Austin Timmins was born on July 10, 1929 in Packenham, Ontario, Canada. After graduating from Almonte High School in 1948, he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force. He attended basic training at Clinton Air Station and then trained to be a radio navigator. In 1949, he was assigned to be a part of the flight crew (426 Squadron) of a Canadair North Star flying supplies and troops from McChord Air Force Base, Washington to Tokyo, Japan in support of the war. Later, his crew’s mission changed to evacuating wounded soldiers. After the war, he continued service in the Royal Canadian Air Force assigned to stations at home and in Europe, eventually becoming the commanding officer of 426 Squadron. He retired as a Colonel in 1985 at the end of a long and distinguished career in the Royal Canadian Air Force.
Evacuating Wounded Soldiers During the Korean War
Austin Timmins describes his job evacuating wounded soldiers as part of the flight crew of a Canadair North Star (RCAF). He did not have the opportunity to speak with the soldiers or nurses. Many of the soldiers that they transported did suffer from frostbite.
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A Dangerous Landing
Austin Timmins (RCAF) describes one of his most memorable missions, a dangerous landing in high speed winds as a part of a Canadair North Star flight crew. The plane ran out of fuel as they were landing in Japan. It was a very stressful land but the pilots had to remain calm.
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Korea: Yesterday to Today
Austin Timmins compares his observations from visiting Korea in 1998, to what he witnessed during the Korean War. He also details how impressed he is with Korea's development. He has knowledge of South Korea's development, but his legacy far exceeded his expectations.
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[Beginning of recorded material]
A: Austin John Samuel Timmins. Austin is A-U-S-T-I-N, John J-O-H-N, Samuel S-A-M-U-E-L, Timmins T-I-M-M-I-N-Sn
I: Ah ha. What is your birthday?
A: Tenth of July, 1929.
I: Where were you born?
A: In Pakenham, Ontario.
I: Could you spell it?
I: Uh huh.
A: Yeah. It’s, uh, farming community just about 30 miles west of Ottawa.
I: So you born in the year of Great Depression.
I: You born in the year of Great Depression, 1929.
A: Oh, yes, yes that’s true.
I: And your father was farmer?
A: Farmer, yes.
I: So how was it? Was it easy for you to go through the Great Depression
rather than people who living in the city?
A: Well, as the eldest farmer’s son, I was doing man’s work by the time I was, uh, 12 or 13 years old.
I: What, what kind of work?
A: General farm.
I: Uh huh.
A: Everything that goes on on a farm.
I: Uh huh. Everything. And? So you didn’t have any shortage of food. around the time in the Great Depression?
A: No, no. We, uh, that’s one thing we’re
definitely. We were all, always secure, lots of food, comfortable home.
I: Um hm.
A: No problems.
I: How about your family, siblings?
A: I’ve, uh, two brothers and two sisters. My two sisters are deceased. I have a, both my brothers retired. One was a dairy farmer. Another one was a, uh, had a business,
electronics. And he, uh, retired to the family home, and he farmed for a while, but now he’s retired.
I: So when did you graduate your high school?
A: Uh, 1948.
I: The name of high school?
A: Uh, Almont High School.
I: And what did you do after that?
A: I joined the Air Force.
I: Oh, right after that?
I: Why Air Force, not Army or Navy?
A: Well, I knew I didn’t want to farm.
I: Um hm.
A: And during the War, were near trading stations. So I observed lots of flying, had an interest in flying and an interest in travel, adventure. Army didn’t appeal to me. Neither did the Navy.
I: Okay. You don’t want to put your dirt.
I: So where did you go to get the basic?
A: I trained initially at Clinton, Ontario. I was, uh, when I joined the Air Force for air crew, there were two categories. There were pilots, and the other one was radio navigation.
I: Uh huh.
A: I was, uh, actually chose radio navigation, and the radio part was at Clinton, Ontario.
I: What kind of training do you work in Morse Code?
A: Yes, we learned the Morris Code,
radar, all kinds of equipment. I even had air gunnery.
I: James mentioned about you several times during the interview.
I: and he said that Morse Code was not his good thing to do. I mean, he, he hated it. How about you? Did you like Morse Code?
A: Oh, I had no trouble with it. It’s, it’s just, once you’re good at it, it’s just like a language.
I: But he hated it, James.
A: No, he hated it. Well, well, I didn’t mind it because I was going to get navigation training. I mean, there was just, it was just a stepping stone for me.
I: Um hm. And then what did you do?
A: Went to 426 Squadron.
A: Squadron, yeah.
A: I went there in the Fall of 1949
I: Um hm.
A: Uh, I was on the Squadron when they were assigned to the Korean airlift,
I: Um hm.
