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Alan Cull describes being a dentist on Korea

Audio file

Interview by Pip Desmond with Alan Cull, Kayforce dentist. Alan describes arriving in Korea and daily life as a dentist during the war.


Alan We arrived in Pusan on the 31st of December.

Pip Tell me about your first impressions.

Alan After the heat of Manila and Australia, we were frozen to the decks. It was winter, a very severe winter in Pusan. Very, very cold. And we weren’t really equipped for it.

Pip Where did you stay?

Alan We were in a camp called K9 and we set up our dental section in a room in a school house there.

I remember sharing a tent with two others and we had a basin of water that we put on a kerosene burner. And in the morning, the kerosene burner was still going and the water was a solid block of ice. So that shows you how cold it was.

Pip The water got colder, not hotter?

Alan Yes, and the flame was still going underneath, but it was well below zero at that time. And I wondered, what’s it going to be like? Yes, it was brutally cold, actually.

Pip Your uniforms, what…?

Alan We were wearing our usual winter dress, just the usual army khaki which wasn’t sufficient for those temperatures. But, you volunteered, you didn’t have to come.

Pip So there’s no point complaining?

Alan No, no.

Pip Did people complain?

Alan  Well, there’s always whingers about. But by [the second and third winter] we had very good winter clothing. We also had heaters for our tents which we didn’t have originally. And also, things were static. First winter, when we moved off, you might be moved from one place to another, settle and then all of a sudden the word would go round, ‘Right, we’re moving in twenty minutes! Pack everything up!’ And then after a full day on the road, through the snow, you’d think, there must be a nice place to put a tent up. Then you’d arrive on this snow-covered paddy field. That’s where we were staying the night.

Pip Do you want to tell me just a typical day?

Alan  Well, no day was typical. There’s one thing about in the forces, tiredness in men is a thing. You might be moving at night, in the end the clock doesn’t mean a thing, so get used to that. When we were moving, of course, we could always do first aid treatment for dental and medical. But it wasn’t until we were reasonably static that we could do routine treatments, routine inspections. But we were always there for anybody with toothache. We had a little bag that contained first aid stuff.

Pip  You started off by working out of a tent, but then you had a couple of changes, didn’t you?

Alan  [The tent] was really too small for us to work in and four of us to sleep in at the same time. Later on, [we also] asked for a larger [three-ton] truck so we could work on the back of that. And that was approved, and the L.A.D., Jack Wilson and his crowd, put a few cupboards in it, and we worked in the back of the truck. It made everything so much easier. Between those times, we managed to acquire an American tent which was much larger.

Pip Is ‘acquired’ in inverted commas, is it?

Alan Yes. That happened during a retreat from Kapyong.

Pip Tell me about Kapyong then.

Alan  Well, that was in April ‘51 when the North Koreans and Chinese broke through the lines, and we had to retreat. We were on the road night and day. And we arrived one night at an American engineers’ camp and all the Americans had disappeared into the sunset. They hadn’t even left one person there. So the Kiwis in their own style had quite a time. K rations, food rations, and cigarettes. And also there happened to be a tent or two. So that explained that.

Pip So they’d basically left the camp set up.

Alan They’d done a runner. And next morning, [Padre] Pat Parr was in the tent with a few other Kiwis looking through what was left of the K Rations, the American rations that were there (food and tin rations), going through them to see what he could use, and an American colonel came in and tapped him on the shoulder and said, ‘Hi, captain, I wonder if you could get your men out of here!’

Pip Are you doing your dental treatment while there’s guns firing?

Alan If things were alright, yes. When I say ‘If things were alright,’ as long as the guns were firing from our side.

Pip So you were right up there with the gunners?

Alan [Yes.] I remember the first night all the guns fired. Twenty-four 25-pounders. Called a regimental fire? I forget. We were in our tent with our candles lit and the row of those guns was amazing. The tent went whoosh and all the candles went out.

Alan Cull

Alan Cull, 2011


Sound file: Interviewed by Pip Desmond, 1 March 2011. From the Korean War Oral History Project, Ministry for Culture and Heritage.
Original interview held in Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. Not to be reproduced.

Images: Alan Cull Collection, Pip Desmond

How to cite this page

Alan Cull describes being a dentist on Korea, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated