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Ernest Holden

Ernest Holden

Private, Australian Army



Private Ernest Robert Holden was just 20 when he deployed to Korea with the 2nd Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (2RAR) between March to May 1953. During the war, he was wounded in a minefield while trying to rescue injured mate Corporal Jack Ashe, who is still missing in action. Mr. Holden is passionate about aviation and makes model aircraft as a hobby.


Click on images to enlarge.

Photography by Tae Yun. Courtesy of the Consulate General of the Republic of Korea in Sydney.

There was no way that Ernest (Ernie) Holden was going to join the Army, until an advertisement in the paper sparked his sense of adventure.

Ernie started life in Paddington and Surry Hills in Sydney before he was adopted by Alice and George Holden. He grew up in Normanhurst and has vivid memories of Sydney during the Second World War. 

As a young man, he tried his hand at delivering telegrams and as an apprentice printer before the monotony of that trade became too tedious for him.

In 1951, he promised friends and acquaintances that if he was called up for National Service, he'd just disappear into the bush. About a year after that, he saw an advertisement in the Sydney Morning Herald for a new role that would take him across Australia and overseas.

Ernie signed up for K Force, the Australian contingent of forces deployed to the Korean Peninsula following the invasion by North Korea. After basic training at centres across Australia, he began his trip to the battlefields of the Korean War.

In early December of 1952, he set off to Japan. The first stopover was in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. Ernie still remembers this flight fondly, even if it was at this point that the fear for what was coming started to set in.

"Oh, it was great! I woke up off the coast of New Guinea on the Friday morning and looking out the window at the sky. Beautiful! I think often of that first flight. I was thinking, 'Oh, this is beautiful!' and all of a sudden dread come over me. 'I wonder if I'll ever come back?'"

Ernie also stopped in Guam before arriving in Iwakuni, Japan. He had to ferry across to Kure where he was taken to a nearby training camp. After a month of running up and down the mountains to build strength, Ernie went to Haramura, a Second World War Japanese training camp. He was there for a month completing battle training and learning how to fire 2-inch rockets and mortars. The conditions were much different to what he was used to in Sydney.

"At Haramura, it snowed and for many of us, that was the first time we'd ever seen snow in our lives. Me, I thought it was great, but my mates all hated it. When the snow was deep, we used to slide down on our packs, and that was great fun."

After Haramura, Ernie travelled by boat to Korea. He arrived in Busan and spent another month training before taking a train to the front line. Ernie was stationed about 20 miles north of the 38th Parallel, the border between North and South Korea.

"I was on the front lines for three and a half weeks. It was no man's land during the day. I went on patrol at night. I never did run into any Chinese soldiers. They knew Ernie was coming so they'd get right out of the way!"

On 28 May 1953, between 12am and 1am, mortars started raining down. Another patrol couldn't find their way back, so at 2:00am Ernie was one of many sent to find out where the Chinese were sneaking up from.

"Australians weren’t issued with bulletproof vests. We were grabbing them from a pile as we went out and I was at the end of the line, and all the bulletproof vests had been picked up. So I went out on patrol without one."

Ernie was looking for his friends, Jack Barden, Bob Hipworth, and Jack Ashe. By 5.30am, nearly daylight, he still couldn't find anyone. No man's land shouldn't be patrolled in daylight but Ernie went back on the frontline in search of his friends.

"We went out and we found Jack Barden and Bob Hipworth who were both injured by Chinese machine guns. We got them back inside, and they said Jack Ashe was still missing somewhere in a minefield."

Maury, a friend of Jack Ashe’s, was determined to help in the search. Ernie went with him back into the broad daylight of no man's land.

"I had a 303 rifle and two hand grenades. Maury on my right had a machine gun and a radio on his back."

After walking for a while, Ernie noticed that there was a wooden box lid with a skull and crossbones on the ground, signalling a nearby minefield. Ernie and Maury didn't know that they had already tripped a wire. The land mine went off.

"I got thrown to the ground but I was lucky. When I hit the ground, I heard another little bang. I couldn't work out this bang and when I'm lying on the ground, I couldn't figure out what had happened. I was covered in the yellow explosive powder from one of the grenades I'd been carrying had been damaged by the mine explosion. I was lucky it kept the grenade from going off."

Ernie was evacuated from Korea and recuperated in Japan before returning to Australia. That was the end of his Korean deployment and his Army career. He still lives in the Sydney area. 

Ernie uses one word to summarise his memories of his Korean combat experience with the Australian Army: "Mateship."

Discover more stories of Korean War veterans at the Armistice in Korea: 1953-2023 photography exhibition open at the Anzac Memorial until 7 August