Harry and the Forgotten War
By Frank Hampson

There was a muffled clang as the hatch above Harry Edwards' head wasbattened down with clips to make a waterproof seal. Then in the dim glowof the bulkhead lighting, the RAN electrician's mate began to slide downthe steel ladder fixed to the sheer sides of the 3ft. square shaftslicing into the bowels of HMAS Sydney.

It was full action stations for the Australian aircraft carrier during theKorean war( June 25,1950 - July 27, 1953),and Harry was hustling down theladder to his particularly lonely station, a 10 ft. square chamber filledwith electrical dials and control instruments. Here, Harry would sit outaction after action, divorced from the gunfire, the roar of warplaneengines, or crash landings on the flight deck as damaged aircraft returnedfrom missions against the North Koreans and Chinese troops.

He was 30 ft. down and aft of the engine rooms. But he says the sailors inthe engine rooms were in a far worse situation. They consisted more of a series of steel platforms rather than decks, and these descended all the way down to the keel, he says.

Yet there must have been a certain comfort in the noisy company of theengine rooms compared to the silence, and uncertainty, of Harry's solitaryconfinement. He recalls:
"It was pretty hairy. There was always the threatof an air or sea attack. We could have been bombed or torpedoed andwhoever was in that small compartment monitoring the ships electricalsystems wouldn't have had a clue what was going on."

Harry had to remain at his post for 4-5 hours or more - however long thecall to action stations lasted.

"We weren't allowed to leave until 'actionstations clear' was piped."

During this time the only contact he had withthe outside world was through his electrical monitoring devices and hisreports to the ship.s damage control officer:
"I had to keep a check onall of the ship's various electrical circuits and notify the officer ifthere were any abnormal readings or damage."

There were plenty of dials and settings for Harry to monitor. Apart fromgenerating power for operational and defense purposes - "We supplied lowelectric power to our 40mm.Bofors guns" - the carrier also used electricityto service and move the aircraft for which it provided a battle platform.It carried two squadrons of Sea Furies (fighters), a squadron of Fireflies(fighter bombers), and a rescue helicopter on loan from the United StatesNavy - the Sydney was part of the American 7th. Fleet. The warplanes sawplenty of action during four months in Korean waters (October 1951-January1952). By the time Sydney began her return voyage to Australia on January27th. they had flown 2,366 sorties. Remarkably, despite heavyanti-aircraft defenses, only nine of her aircraft were shot down. Three ofthese fell during one patrol in the Han River area, when 28 otherwarplanes from the Sydney were damaged by anti-aircraft fire.

Harry Edwards:
"Planes would come back badly shot up and crash-land on thedeck. We would have landing nets up, so if a plane missed the arresterwires as he hit the deck, he would hook up in the crash nets."

Despite therelatively heavy toll in damage and lost aircraft during the Han Riveroperation, all of the RAN aircrew survived. Harry says one reason for thiswas the tremendous job the crew of the American rescue helicopter did inretrieving downed pilots.

"I think they had a 100% success rate", he says.

On one occasion a Firefly was shot down and the helicopter came in as thepilot and his observer were using their Owen submachine-guns to hold offsome North Koreans who were attempting to capture them. Later we heardthat one of the Americans jumped from the chopper and shot two NorthKorean soldiers while they were creeping up on our airmen from behind. Butaccording to a RAN history, one of our airmen shot and killed a NorthKorean who was menacing the helicopter. Whatever .. it was one hell of arescue!

During the entire four months, just three of the Sydney's RAN pilots werekilled and another wounded. The first man died early in November when hisSea fury disintegrated after being hit by flak. The following monthanother Sea fury was shot down by anti-aircraft fire. The pilot was killedwhen his body struck the tail of his plane after he bailed out. Then,early in January 1952, a Sea Fury disappeared in thick cloud. A widesearch failed to find any trace of the pilot or his plane.