A: Uh, we signed 12 crews and six aircraft.
MALE VOICE: Where was the Squadron out of, uh, Trenton or
A: It was based at Dorval. So, so I was on the initial group of people that went. Twelve crews, six aircraft.
I: To, to where?
A: McChord Air Force Base
I: Um hm.
A: near Tacoma, Washington.
I: Tacoma, Washington. And then from there?
A: Well, there, that’s the base, the airlift. Then we started flying operations, uh, over to Japan. So if you like, I could run through this one trip.
I: Um hm.
A: Okay. Well, we were, the Squadron was assigned to the military air transport system of the United States Air Force. We operated like a, a squadron, one of their squadrons.
I: Um hm.
MALE VOICE: How many planes in the squadron?
A: We had six.
I: And that’s a Canadian.
A: A Canadian.
A: Well, as a matter of fact, it was the Norstar. It was a new, new airplane. I have a picture of it if, uh, I can leave it with you. It’s a new aircraft, uh. The flight crews were mostly wartime people, experienced.
I: You mean World War II veterans?
A: Yeah, with a few people like myself and Jimmy Shipton who were brand new. So the squadron was, was
very capable so it, new aircraft, experienced air crew. They trained on these missions. So the other thing was with a small number of aircraft and small air crew, it doubled the flying rate. It’s called a surge.
I: Um hm.
A: So we arrived at McChord Air Force Base one day. The next day we dispatched aircraft to the, to Japan. And from then on, it was one
aircraft per day which is a sizeable, big operation. But anyway, uh, routine in the beginning was we’d depart from McChord Air Force Base and fly to Anchorage, Alaska. That’d be in daytime. We’d change crews there and start our next flight day, uh, late afternoon. We’d fly to Shemya which is the, in the Aleutians
I: Um hm.
A: at the end of the island chain, uh.
We’d refuel there. And I might mention that sometimes you’d wait four or five hours for fuel because all the aircraft were staging through there. Then we’d fly to Japan. So that stage from Anchorage to Tokyo would be, uh, be 24 hour day for us. That was the hard part.
A: Uh, so then we would, coming back we’d fly from Japan to Shemya to Anchorage
and get a, we’d stay overnight, get a crew change and back to McChord. We’d get a few days off, and away we’d go again.
MALE VOICE: Were your supplies mainly for the Canadians or were they for the Americans? Or were they both? The, the cargo you were carrying
A: Oh the
MALE VOICE: Was it the cargo or the Canadian military or somebody else?
A: What we were carrying initially were troops, American troops.
I: American troops.
A: Yeah. And there’d be, uh, an shockingly young. They looked like teenagers.
I was young, but they looked, they were younger.
A: And they had a rifle, not much else. They, uh, they didn’t look like they had much training, and they flew all the way to Japan without a break. So they would, uh, it was a noisy aircraft so they’d be deaf for a couple of days. So that was in the beginning. Later on, we started carrying, uh, cargo, spare parts and mail.
I: So I think I heard from, uh, James that it was maximum 45 people that you were able to carry?
A: Yeah, something like that, yeah. And 12,000 lbs. of cargo. Not or 12,000.
I: Uh huh. What kinds, ammunition or food or what?
A: No, well it’d be spare parts, uh. We wouldn’t know what they were really. But, uh, and mail and stuff like that.
I: So mail. mainly it was for the
logistics, not for the, the soldiers to carry, right?
A: Yeah. It’d be the Postal Service mail that we’d be carrying.
I: Wow. So that’s what, that’s the mission that you, your squadron was in charge.
A: Yeah. That was, uh, that’s the way it was in the beginning, uh. In early ’51, out mission changed.
A: We started, um, doing med, medical evacuations.
I: Yeah. Right.
A: Okay. So the crew then would fly the normal route to Japan, and we would get out casualties at, uh, a placed called [LITOMMY], just a couple, an hour South of Tokyo, and we would go to Wake Island. There’d be a crew change at Wake Island, fly to Honolulu, be a crew change Wake Island
And we’d take our pass ,uh, up to Travis Air Force Base. And the interesting there is the, uh, celebrities from Hollywood. We’d see them in the terminal greeting the, uh, wounded soldiers.
I: Oh, really?
A: Yeah, that was pretty common.
I: Anybody you remember specifically?
A: Uh, Alan Ladd.
A: You know why I remember him? He’s very short, and he used, always had a stool for him to stand on.
I: What kind of, uh,
patient did you carry, and how was it? I mean,
A: Well, I don’t know if you recall during the War, in the winter, troops weren’t very well equipped with clothing.
I: So Frostbite.
A: Yes. They’d get Frostbite. So there a lot of, we were carrying a lot of amputees
A: two arms, two legs, and the worst case all of them. That was really shocking seeing a lot of them on the aircraft. That’s the worst, my
I: What, how was their spirit?
