by Rene Cutforth, London, Allan
Wingate. 1952. Pages 40-45.
[Rene Cutforth was the B.B.C.s
special correspondent in Korea from the beginning of December
1950 until the end of July 1951.]
In the dark afternoon a refugee child in rags leaned against the
wall of a house in the village by the Imjin and wailed weakly.
He was a stray. The people in the house sat tight and hoped
he would go away: it would be fatal to open the door. They
would have him for life, and he was no relative of theirs.
We did nothing either, we pushed on.
At dawn Padre Blaisdell dressed himself in
the little icy room at the top of the orphanage in Seoul.
He put on his parka and an extra sweater, for the Siberian wind
was fluting in the corners of the big grey barrack of the school
which he had shamed the Government into lending him. The
water in his basin was solid ice. His fifty-fourth and last
Dawn Patrol was going to be an exceptionally unpleasant one.
His boots clicked along the stone flags in
the freezing passages which led to the main door. The truck
was waiting and on the snow-covered gravel in the yellow-grey
light of sunrise the two Korean nurses stood as usual, ready for
duty---pig-tailed adolescents, their moon faces as passive and
kindly as cows.
They climbed into the truck and gave the driver
his instructions. Down University Street and along the tram
lines to the portentous South Gate, six tiled roofs high and solid
as a fort; along Black Market Alley and down towards the river
through the silent city where the first groups of refugees were
only now beginning to stir, gathering their wraps and bundles
about them for the days trek.
By the time he reached Riverside Road the Padre
had passed through the normal first stage of reaction to the wind,
that daily renewed indignation that so much malice could exist:
he was content now in his open vehicle to lie back and admire
the effortless skill of the winds razor as it slashed him
to the bone.
Theres a dingy alley off Riverside Street,
narrow, and strewn with trodden straw and refuse which would stink
if the cold allowed it life enough. This alley leads to
the arches of the railway bridge across the Han River. At
the entrance to the alley, one of Seouls slum-dwellers,
a woman, tired, dilapidated and old at twenty-eight, stood waiting
for the truck. She was a unit in the padres intelligence
corps, and when she had given her information to the nurses, she
received 500 won one shilling. She had risen at dawn
and waited half an hour in the wind for this fee.
The trucks wheels crackled over the frozen
ordure in the alley, passed from it down a sandy track and halted
at the second arch of the bridge; it was boarded up on the far
side, and in front of the boarding lay a pile of filthy rice sacks,
clotted with dirt and stiff as boards. The padre removed
the top four layers of the pile and revealed a terrible sight.
It was a child, practically naked and covered
with filth. It lay in a pile of its own excrement in a sort of
nest it had scratched out among the rice sacks. Hardly able
to raise itself on an elbow, it still had energy enough to draw
back cracked lips from bleeding gums and snarl and spit at the
padre like an angry kitten. Its neck was not much thicker
than a broom handle and it had the enormous pot-belly of starvation.
With its inadequate neck and huge goggle eyes, it looked like
some frightful fledgling disturbed in the nest.
Gingerly handling this appalling object, which
continued weakly to scratch and bite, though it uttered no sound,
the padre advanced with it in his arms towards the truck.
There, the Korean nurses wrapped it in blankets and contrived
to get it to swallow a little warm milk which they poured from
a vacuum flask. Then the padre gave the truck driver another
address, and the Dawn Patrol moved off to another assignation.
At eleven oclock that morning, when the
padre returned to the orphanage, his truck was full.
They are the real victims of the war,
the padre said in his careful, diffident, colourless voice.
Nine-tenths of them were lost or abandoned in the refugee
columns. No one will take them in unless they are relations,
and we have 800 of these children at the orphanage. Usually
they recover in quite a short time, but the bad cases tend to
become very silent children, even when they have grown sturdy
again. They dont care to mix with the others.
I have a little boy who has said nothing for three months now
but Yes and No.
Korea had entirely reconstructed Padre Blaisdell.
He had been doing the ordinary job of an army chaplain until the
day when his unit had had to leave behind their Korean mascot
a stray child such as was picked up at one time or another
by every unit in Korea, overfed and utterly spoiled by the soldiers.
This boy, when the time came for him to leave his indulgent foster-parents,
the G.I.s, had been terror-stricken. Screaming and trembling,
he had been removed by a Korean couple whom the G.I.s were paying
to look after him. The scene had lit a small fire in the
padre, which in a few weeks was to consume him. He became
obsessed by the fate of the children. He would go out on
roads and watch the refugee columns for hours. He tried
to talk to them through interpreters. He formed associations
with chaplains of the air force and the navy. Finally, he
abandoned other work to save the children. He suddenly became
an irresistible force, sparing neither himself nor anybody else.
