Was it the irresistible romance of adventure or the thrill of danger that lured 20-year-old Edgar ‘Eddie’ Wright to volunteer for the assisted migration scheme to Australia that guaranteed travel and citizenship on the condition of service with the Royal Australian Regiment in the Korean War or was it the opportunity to escape the austerity of post-war Britain?
Anyone who has been attracted to a soldier’s life in peacetime must do so for intensely personal reasons. For Wright he found a home on active service.
Edgar Wright was the third son of William and Florence Wright of Woodhouse Crescent, Trench Wellington, Shropshire, England. Born at the height of the Great Depression he was educated during the Second World War and conscripted into the British Army in his late teens. A good soldier Wright, who had served in the British Army’s Parachute Regiment, was looking for another challenge at the same time that the Australian Army was desperate for trained soldiers to maintain its commitment to the war in Korea.
Private Edgar Wright was one of thousands of British soldiers who signed on at Australia House in London for service in the Australian Army in the early 1950s. These recruits can be identified by their distinctive service numbers beginning with either “3/10 _ _ _” or “2/10 _ _ _“, depending on the military district into which they attested on arrival. The prefix “3/” indicated enlistment in the 3rd Military District (Victoria) and “2/” the 2nd (NSW).
Edgar Wright disembarked in Melbourne from RMS Otranto on 17 July 1951. Reporting for duty he was given the number 3/10530 and listed his mother, “Mrs F Wright, 113 Woodhouse Crescent Trench Wellington, Shropshire, England” as his next of kin, his father having died in 1946.
Private Wright’s military skills were immediately apparent. He was permitted to wear his parachute wings and qualified as a signaller. Corporal Ron Cashman MM, a fellow digger who was to serve with Eddie Wright on two tours in Korea, joked “[H]e got the job as platoon radioman because [Captain] Brian Falvey knew the Chinese would never understand his accent. We didn’t ourselves most of the time.’” With little more than two months training he was posted to the 3rd Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment (3RAR) on active service in the Korean War.
Private Wright arrived in Korea on 25 October 1951 and was sent to B Company. 3RAR had been in Korea for 13 months and was almost continuously in action. The battalion earned the US Distinguished (later retitled ‘Presidential’) Unit Citation for their defence of the Kapyong Valley in April and was recovering from Operation Commando during which it captured the vital features Hill 355 (Kowang San) and Hill 317 (Maryang San). Reduced by battle casualties, and with many of the originals rotating home after their 12 or 13 month tours, the battalion was rebuilding itself in the trenches and underground bunkers around Kojanha-ri. On their right was the 1st US Cavalry Division holding Heartbreak Ridge.
Rain turned to snow as winter approached but a succession of battalion commanders insisted Australians must dominate the no man’s land between the front lines held by United Nations Command from the south and Communist forces from the north. For the next two years Private Eddie Wright became a participant in the deadly hide and seek of night patrols to capture prisoners, gather intelligence or ambush the enemy.
In the summer of 1952 3RAR was holding the line in the Samichon Valley. The forward defence lines of the opposing sides wound in and out of the valleys and ridges of the tortured landscape. In some areas, enemies watched each other over open sights, in others bunkers and strong points were concealed by hills and folds in the ground. Landmines and booby traps added an inhuman threat.
In the second week of August, 3RAR was ordered to capture an enemy for interrogation. B Company was given the task of making their way into the enemy position and snatching a Chinese soldier. The mission was codenamed Operation Buffalo.
At dusk the three platoons of B Company made their way across no man’s land. Artillery and tanks gave them covering fire. As soon as the barrage lifted the company attacked. The enemy position was complex and the Chinese unit well-armed, brave and aggressive. The Australians fought their way into the Chinese trenches. The Chinese counter attacked. Men tackled each other in the maze of trenches, in the dark, with grenades and sub machineguns, while the Chinese called down mortar fire onto their own positions, blasting friend and foe alike. With casualties mounting B Company was forced to withdraw.
Operation Buffalo cost B Company one killed, twenty-four wounded and two missing. The company commander was awarded the Military Cross, a platoon commander the US Bronze Star, and Military Medals to three of his men. They had killed at least twelve Chinese soldiers and wounded many more.
For his role in Operation Buffalo Pte Eddie Wright was awarded a well-earned Mention in Despatches (MiD). The recommendation for his MiD speaks for itself:
“Private Wright has been a platoon signaller in B Company and as such has given outstanding service throughout the period under review [1 July 1952-28 February ‘53].
