tropical Medicine. During my initial training, Major General Norris, DGMS, addressed us stating that the army badly needed sisters who were well trained in surgical procedures, treatment of war casualties and burns. As a result four of us applied to be RAANC Sisters in the rank of Lieutenant. I was the only one picked. I served for 12 years in the army, with war service in Japan and Korea, and Malaya, as a Matron (Captain). After my army service I served for 10 years as Matron of the Commonwealth Rehabilitation Centre, at Maryport.
In September 1951, I joined the regular army, only recently formed, as F1/59 Lieutenant B.A.Probyn-Smith. I trained at Yeronga Camp Hospital, as a recruit for the Korean war. Then I attended Summerlea Lodge at Healesville, a medical school.
In 1952, at the age of 22, myself and another Sister and four nurses, the first nurses of the ARA, departed from Sydney by Qantas Constellation. After refuelling at Darwin we headed over the Arafura Sea. One of our engines caught fire, We jettisoned fuel and returned to Darwin, where one nursing orderly soldier went AWOL. Thence to Manila for an overnight stop, then to Iwakuni in Japan.
On arrival Major Wes Lloyd, RAAMC, told us not to eat any Japanese food as it was grown in human excreta and sprayed with a variety of chemicals.
British Commonwealth Military General Hospital, Kure :
We were given quarters in Kure, opposite the large 7 storey British Commonwealth Military General Hospital, Kure, established as such in February 1949. Kure had been a huge Japanese naval base. It, and the population housed nearby, had been severely bombed and damaged during the war. Conditions were still very primitive. We were often understaffed. We had Japanese guards and Japanese personnel, who had many endemic diseases to which our bodies had no immunity. They cleaned our quarters and prepared our meals, often with dirty fingernails. There was regular spraying and/or fogging around our quarters, inside the quarters and the kitchens and food preparation areas and food utensils to combat mosquitoes, fleas, flies, rats and other vermin. Sister Guilfoyle who was i/c often said the stench was overpowering and to " damn well spray again." A series of canals ran between many of the sites in Kure and Hiro, where the Australian troops were held as reinforcements or in holding camps. The canals were filthy, slimy, full of run-off of excreta filled paddy fields, rats and mice, and, often, the rotting bodies of humans and animals. Eradication campaigns were constantly waged against the rats and mice with toxic, poisonous baits and traps. We were forbidden to swim anywhere.
The Japanese people had many endemic diseases in their bodies, to which we had no immunity. They included TB, HTLV-1, Japanese B Encephalitis (one epidemic in 1948 killed over 3,000) and Haemorraghic Fever.
Up the hill, behind the Kure Hospital, and opposite and above our quarters was a very sordid town, with no washing facilities, no running water, where the Japanese grew fruit and vegetables in fields manured with human excreta. A terrible smell always emanated from it. It had no sewage. They dug open trenches into which they emptied their "honey buckets" of human excreta, before it was taken to the gardens for growing fruit and vegetables. Although there were wooden covers over the trenches, there were many large cracks between the boards, permitting the entry of flies and other vermin.
In Kure Hospital we often worked long hours, with limited facilities and staff, particularly when the ambulance convoys and train ambulance carriages arrived with loads of casualties, some quite horrific. As a result, when overworked and dead tired, we sometimes did not take all the normal precautions. Whenever we became sick ourselves, we avoided reporting it, as it meant a greater workload on the remaining sisters and nurses, and curtailed our times off duty, which we treasured. Thus our medical records would not reveal the true extent of whatever illnesses and diseases we, ourselves got, mitigating against later claims, to which, at that time, we gave no thought. A similar situation existed with our troops in the frontline. Ambulance convoys often disgorged 100-150 badly wounded casualties at a time, when we had to work around the clock, often without a break. The surgical ward, alone, in the hospital could hold up to 200 cases, and often did.
Many of the soldiers arrived in a filthy condition, in dirty, chemical infested clothing and boots which they had not changed, in some cases, for many weeks. Many of them were infested with lice. They were all fumigated, de-loused, had all their hair shaved or cut off, and were placed in chemically treated baths. I do not know what all the toxic chemicals and solvents used for this purpose were, but there were many, most of which have since been banned. I do know that they were all liberally dusted all over with anti-louse powder and with DDT hand dust guns, or by engine-driven dusting apparatus.
Within the wards, there were many toxic chemicals used to counter infection, cross infection and keep the wards as sterile as possible. These included a variety of bleaches, Creosol and Lysol, to name just a few. Although we should have always used gloves and protective clothing etc., and washed our hands, as, indeed, should have the doctors, between patients, this was not always possible, when we were dog tired and overworked.
