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Keeping her memories alive: Pamela MaCleod (nee Whitehead) Red Cross nurse Korean War.


July 27, is the 64th anniversary of the Korean Armistice Agreement. To commemorate this month, July's Memory Project profile features Pamela MacLeod (nee Whitehead), who served as a Red Cross nurse during the Korean War. Pamela MacLeod was a member of the Australian Red Cross who served from 1948 until 1955. She was trained in diversional therapy (today known as occupational therapy) for a year before choosing to serve overseas. Pamela spent six months in Korea. Her duties included basic nursing care, corresponding with military officials regarding the fate of their charges, and helping to keep her patients distracted and comfortable. Her memories of meeting prisoners of war as they were released, and of receiving a thank you letter from one of her patients, are particularly poignant. The following transcript has been edited for length and clarity. It is available on The Memory Project website (

I HAD BEEN WORKING for the Australian Red Cross for a number of years. I took what was then called a diversional therapy course, which was a year long. This was before the occupational therapy course was in the universities and it was the Red Cross who offered the equivalent.

I worked at an Australian air force hospital in Laverton and was posted from there to the field unit and asked if I would go to Japan and Korea. Even though I was a couple of years underage--they liked people to be 25 and I was 23--I'd had the experience and I think they felt I wasn't going to run amuck with all (those men up there. I was posted up to the unit in Japan and Korea. I was only in Japan for a week to meet the commanding officer and the matron and be kitted out, and then I went over to Korea and stayed there for about five or six months.


The occupational therapy went by the wayside; there were so many other things going on. The wounded would come in without anything. We made sure that they had kits of shaving gear, soap and things like that. If they were going to be medevac'd to Japan, we would make sure they were comfortable and had everything they needed. Then we would go out with them to the airport and see them on to the medevac planes back to Japan. If they weren't able to write, I would write letters to their families. A lot of the commanding officers didn't know where their men had gone after a battle, so I would write to the commanding officers and let them know where they were and what was happening to them.


It was a matter of filling in where anything was needed. Of course, you had to visit the patients every day, including the ones that were ambulatory. And that took up a lot of time. I would run games for them; they loved Bingo--anything to take their minds off things. I'd also read to them if they weren't able to read for themselves.

When there was accommodation at the 25th Field Dressing Station I was posted up there and stayed for a number of months. I remember it was all khaki and fairly dowdy; I asked the quartermaster if he could give me some paint and a paintbrush and I told him I'd do the painting. He said no, so I went out and I managed to scrounge some green paint and painted the whole thing with a shaving brush--it looked a lot better.

One of the things that was really interesting was when I was involved in the prisoner of war exchange. We didn't know which prisoners of war would come out each day and you'd keep hoping that some of your British Commonwealth ones would come. There were a lot of Americans at first, and then the British Commonwealth ones started coming out. We spent our time at the 121st Evacuation Hospital, just waiting to see who came out. One day, one of the Americans called out to me, "You'll be happy tomorrow Oz!" I went over to ask him why and he said, "Some of your guys are coming out tomorrow." They were just arriving in Munsan-ni, he told me. So I went up to Munsan-ni the next day and was able to meet them coming out.

The Gloucestershire Regiment was hit very badly, very early In the war and so they'd been In prison for a long time. And I met them coming out. When they left the North Koreans, or the Chinese, they were given little books of remembrance with a cloth embroidered with a dove and a berry; at least, it's supposed to be a berry--but every time I look at it I think it looks like blood. It makes me wonder if they meant it's a peace dove but we could come back again, you know?

The prisoners of war who came out had missed the coronation of the Queen. So every group was shown the coronation. I must have seen it 100 times.

I remember one Sunday morning, one of the doctors had heard that somebody was making decent ice cream downtown. We were about a half hour's walk away, so he and I walked down to get an ice cream each and found ourselves in the middle of one of the student riots. They're very big on student riots in Korea. Even today. Anyway, we got our ice creams and got out of there very quickly. They used to have a dance at the Chosun Hotel which was the best hotel in Seoul, run by the Americans. They always had a big dance on Saturday night, so when things were quiet, a group of you could go over there and relax. All the different messes had a club or something like that as well. The American clubs were quite different to our messes. They were much better furnished for one thing. And they used to play Bingo in them and often they'd have somebody playing a piano. Ours were pretty bare bones, really.


I was a non-drinker and one of the things that I've always remembered was how much they respected us--nobody ever tried to put anything In my drinks. I think that says it all, really. Nobody ever made passes. I think the soldiers just respected us for what we were doing. The letter that I had from this young soldier, says part of it I think too: "Dear Pam, just a few lines to let you know I'm fine and visiting for the day, waiting for the day of going back home on leave. Pam, I really must thank you and your Red Cross for the very good work you are doing for us boys as we come through your stations, on our way home from Korea."


Caption: Some of MacLeod's colleagues in Korea, 1953. From left to right: Flora Baptist (Canadian Red Cross), Pamela MacLeod, Say Bury (Royal Australian Army Nursing Service), Judith (who served in the British Army's Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps). (PAMELA MACLEOD)

Caption: OPPOSITE PAGE, TOP: Pamela MacLeod and her Canadian Red Cross colleague Flora Baptist enjoy a picnic in the Korean countryside. (PAMELA MACLEOD)

Caption: ABOVE: Recently released Commonwealth prisoners of war watching a newsreel of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in Korea. (PAMELA MACLEOD)

Caption: RIGHT: Australian prisoner of war John Meanly in 1953.

Caption: LEFT: A piece of embroidery given to Australian soldier John Meanley after being imprisoned in a Chinese prisoner of war camp. He gave this to Pamela MacLeod after his release as he did not want to be reminded of his time in the camp. (PAMELA MACLEOD)
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Publication:Esprit de Corps
Date:Jul 1, 2015
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