On the night of 13 August 1952 his platoon took part in a raid onto an enemy held feature. During the assault Private Wright took a prominent part in the hand-to-hand fighting with the enemy and was subsequently himself responsible for the successful evacuation of the casualties. In spite of these difficult circumstances, Private Wright continued to maintain wireless communication with company headquarters, clearly passing and receiving messages which were largely instrumental in bringing effective neutralising fire to bear on the enemy positions.
Wright’s devotion to duty and disregard for his personal safety on this occasion greatly assisted in the success of the operation.
Both before and subsequent to this action Private Wright has been signaller on many patrols including a number carried out deep into enemy held territory. On all such occasions Private Wright’s coolness and marked ability to maintain efficient communication even when under fire at close quarters, has been a source of inspiration to all those who have come into contact with him.”
Pte Eddie Wright remained in Korea for the rest of the war and during the garrison period after the armistice to 9 November 1954. He served a probably unique total of 1,112 days on active service in Korea. “Mr. Cashman said Mr. Wright, who served as a radio operator, "hardly ever missed a battle" in the three years he spent in the war.”
On his return from Korea Wright settled in Sydney. In 1955 he married Thelma Josephine Ward. Married life in the regiment comes with an awareness that, when war threatens, separation is inevitable. For Eddie and Thelma, the threat became a reality on 2 September 1957 when 3RAR replaced 2RAR on a two-year deployment to Malaya during the Emergency.
Britain declared a state of emergency in Malaya in 1948 as a result of rising acts of terrorism within the Chinese community. By the mid-1950s a British program of protected villages and harsh reprisals by the British Army had forced the terrorists to divide into small bands and retreat into the deep jungle or mountains in the north. Hunting these elusive groups was the principal task allocated to the battalions of the Royal Australian Regiment during their long tours. 3RAR was particularly active around the Upper Perak district and Kuala Kansar. Most of the operations consisted of platoon sized elements of the battalion tracking suspected terrorists and, whenever possible, setting ambushes. Eddie Wright went to Malaya a corporal and was promoted sergeant during his tour. This may have been a temporary rank while he served as an instructor with Malay local forces.
On 1 November 1959 Corporal Eddie Wright returned home to Thelma at 66a Washington Street, Bexley NSW. In 1960 Britain declared the state of Emergency in Malaya ended.
In the early 1960s 3RAR may have been at home but the diggers studied the international situation with anticipation. There were ongoing deployments to the British Commonwealth Far East Strategic Reserve. Political instability in Indochina was growing and, to Australia’s immediate north, Indonesia was taking an increasingly aggressive stance toward its neighbours. In June 1962 a group of Australian Army instructors were sent to Vietnam to join the US Military Assistance Command and at Christmas the Indonesians backed an attempted coup in the north Borneo state of Brunei. Although British troops crushed the coup Indonesia perceived weakening British power in the region.
Since the end of the Emergency the British had been fostering the transition to an independent Federation of Malaysia. In 1963 the Indonesian President Sukarno saw an opportunity to destabilise emerging Malaysia for political and territorial gain. His senior ministers declared a policy of Confrontation (Konfrontasi) in which armed groups from Indonesia launched terror attacks on targets on the Malay peninsula.
In the middle of the year 3RAR deployed to Malaysia as part of the Far East Strategic Reserve. They immediately began counterterrorist training. The Indonesian threat increased. 1964, Sukarno declared, would be the year of living dangerously. For Cpl Eddie Wright it meant more jungle patrols with live ammunition.
East of the Malay Peninsula is the large island of Borneo. Most of it is Indonesian-owned Kalimantan but along the north shore are the former British colonies of Sarawak, Brunei and Sabah. As Confrontation intensified Indonesian terrorists attacked across the border into Sarawak and Sabah. It was increasingly obvious that the attackers were not armed militia but rather well equipped and trained elements of the Indonesian army. British and Gurkha units based themselves in the north Borneo states to combat the raids. Battalions of the Royal Australian Regiment joined them.
On 9 March 1965 Cpl Eddie Wright and the rest of 3RAR left Singapore bound for Kuching in Borneo. They went back into the jungle.
The battalion lost men to landmines but rarely had opportunities to catch the Indonesian infiltrators on the Sarawak side of the border. Eventually a practical decision was made to allow cross-border sorties by British and Commonwealth units to hit the Indonesians in their bases inside Kalimantan. These covert and deniable missions were given the codename Claret Operations. (Claret Operations remained classified until 1974.)