Because they were not fit to be sent home on the long flights or by ship travel, badly burned and disfigured patients remained in Kure Hospital for many long months while they were treated and received skin grafts, by specialists regularly sent out from America.
In Kure Hospital were some South Korean soldiers and some Chinese POW's ( with their own endemic diseases to which we had no natural immunity). One Chinese POW, being told he was to be murdered by the Australians, went into an ablution block, cut off his tongue, his ears, his penis, and disembowled himself, before hanging himself from a shower, but fell from the shower and was found, miraculously, still alive. It was a terrible, bloody sight.
We often visited Hiroshima, the site of the dropping of the first atomic bomb, as did most servicemen, walking and digging amongst the radiated stones and rocks. Many of us took or sent samples home. In addition, on a voluntary basis, with or without official approval, we often visited the very sick Japanese in Hiroshima and surrounds, taking food, clothing, medical supplies and giving them what little comfort we could. Many lived in caves in filthy clothing, which they had worn for several years, in pitiful conditions and dire poverty. The RAAF Hospital at Iwakuni had a radiation ward for airmen suffering from radiation, and a busy radiation outpatients ward, for many years after 1945. In Tokyo, we were told the Americans had a large hospital for servicemen still suffering from radiation, contracted well after 1945.
Between Kure and Hiroshima there was a large building, in which, we were told, was housed some of the many toxic chemicals used in both Japan, and, more particularly, in Korea, during the war and for some years later.
Despite the extreme limits listed in RMA SOP's for radiation illness etc ("having been within 4 kilometres from the epicentre of the atomic bomb explosions on Hiroshima or Nagasaki within 7 days immediately following the explosion on those cities") it seems to me, and to many others, that many of the servicemen and women who served in Japan & Korea from 1945 - 1956 may well have developed illnesses and diseases from regular visits to Hiroshima.
Fruit, Vegetables, Oysters, Fish, Crustaceans, Clams, Mussels :
I am not sure where most of our fruit and vegetables, which we ate in the mess, came from, but, undoubtedly, some or many came from Japanese sources, grown in fields with human and animal excreta and sprayed with a variety of chemicals. Sometimes in our messes we ate Japanese oysters, fish, crustaceans, clams, mussels and a variety of Japanese food, prepared by the Japanese staff. But, more often, we consumed such delicacies, fairly regularly, in the many Japanese beer halls and eating places, some off limits. Many of the oysters, mussels, fish etc. were from the Inland Sea, into which discharged the many toxic chemical laden streams.
On our many trips by train to Tokyo and Iwakuni, with casualties in special train hospital sections, we often ate Japanese foodstuffs of all descriptions.
Australian Ebisu Hospital and Tokyo Army Military General Hospital :
I served in the British Commonwealth Military General Hospital in Kure from early 1952 until October 1952, then in the Australian Ebisu Camp Hospital in Tokyo for a short while, then I was transferred to Tokyo Army Military General Hospital, where we dealt mainly with the numerous American paraplegic, spinal, multiple wounds, crushed bodies, head wounds, chest wounds and other horrific casualties, intensive wards, specialist wards and isolation wards. Also, as patients in that hospital, were North Korean and South Koreans soldiers, and some civilians, all with their own endemic diseases to which we had no natural immunity. I served in that hospital for about four or five months.
The operating theatres and the wards were sprayed with a wide variety of chemicals, many of which were no doubt toxic.
British Commonwealth Communication Zone Medical Unit in Seoul, the capital of Korea :
In February or March 1953, I was transferred to the British Commonwealth Communication Zone Medical Unit, established in September 1951, in Seoul, the capital of Korea, for 3-4 months. Seoul had then been fought over four times. It was a mere shell. Bombed out buildings, no running water, no electricity. Dirt, desolation and despair everywhere. Children and families living in deplorable conditions. Destitute. Begging in the streets. The unit was a Casualty Clearing Station, for medical evacuation, usually by 86 Transport Wing, RAAF. I was placed in charge of the surgical cases. On arrival at this unit, having usually passed through Indian, Canadian, British, Belgian or American field medical units, most of the patients, on stretchers, were filthy, dirt engrained, louse ridden, many still had their weapons. They were stripped, deloused, all hair was removed, their heads were dipped and they were fumigated and dipped in chemical solutions. Toxic solvents such kerosene, metho, turps and cetrimide were used for cleaning and washing patients. There was no heating or electricity in the wards, even during the freezing winters. Often stretchers were placed side by side. To get from one end of the ward to the other to collect or deliver bed pans etc, involved stepping from one stretcher to the next, a difficult task.