The United Nations authorities capitulated to him first.
He flew about the country organizing collections from Service
messes and canteens. Money rolled in and food and clothes.
Soon he was bullying the Korean Government for an orphanage and
a rice ration. He got both. He enlisted help among
the Koreans, and combed Seoul for the lost children, and soon
his fame spread even among the villages, and conservative farmers
in their grass-thatched huts among the mountains would travel
by ox cart into town with strays they had picked up in the ice-bound
ditches around their fields.
This was the padres fifty-fourth Dawn
Patrol and it would be the last, for the Chinese were now only
fifteen miles away and the air of Seoul City was shaken nightly
by artillery fire it was time to evacuate the orphans.
Outrageous bullying on the part of this diffident
tyrant of a padre had produced a promise that a Korean Government
ship would put in at Inchon, the port for Seoul, and take off
all the orphans to the south coast island of Cheju Do; inexorable
pressure had convinced the local commander of an American army
unit that he had nothing better to do with twenty trucks and drivers
than to ferry the orphans from their barracks to the port of Inchon.
All this was due to happen the next morning,
and already the nurses and Korean porters were humping great loads
of food and blankets from the store rooms into the passages whence
the files of orphans could transport them piecemeal to the trucks.
Page and I went up early next morning to the
orphanage to see them off. It was snowing hard, for the
Siberian wind had stopped and the churring of the wind-screen
wipers of a line of army trucks which squatted on the gravel outside
the building made the only sound in the world except for the very
faintest reverberations from the guns to the north.
The orphans, divided into a half-dozen groups
according to age, were sitting in their rooms round the sultry
American tent stoves whose pipes led out the windows. They
were all dressed up for the journey in cut-down battle tunics,
red and white football stockings, shirts, scarves, mens
long-john pants and every variety of odd garment. They were
merry enough, except in the hospital ward, which I couldnt
stand for more than a minute or two. This was the home of
the latest arrivals, the silent ones who stared ahead or knuckled
with minute fists a perpetual belly-ache, of the little boy who
held his hand across his eyes all day except at meal-times, of
the girl who had said nothing for a month but, mechanically, every
two minutes: Im cold: Im hungry.
When all was ready they filed down the passages
clasping rag dolls and balls made of string and rice straw, singing
the brighter hymns with hilarious gusto. Korean children
are disciplined to perform tasks much earlier than ours.
A little girl of four is perfectly competent to look after her
brother of two: she can wash him, change his shoes, dress
him and be altogether responsible for him, and in these columns
of children, responsibility was graded right down to the toddlers.
Even a tot of two years old had something to take care of.
The nurses bundled them into the trucks, climbed
in themselves, two to a truck, and arranged the clean rice straw
mats like umbrellas over each cluster of heads. Each orphan
sat on his own little refugees bundle. They set off
into the snow, piping Jesus loves me with remarkable
spirit and vigour.
I had a few words with the padre. Suppose
the ship doesnt arrive at Inchon? I asked.
Then I shall stay at Inchon until it
But theres nothing left of Inchon.
Its all ruined.
There are people there. They will
help. Very few people are really bad, said the padre;
they need reminding, thats all. Given a few
reminders, they will help. If necessary, we will camp in
the ruins. We cant stay here.
We said goodbye to him as he moved out in the
last truck. I didnt hear the rest of the story until
Naturally enough, the Korean Government ship
did not arrive in Inchon. I dont suppose Padre Blaisdell
had any idea of the number of bribes it would have taken to give
the authorities a real interest in seeing that it got there.
They did camp in the ruins, and three of the
orphans caught pneumonia as they sat around great open fires at
night in the roofless houses.
But the padre still had a few reminders
to give out. This time he reminded the Air Force.
Four days later, a convoy of twenty air force trucks shifted the
orphans to Suwon, where they were crammed into a dozen gigantic
troop-carrying aeroplanes and flown to the southern port of Pusan,
screaming with delight, I am told, during the whole trip.
They were embarked for Cheju Do, and there they are to this day.
But I have yet to report the padres most
fascinating triumph. Unfortunately, I have it only on hearsay.
While at Inchon, I am informed, he successfully reminded
a platoon of Korean policemen of their better natures to such
a tune that they gave up their beds for the orphans. They
were good men, they were good men, the padre said simply.
- end of chapter -