3RAR participated in thirty-two Claret Operations in the final months of their tour during Confrontation. Some of the most successful were ambushes staged on the banks of the Sungei Koemba River.
I wonder if Cpl Eddie Wright, the veteran professional infantryman, made mental comparisons evaluating patrolling in the jungles of Southeast Asia with patrolling the frozen hills of Korea?
In 1966 Indonesia erupted into chaos with the PKI uprising. President Sukarno was taken into protective custody by General Suharto and Confrontation came to an end.
On 28 July 1965 3RAR completed its tour in Borneo. On 3 June 1966 310530 Corporal Edgar Wright accepted his discharge. After 15 years of very active service it was time for him to hand back his weapon and take off his uniform. Eddie Wright had had enough of war.
THE MEMORIAL'S WRIGHT COLLECTION
Medal group comprises the following four official medals and one unofficial medal:
- The Korea Medal, 1st type, with the Oakleaf device indicating that the recipient is Mentioned in Despatches on the ribbon. The Korea Medal has the laureated bust of Queen Elizabeth II, facing right, on the obverse and on the reverse is the image of Hercules armed with a dagger and using his left arm and left leg holding Hydra. The word “KOREA” is in the exergue. The medal was sanctioned by King George VI in 1951 but his death meant that Queen Elizabeth II’s head was used on the obverse the medal. The medal is impressed around the rim in large capitals with Private Edgar Wright’s number “3/10530” initial and name “E WRIGHT”.
The Korea War medal is made of cupro-nickel and was designed by Mrs Mary Gillick CBE, the reverse by E Carter Preston.
The medal is suspended from a yellow ribbon, representing Asia, with two pale blue stripes representing the United Nations Command.
- The United Nations Korea service medal. This medal is made of bronze and has the symbol of the United Nations, the Globe framed by a wreath, on the obverse. On the reverse is embossed text “For Service in/Defence of the/Principles of the/Charter of the/United Nations“. The medal is suspended from a ribbon of thin vertical blue and white stripes, nine blue and eight white, representing the blue-and-white colours of the UN flag. The medal has a single bar “KOREA”.
The medal is impressed around the rim in large capitals with Private Edgar Wright’s number “3/10530” initial and name “E WRIGHT”. While Britain did not name the UN Korea medals awarded to their service personnel Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa did.
- General Service Medal (1918 – 1962). The General Service Medal, 6th Issue (1953– 1964) has the crowned bust of Queen Elizabeth II on the obverse and on the reverse is the standing winged figure of Victory placing a wreath on the emblem of the two services (army and air force). The medal is made of silver and was designed by E Carter Preston. The ribbon is purple with a central green stripe.
This medal was instituted by Army Order Number 4, 19 January 1923, “for service in minor warlike operations” for the army or the air force. This medal has the bar “MALAYA” for which Cpl Edgar Wright qualified because of his service with 3RAR from 1957 to 1959 during the Emergency (1948 – 60). The medal is impressed around the rim in large capitals with Corporal Edgar Wright’s number “310530” initial and name “E WRIGHT”.
- Campaign Service Medal (1962-) named the General Service Medal (1962-2007) in some official documents. The Campaign Service Medal was instituted under the Ministry of Defence Order No.61, 6 October 1964, to supersede both the Naval General Service Medal 1915 and the General Service Medal 1918 (for Army and RAF). The medal is made of cupro-nickel and has the crowned bust of Queen Elizabeth II on the obverse. On the reverse is a wreath of oak framing the words “FOR / CAMPAIGN / SERVICE” with St Edward’s Crown above. Designed by T H Paget OBE it is suspended on a purple ribbon with green edges.
This medal has the bars “MALAY PENISULA” and “BORNEO” for which Corporal Edgar Wright qualified because of his service with 3RAR from 1963 to 1965 in defending the Malaysian peninsula and on operations in north western Borneo during the Confrontation with Indonesia. The medal is impressed around the rim in large, san-serif capitals with Cpl Edgar Wright’s number “310530” initial and name “E. WRIGHT”.