Some soldiers hadn't washed for 6 weeks, or up to 3 months in the bitter winters in the frontline. Some were infested with leptospirosis and other water-borne diseases or other diseases endemic to Korea.. The aim of the unit was quick turnover, with evacuation to Japan medical facilities. The unit had no sheets, only old, often grotty blankets.
The Seoul unit was primitive. Putrid toilets and "bush" showers used by Sisters, nurses and patients were outside and consisted of hessian screens. Some staff slept on hessian palliasses. I understand that hessian is a source of Asbestosis. The camp was surrounded by rubbish and junk. The wooden lids for toilets had gaps letting in flies etc. While there we ate mostly Canadian food, including bacon, which may have been from local sources. We also had underground Australian lamb (rabbits). There was a lot of sickness in that unit. The convoys were horrific.
" It was routine to wait for the all clear siren before returning to duty when the North Koreans flew over the city (Seoul) at night on their bombing missions." ("Guns & Brooches, Australian Army Nursing from Boer War to the Gulf War," by Jan Basset, 1992, page 184).
The US Engineers camp at the back of the hospital had a wide range of toxic chemicals stored in buildings or tents.
While in Korea I visited the Canadian Field Dressing Station at Uijongbu.
Casualty Evacuation by Air :
In "Queensland Nurses, Boer War to Vietnam," by Rupert Goodman, 1985, page 260, he states that "14,900 casualties were evacuated from Korea by RAAF Dakotas between 1951 - 1956, with nursing Sisters caring for them," which gives some idea of the magnitude of the workload placed upon the various hospital facilities and their nursing staffs. These figures, of course, do not include the total of British Commonwealth forces who were killed in action or missing in action, presumed killed (1,461, including 301 Australians killed in action), of whom the bulk reside peacefully in the beautiful UN Cemetery at Pusan, which was visited by over 1 million people, including 80,000 from overseas, in 1988.
As the total of wounded in action for the British Commonwealth forces was 5,386, many of whom were treated in Korea and returned to their units, or were evacuated by many other means, it does reveal an alarmingly high number of casualties resulting from illnesses and diseases while in Korea.
Symptoms of Chemical Poisoning :
Having studied the Environmental Health Center, Dallas Texas list of 80 symptoms of chemical poisoning listed as Attachment 3 to KVAAM&HSC 7, I believe that, since the Korean war, I have suffered from at least 51 of those symptoms, from each one of the twelve different categories. In addition, I believe that I have suffered since the Korean war with many of the debilitating symptoms, illnesses and diseases listed in KVAAM&HSC 15.
Also, as a member of the KVAA Inc., whose meetings I attend regularly, and my knowledge of many of the many symptoms, illnesses and diseases suffered by so many of those veterans, and with my war experience in two wars, my 12 years as an Army Nursing Sister, and my 10 years as a Matron of a Rehabilitation Hospital, I can now recognize that many of the Koreans veterans still living are apparently suffering from a multitude of the debilitating symptoms, illnesses and diseases listed in that latter research paper, and that regular exposure to so many toxic chemicals, most now banned, even in small doses, could have caused many early deaths and, no doubt, birth defects in their offspring.
Illnesses and Diseases from the Effects of the Unusual Conditions of Severe Combat in the Korean War and Illnesses and Diseases from the Effects of Exposure to Many Endemic Diseases & Unsanitary, Unhealthy, Environmental Conditions of Japan & Korea in the Korean War :
Likewise, based upon my knowledge of many of the debilitating symptoms, illnesses and diseases suffered by so many of those veterans since returning from that war, and with my war experience in two wars, my 12 years as an Army Nursing Sister, and my 10 years as a Matron of a Rehabilitation Hospital, I can now recognise that many of the Koreans veterans still living are apparently suffering from many of the debilitating symptoms, illnesses and diseases listed in KVAAM&HSC research papers 13 and 14.
Korean Nurses - Sickness, Deaths & Cancers :
I have not kept contact with many who served with me in Japan and Korea, but there does seem to be a high attrition rate amongst them. Now that I have only recently become aware of our exposure to so many toxic chemicals and the many traumatic situations to which we had to deal with, I am not surprised. Some that readily come to mind are :
a. I developed malignant cancer of the colon in 1988, and have to have regular check-ups. I have had a partial bowel removal. I have become diabetic.
b. Eve Dowling, a lovely girl, got cancer at age 23 (?). Died very young.
c. Val Kyler - developed leukaemia, ulcers, low white cell count.
d. Patty Klinberg, developed cancer of the colon. Died last year.
e. Maxine Lakin, a personal friend, has had all sorts of sicknesses and a chronic psychiatric condition for many years.
I have never thought of claiming a disability pension.
Australian Nurses who served in Japan and Korea :
In "Guns and Brooches, Australian Army Nursing from Boer War to Gulf War," by Jan Basset, 1992, page 184, she states that "Between 1946 and the end of 1956, by which time all members of the RAANC had been withdrawn from Japan, some 142 AANS, RAANS and RAANC officers, including 30 who served in Korea, had served in Japan."
Regular Use of Toxic Chemicals etc. in the Korean War :
I cannot be absolutely certain of the regular use of each and every one of the toxic chemicals used in the Korean war, including insecticides, pesticides, herbicides, solvents, carcinogens, rodenticides, toxic pharmaceuticals and petro-chemicals.
However, based upon my more than 5 years of medical and nursing training, including one year specializing in Tropical Medicine, my 12 years as a Nursing Sister in two wars and my 10 years as Matron of a Commonwealth Rehabilitation Hospital, together with my several months of experience gained in Seoul and visits to units in 1 Commonwealth Division, plus my recent study of research paper KVAAM&HSC 5, and my re-reading of the "Handbook of Army Health 1950", I am prepared to state, that, to the best of my knowledge, I support the contents of that research paper which lists about 160 toxic chemicals as being used in the Korean war, many used simultaneously.
Endemic Diseases and Unusual & Unsatisfactory, Unhealthy, Environmental Conditions in Japan & Korea in the Korean War :
Likewise, for the same reasons, I am prepared to support the contents of research paper KVAAM&HSC 4.
Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) :
Despite, MCS, apparently not yet having an ICD code number, there seems from over about 40 or more years acceptance of it as a disease, that such regular exposures to so many toxic chemicals, including insecticides, pesticides, herbicides, rodenticides, carcinogens, solvents, toxic pharmaceuticals and petro-chemicals and Radon gas can result in the DISEASE of MCS.
In this regard I have noted, in particular, all the detail in Appendix II to Attachment 3 of KVAAM&HSC 6 re RECOGNITION of MCS as a DISEASE, provided by Dr Jean A. Munro,MB,BS,MRCS,LRCP,FAAEM,DIBEM,MACOEM, Medical Director, Breakspear Hospital, Belswains Lane, Hempel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, HP3 9HP, United Kingdom and Consultant Physician, Fachkrankenhaus Nordfriesland, Bredstedt, Germany.
To ignore chemical sensitivities and MCS in these studies, merely because MCS has no ICD number, would, in my opinion, be a tragic medical and historical mistake, not only for the Korean veterans and their offspring, but for all Australians and the future of mankind generally, particular as it was NOT considered in the various Vietnam studies.
In conclusion, may I state that I have known Allan Limburg since I first met him as an inpatient in 1953. I have had close contact with him in recent years while he has worked so tirelessly for a Mortality and Health Study for Korean veterans. I have read the nearly 900 pages of his research papers sent to the Study committees established by the Minister for Veterans' Affairs. Their contents have been a real revelation to me and are indicative of the meticulous, detailed research he has done and continues to do, on behalf of the forgotten veterans of the forgotten war.
Because of his disabilities, particularly that of Multiple Chemical Sensitivity and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, such a great effort has taken a significant toll on his health. He has done it, for no personal gain, against, at times, much animosity and opposition. I can only hope that all his detailed, balanced, dispassionate work bears fruit for all those veterans and their families, who so richly deserve it.
A particular revelation was the contents of the statements from many doctors, world wide, who specialise in these matters, on medical matters which are so important to both present and future generations, but are so little known, not only by the veterans themselves, nor by the public, but by doctors generally.
Attachments (Not included here) :
1. a. Photo, Self, 24.4.1952, Kure.
b. First Nurses & Sisters of the ARA to go to Japan, 1952.
2. a. Lieutenant Peg Nicholson exploring ruins of Hiroshima, 1951.
b. Canadian Field Dressing Station, Ui Jong Bu, Korea, 1953.
3. a. Self laying wreath at Anzac Square Brisbane 1954.
b. AANS with BCOF, Japan, 1948.
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