A: Well, we, uh, as flight crew we didn’t really have anything to do with them. They were looked after by, uh, flight nurses and medical attendants. So we climbed on the aircraft, went to the front end, did our duty. So I can’t answer that.
I: Oh. How was it flying with, uh,
the nurse together? Flying nurse?
A: Again, we did nothing to do with them.
I: Oh. But you were in the same airplane.
A: Oh yeah. But they were busy in the back. They had 25 or 30 badly wounded people to look after. It was all business. So we had our job to do, and they had their job to do.
A: There were Canadian nurses on, I don’t know they know that or not. But, uh, they flew with the American
medical evacuation teams.
I: Right. Sure. Have you been to Korean soil?
A: Do you mean during that period of time/
A: Yeah, I was, uh. I was there several times.
I: How and why?
I: And when was it? Tell me about details.
A: Okay. Um, it was 1951
I: Um hm.
A: I was assigned to a American
troop carriers squadron briefly. So I could remember the place we went. We went to Busan a couple of times, Taegu, Suwon, [HANGSON], Kimpo
I: Um hm. And did you actually landed?
A: Oh yes.
I: And what did you do? Why were you there?
A: Well, we, they, uh, they were just delivering goods. We just stopped, got rid of them, offloaded back to Japan.
I: What kind?
A: Well it, it varied. Sometimes it was hardly anything aboard. It was, uh, a scheduled operation. I remember [HANGSON] specifically because we landed on a gravel strip along the side of the road. And this refugee streaming by on the road.
I: Um hm. So that, any particular scene that you still remember about [HANGSON] or Kimpo or Pusan, any
A: Well, that was my memory of HANGSON], uh.
I can’t remember whether it was Suwon or Taegu, were in there. And the, the Chinese were just across the hill. We could, combat was going on there.
I: Were you able to see them, Chinese?
A: I didn’t see the people. I saw the planes dropping Napalm on them.
A: So that’s the closest I was to any action as an observer.
I: So any particular episode that you wanna share about your duties during the Korean War?
A: We all have our, our stories, uh. Matter of fact, as a favorite past in both the, the crews, they got together and they talked about the, the mishaps or things that happened. So as a navigator, there were certain challenges in, in, uh,
that route, particular between Shemya and Japan.
I: Um hm.
I: Why’s that is? It’s not that far from there, Aleutians and
A: That’s right. That’s right. You gotta stay away from that. But the weather was such that you’re in clouds most of the time.
A: Our aircraft is unpressurized. So, in fact. on that route we practically always flying in clouds.
A: And we didn’t have any navigates. It’s one called pressure, pressure pattern
which I could explain to you is a very simple thing. But you have to have a reasonable wind forecast. So one experience I had, we were several hours into our flight, break in the cloud, get an [ASTROFIX] and we’re way behind where we’re supposed to, we’ve been flying into a low level jet stream.
A: So we, requested, uh, dissent but down the lowest level possible,
and we made it in okay.
I: You must been out of, might have been out of fuel then.
A: Well, that was the risk. If we stayed high, we would have run out of fuel. That’s what you do if you run into a strong wind
A: you go down
A: Another occasion, you had to add Gordon Webb on your, on your list at one time. He didn’t come. I flew with him for 15 trips. Really an outstanding pilot.
And coming back from Japan one time, we were destined for, for Shemya. They closed the airport, 100 mile an hour crosswinds, runway iced over. We had to go to ADOC, far away, and it was right down. And we had to descend on a ground, uh, on a radar control approach, went down the runway it, it’s sloping down, lot of mechanic of turbulence.
I’ve never seen two pilots so stressed and trying to keep the aircraft right side up. And, uh, just the skill of Gordie Webb, I would say that we made that okay.
A: So these are the things we talk about.
I: Hm. So when, when did you, uh, retire from Air Force?
A: In, uh, 1985.
I: Nineteen eighty-five.
I: So what did you do after the Korean War? What was your mission then? Reassigned?
A: Uh, 1954 the, was the end of the airlift. I was sent to Winnipeg, uh, to be an instructor on the, uh, called Airborne Reception, the training people for the all-weather fighters.
I: Um hm.
A: Went from there back to Trenton to a staff job, navigation training.
Then I got grabbed for, be an executive assistant to the General for a while. The Commander, Training Command. From there I got back to 437 Squadron, another flying tour. I was, uh, Nav Leader, Air Crew Leader there, staff college, posting to Europe, staff officer movements for the Air Division, back to Trenton, Command Navigation Officer,
and the really good part, I got to be CO 426 Squadron.
I: Um hm.