- The Infantry Frontline Service Medal is an unofficial award. An initiative by the 2/12 Battalion Association the medal became popular with veterans seeking to identify that they had served in a combat, rather than a support, role during their war service. The medal was made by AJ Parkes of Brisbane. It is suspended from a ribbon that is half yellow and half green representing the colours of Australia as well as suggesting the colours of desert and jungle each with a thin dissecting band of red representing the Army. At the height of their popularity well over 5000 were minted and purchased by former infantrymen. The name of the recipient is engraved on the reverse. Examples sold by the 2/12 Battalion Association insisted that the purchaser must prove active service in an infantry unit.
That Eddie Wright purchased this unofficial medal for himself suggests that he wanted to be recognised as a combat soldier.
The medals compliment the earlier collection that include Eddie Wright’s US pattern military issue arctic parka and his battle dress jacket with corporal’s stripes, parachute wings and cloth Royal Australian Regiment shoulder titles.
Battle dress was a style of uniform adopted by the British Army in the late 1930s. Australia’s military forces maintained service dress through the Second World War and only adopted battle dress with the creation of the Australian Regular Army between 1948 and 1950. Wright’s battle dress jacket has his medal ribbon bar above the breast pocket including his Korea Medal with metal MiD oakleaf, UN Korea Medal, GSM, and CSM ribbons.
On the sleeves of Wright’s battle dress are the paired chevrons indicating his rank of corporal. On the right sleeve above the corporal’s chevrons is his parachute qualification badge, a stylised parachute between two outstretched wings.
Higher up on both sleeves are square formation signs of the 1st Infantry Brigade Group. The badge design comprises crossed swords above a boomerang in yellow on a red shield. Above the formation signs are the framed rectangles of blue ribbon that are the badges of the US Distinguished Unit Citation (since 1966 known as the US Presidential Unit Citation). 3RAR earned this honour for their heroic defence of the Kapyong valley in Korea between 23 and 24 April 1951. Soldiers of the battalion still wear the badge with honour however today it is worn above the right breast pocket, no longer on the sleeve.
At the top of each sleeve Wright’s jacket has embroidered unit titles. These cloth titles are a curious aspect of the jacket as they are of the type worn in the 1950s but have been modified. That pattern comprises the regimental title “ROYAL AUSTRALIAN / REGIMENT” inside a border, all in white, on a red woollen inverted crescent. In the early 1960s changed dress regulations removed the border. On his jacket Wright has trimmed the boarder from his shoulder titles rather than replace them with a new set of titles. It is an unusual and interesting personal adaptation.
Was Eddie suggesting the longevity of his service or was it simply that the battalion quartermaster store had run out of the new pattern titles?
*Hayward et al British Battles and Medals, Spink, London, 2006, is the definitive reference on British and Commonwealth campaign medals.
**Johnson, Clive Australians Awarded; A Comprehensive Reference for Military & Civilian Awards, Decoration & Medals to Australians since 1772, Rennicks Publications, 2015, has a useful section on the unofficial Australian Front-Line Service Medal.
 Macklin, Robert & Peter Thompson Keep Off the Skyline: The story of Ron Cashman and the Diggers in Korea, John Wiley & Sons Australia, Ltd., Queensland, 2004, p 112.
 For a full account of Operation Buffalo see O’Neill, Prof Robert Australia in the Korean War 1950-1953 Vol II; Combat Operations AWM & AGPS, Canberra, 1985, pp 248-51.
 The National Archives, UK reference WO 373/118/51.
 Research on Wright’s deployments during the Malayan Emergency and Confrontation with Indonesia has been provided by Perth-based medal researcher Steve Danaher using the card index and register created by the Australian Central Army Records Office in the 1960s.
 Edwards, Prof Peter (ed) THE OFFICIAL HISTORY OF AUSTRALIA'S INVOLVEMENT IN SOUTHEAST ASIAN CONFLICTS 1948-1975 various volumes. In this case - Jeffrey Grey and Peter Dennis, Emergency & Confrontation: Australian Military Operations in Malaya and Borneo 1950-1966 Allen & Unwin in association with the Australian War Memorial, Sydney, 1996.
 The Mention in Despatches device changed from multi-leaf design to an oak leaf in 1943 and was backdated to 1920. As a result, there is a distinctive difference between Mention in Despatches device used during the Great War and that awarded from the Second World War until the loss of the Imperial honours system by the Australian government from the mid-1970s.
 Joslin EC et al British Battles and Medals Spink, London, 1988, pp 259-60.
 Ibid, pp 261-64.
 Johnson, Clive Australians Awarded, op. cit., p 708.