'I thought I was dead ... then along came Frank'
IPSWICH Korean War veteran Matt Rennie and his wife of 59 years, Margaret, are still treated like royalty every time they set foot into the country Australian soldiers helped liberate in the early 1950s.
Along with an extensive stack of photos of their three children, eight grandchildren and four great-grandchildren, the walls of the couple's Brassall home feature a framed letter of appreciation from former South Korean president Lee Myung-bak, offering Mr Rennie OAM the "warmest gratitude and deepest respect" for his contribution to providing South Korea's people with the freedoms they enjoy to this day.
That letter, dated 2010, was to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the outbreak of the war in which millions of people, including Australians, were killed.
If not for the actions of a man who remains a friend to this day, Mr Rennie could well have joined the list of casualties.
A member of the 3rd Battalion Royal Australian Regiment, Mr Rennie was on patrol on May 24, 1953, when he walked into an ambush.
While pulling back, Mr Rennie was shot in the back of the head, with the bullet going through his helmet and grazing his skull.
"I saw the bloke who shot me - he was coming towards me at a rate of knots," he said.
"I thought I was dead."
But a bloke called Frank Connelly was looking out for Mr Rennie that day.
Mr Connelly not only managed to fatally shoot the Chinese soldier, but also bandaged his mate's wound.
He actually broke all of his false teeth trying to open a waterproof bandage container while stemming the bleeding on Mr Rennie's head.
"He picked his teeth up out of the mud and put them back in, but suffered poisoning later on because there was fertiliser in the soil," Mr Rennie said.
"He still blames me for being poisoned."
Mr Connelly lives in Melbourne and keeps in contact with Mr Rennie, but is gravely ill.
"He still tells everyone that I owe him one because he saved my life," Mr Rennie said.
"I agree that he saved my life, but I would never admit that to him."
Aside from being shot in the head, Mr Rennie said the extreme cold was the worst aspect of the Korean War.
"We would be out on patrol when it was minus 26 degrees," he said.
"We would wear three pairs of long johns and, over that, combat gear with four or five thicknesses of nylon.
"Over your body you had a string singlet and over that, a woollen singlet, then a woollen shirt, then a pullover.
"You would also wear a balaclava, a big, wool-lined parka, two pairs of mittens and an extra pair of gloves around your neck.
"Even with all this, you were never warm."
Mr Rennie spent 12 months in Korea - from July 4, 1952, to July 4, 1953 - during which he developed a great respect for the Chinese soldiers he was fighting against.
His respect for his fellow Australian soldiers, of course, runs even deeper.
Having also served for two years in Malaya after his return from Korea, Mr Rennie feels a connection to his fellow returned servicemen.
For him, Anzac Day is a time to remember those who served in all conflicts.
"Although we commemorate the first of our Australian troops, it's also a time to remember those who kept the peace in all theatres of war over the years," he said.