A: Yeah. It’s a, it was something I really dreamed about all my life. So there, and then from there and back to Europe. They had a Defense College in Rome for several years, back to Trenton, Deputy Commander of the Air Transport Group, and that’s where I retired.
MALE VOICE: The Brigadier General, right? Retiring yet?
A: Colonel. Just Colonel.
MALE VOICE: Colonel.
I: Wow, that’s nice, huh?
A: Yeah. It was
A: It was good.
I: Yeah. You were not long in Korean soil, but you, you landed several places
A: Oh yeah.
I: including Pusan, Kimpo and [HANGSON], and, and you saw briefly about those, right?
I: cities, and have you been back to Korea?
A: In ’98.
A: with Veterans Affairs.
I: Ah hah.
So what do you think? What did you think at the time when you revisited?
A: Well, I saw a lot of destruction in my, my visits there in 1951. And we had a, managed to get a visit to Seoul. There was a brok, one broken down bridge across the Hahn River again, and
I: You saw that?
A: Yeah, we crossed it. And, uh, in the city itself, everything was destroyed. There was hardly any standing.
I go back there in 1998, there are great big cities South of the river. Everything is built up, and I think there were about 20 bridges across the Hahn River. So that was really amazing to me.
I: Wow. So even very brief, but you were, you saw the Korea in 1950’s, and now you are seeing 19
I: Nineteen ninety-eight.
Just amazing. Truly amazing.
I: That’s the legacy.
A: Oh, yeah. Yeah. Marvelous stories, that part of it, a recovery.
I: Yeah. What did you talk to yourself about that?
A: Well, I’m, I followed the, all of this development in the news, so I knew about it. But it just exceeded everything that I, that I imagined.
I: What is Korea to you now, personally?
A: Well, it’s a very successful country. A, a democracy, very important to the rest of the world. It is stable and continue. It’s really, uh, to stabilize that part of the world. So I read with concern, uh, things that are going on in North Korea.
I: Um hm, um hm.
A: So I follow all this stuff pretty much, yeah.
So my attitude, my, when I started flying, of course, I didn’t give much thought to anything. I was just, uh, having a, a good time, an adventure. So I just feel very lucky I had that experience. And mo, most of my Air Force friends come from that era. And the other thing is there’s still a connection with that Norstar I’d like to tell you about
cause when I re, finished working, finally, my second career, I got involved with a project to Canadian Aviation Museum out here.
A: They got the last existing Norstar aircraft. And so myself and a group of volunteers, we organized a project, Project Norstar, restoring the aircraft for the museum. This has been going on
since 2002. So
I: Putting engine back into the
A: Well, we, uh, that has four engines. Three of them have been restored. One is, one to go when it’s, it’s really amazing.
I: Um hm. That’s very special to you, right?
A: It is indeed.
I: Um hm.
A: because, you know, initial impressions are lasting, aren’t they? So aircraft
crew, fight operations, they’re lasting impressions to me, first and last.
I: Do you have any kind of annual reunion of 426 Squadron?
A: Yeah. Usually there’s a reunion every, every two years.
I: Every two years.
A: There’s one, they, when you go to Trenton, I’m gonna tell you about this one this year. So I’ve been going to them for quite a few years.
I: Um hm. Any other
message or comments that you want to leave for this interview?
A: Well, I’d like to comment on the incredible hospitality that’s been shown to Canadian Servicemen in Korea.
I: The Korean government.
A: Yeah. And, and the veterans. Just absolutely amazing. Oh, interesting little story. I arrived there. We were on a, on a bus and we get off, and their tour guides are Korean girls.
A: So I see this one. She’s got a nametag, Austin, my first name. So I spoke to her, of course, and I said how come. So she explained. She said well they get a lot of tourists, Americans and others can’t pronounce her names.
A: So we were to pick an American name or something. and that’s your name. She says okay. How’d you pick out Austin? Said well I looked at the map, and I liked Austin.
I: Typically Austin it’s a, it’s a man’s name isn’t it? No?
A: Uh, yes. It’s spelled different ways, you know. It’s, it’s,
A: It wasn’t, uh, it wasn’t a very common name. It’s more common now.
I: Um. Any other comments about the Korean government program?
A: Well, I’m just amazed it’s carrying on as long as it has. I mean, it’s a, I’m,
I think all Canadian veterans really appreciate what you’re doing.
I: Yeah. We are doing that because we want to really show you our sincere appreciation for your fight.
A: I know that.
I: Um hm.
A: And, uh, you’re really demonstrating it, there’s no doubt about it.
I: And we are doing this because we want to preserve your direct memories.
I: and the witness
I: so that our
young childrens can learn from you.
A: Yeah. That’s good.
[End of Recorded Material]