Four more of the Sydney's warplanes were the victims of accidents-one waslost overboard in a typhoon, while four on the Deck Park were damaged; itwas a particularly nasty storm. Most of the United Nations ships in thearea hit by Typhoon Ruth on the night of October 14-15, 1951 were damagedin some way. The seas were described as precipitous, causing the carrierto pitch and roll at frightening angles. But the only injuries reported toSydney's crew were cuts and bruises.

Harry formerly of Moura, Queensland, has since retired to Boonah, wherehis son and daughter-in-law, Stephen and Linda used to run the SugarloafBakery. But every ANZAC Day he remembers the "Forgotten war". "It was prompted by the Russian-backed North Korean communists invading SouthKorea", he says. And for the first time the United Nations decided to actto repel armed aggression. It was also a "first" for Australia, when ourgovernment decided to honour its commitment as a member of the UN. We wereone of 16 nations who rushed fighting forces and arms to the Korean Warzone, while other nations provided medical support and various forms ofaid.

The Supreme Commander of the UN forces was General Douglas MacArthur and,after some early setbacks, he turned the tide on the North Koreans,liberating Seoul, the South Korean capital, and followed the North Koreansas they fled across the 38th. parallel - the geographical line that dividesthe two countries. Within a couple of weeks he had taken the North Koreancapital of Pyongyang. But week later Communist China had entered the war,driving the UN forces back and retaking Seoul for the North Koreans.However, they suffered severe losses and the war finally ended in July1953, with the signing of an armistice.

Harry says the war was fought in steamy summer heat and the bitter freezeof a near-arctic winter. He remembers with a shiver the arctic chill onboard the Sydney as she cruised through ice flows on her patrols up theSea of Japan towards Vladivostok. Because the United Nations was involved,people tend to think it couldn't have been much of a war he says. But RearAdmiral Crawford has dismissed any suggestion that it was a brush fireaffair or a peacekeeping operation. He told a crowd at the dedication ofthe Korean Veterans Place at Redcliffe: Let there be no doubt. It was abrutal war, fought in the most appalling conditions, and the Australiancasualty rate, taking account of the numbers committed and the three yearsof combat operations, is second only to the 1st. World War.

The Sydney was just one of nine Australian units serving with the 7th.Fleet which was awarded a special Citation from South Korean President,Syngmann Rhee, on behalf of his government. The other Australian unitswere the Anzac, Bataan, Condamine, Culgoa, Murchison, Shoalhaven, Tobruk,and Warramunga, and 806, 808 and 817 Squadrons of the Fleet Air Arm. TheCitation says all units of the 7th. Fleet distinguished themselves insupport of UN Forces in Korea by their continued devastating attacksagainst the enemy, both by way of gunfire bombardment and heavyairstrikes. It concludes: "The efficiency with which the 7th. Fleetaccomplished all of its assigned missions was in accord with the highesttraditions of the Naval Service and reflects great credit upon the unitand each individual member."

But former sailor, Harry Edwards, is quick to point out that Australia'scommitment to the Korean War also involved its Air Force and Army. On July2, 1950, 77 Squadron RAAF was thrown into action on the Korean peninsula,he says. Showing great dedication and skill its pilots flew in weatherwhen all other air commands wouldn.t move. But their ground crews keptthem flying in snowstorms, rainstorms, and duststorms.

In September 1950 the 3rd. Battalion of The Royal Australian Regimentjoined the battle, carrying on the traditions that began in the Boer War,set in cement in Gallipoli, and carried through two World Wars. Everyoneknows of the battles and campaigns of those two wars, says Harry. But heasks: How many know of Sariwon, Yongju, Pakchon, Maryang-San, The Hook, orthe bayonet charge at The Apple Orchard. Possibly the last bayonet chargein history! At Kapyong 35 Australian soldiers were killed and 53 wounded,but they held up the advance of the Chinese Army, allowing the UN Forcesto consolidate a new defensive line.

In all of their battles in Korea, the Australian troops never gave an inchand covered themselves in glory. In the end, the total casualty toll forAustralia's three services in Korea was: Killed in action 339 Wounded inaction 1,216, taken prisoner (POW) 29.

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