John Fry served in the Royal Australian Regiment as a rifleman. Having joined the military due to unemployment increasing in the textile field, he went to Korea in 1953. He recalls that Korea was in terrible condition as many people were living in cardboard boxes. He shares his memories of arriving in Pusan before heading North. John Fry was involved in the Battle of the Hook, an experience he calls a “vicious time.” He is in awe of the unbelievable progress that Korea has made, especially when he says his own country seems to have gone backwards in some ways.
Not a Substantial Building Standing
John Fry gives a tremendous comparison of what Korea was like in 1953 and when he returned in 2014. He remembers the war-torn state of the country that had no substantial buildings standing, people living in cardboard boxes, and too many orphans. He shares that compared to the “unbelievable” progress that Korea has made, it seems like Australia has gone backwards.
Impressions of Pusan
John Fry describes his impressions of landing in Pusan and then the rest of Korea in 1953. He remembers being welcomed by an American military band when they arrived in the wharf before taking a train north. He recalls what the villages and homes were like during this time.
"A Vicious Time"
John Fry served in the Royal Australian Regiment as a rifleman. Having joined the military due to unemployment increasing in the textile field, he went to Korea in 1953. He recalls that Korea was in terrible condition as many people were living in cardboard boxes. He shares his memories of arriving in Pusan before heading North. John Fry was involved in the Battle of the Hook, an experience he calls a “vicious time.” He is in awe of the unbelievable progress that Korea has made.
[Beginning of recorded material]
J: Uh, J O H N . That’s the Christian name. The surname is Fry, F R Y.
I: F R Y. What is your birthday?
J: [INAUDIBLE] 1933.
I: I’m sorry?
J: Eighteenth, eighteenth of November
J: Eighteenth of November, 1933.
I: Thirty-three. So you were born after the Great Depression.
Did you feel it when you were growing up?
J: No, no, no.
I: Not really.
I: Where were you born?
I: Melbourne. I just been there.
I: I did a lot of interviews there.
I: So tell me about your family background when you were growing up, your parents and your siblings. How many siblings did you have?
I: At the time.
J: I had, um, brother and uh, a sister.
I: Just brother and sister.
I: And? How about your family?
J: Uh, there’s, uh, father was a, my father was a, a pastry cook and, uh, that was, uh, about the extent of it, yeah. Always, uh, my education was, uh, uh, I lived in Brunswick, uh, Melbourne and, uh,
went to, uh, school there until year eight. And then, uh, I worked in the textile industry in, uh
I: When was it? When did you, when did you graduate school?
J: When I finished school, uh, I didn’t. I haven’t done the calculations, but, uh, uh, I’m not too, uh, sure of the, uh, actual year, yeah. But if we did t he calculations, we can figure it out.
I: Right. So you worked in textile industry
J: Textile industry and in, um, after all, uh, in 1952, uh, June 1952, uh, I joined the Army.
I: Nineteen fifty-two.
I: And June you said, right?
I: Yeah. So tell me about this. Did you learn anything
about Korea from school?
J: Uh, no, not really. At school, like, um, uh, when I, when I was at school, there was, the teacher asked a question. We were on a, um, a train line which went down to secure the beach, uh. Only half the school ever traveled to the beach.
J: After class, the class, you know. So I couldn’t figure it, uh, that out, you know, like, uh, why they never ever, uh, went to the beach, yeah. But
I: So that’s how it was.
J: That’s how it was, yeah.
I: So you never learned anything about Korea.
J: No. Uh, not, uh, not at school.
I: Not at school.
J: At, uh, at a later, uh, stage in about , uh, 16, uh, I, through a friend of mine
J: uh, his uncle was a, uh, a POW in Korea. He was, uh, interned by the, uh, Japanese in a mine. And another, um, uh, acquaintance
I: There was no Korean War broke out at the time.
J: No, no, no. This was, would have
I: But how would that, how your friend’s
uncle become the POW of Korean War?
J: Uh, no, no, not of the Korean War.
J: But he, he was in 3945, yeah and, uh, he then, uh, I don’t know where he was captured. But he was, uh,
I: POW of World War II.
J: of the Japanese, yeah.
J: And, uh, they took him, uh, to Korea and, uh, he, uh, worked in a mine there.
I: Ah. That’s how you come to know Korea
J: Partly. The other, uh, other one was, uh, uh, another friend from a Maltese, uh, extraction. His uncle was a missionary in Korea. So that was, uh, two cases that, uh, I knew of, uh, Korea, you know.
I: Otherwise you didn’t know anything. You didn’t know where it was, right? Have you been back to Korea after, after the Korean War?
I: When did you go back?
J: Uh, roughly five years ago.
I: Five years ago. So it’s about 2014?
I: And when you go back, when you went back to Korea in 2014, and you saw Korea in 1950, right?
J: Fifties, right, yeah.
I: So tell me about it. How different that was to you.
J: Well, uh, in 1953, uh, Korea was in tatters, yeah. There was hardly, uh, uh, substantial building standing and like, uh, the population, uh, around Pusan to, uh, Seoul was living in, uh,
shelters, cardboard, uh, boxes with beer cans for, uh, the tiles, you know. Orphans, uh, too many orphans.
J: But, uh, after, I, when I returned, what, oh. In the same, uh, case that, um, in 1953 as you well know,
the wan was worthless. You could have a truckload of paper money, uh, and you couldn’t buy a box of matches.
I: Wan means Korean currency.
J: The, uh, uh, we had, uh, catacombs serving, uh, in the battalion, and I said to, uh, one it’s,
you’re paid, you know. Yeah, you’re not collecting. I can’t buy anything with, uh , my pay.
I: So, and then when you went back to Korea 2014, how was it?
J: Uh, unbelievable, you know. Like, uh, uh, the, uh, what do you, what do you say, like, uh, uh, the Republic of Korea was reborn.
Uh, from, uh, uh, 19, uh, 53, you know. And, uh, in those years, uh, uh, Kor, uh, Republic of Korea has managed their affairs very well and, um, they are now or then was
in the top t10 economies in the world [now like, um] Uh, when you look at Australia, we went backwards. Nineteen fifty, we had a manufacturing industry, full employment. And then, uh, it’s hard words to say but, um, in the last 60 years, the Australian government have betrayed the Australian, um, public.
Uh, when you saw what, uh, Korea or Republic of Korea has achieved, you know like, um, we haven’t learned anything.
I: But you came to aide of us, and you gave us chance to rebuild our nation. That’s how we become. Do you know the rank of Korean economy now?
J: No, I don’t.
I: Eleventh largest in the world.
J: Uh, the 11th largest in the world.
I: Do you know the size of the territory of South Korea?
J: Uh, it’s only a dot on Australia.
I: You are 78th larger than South Korea. Do you know about population of Korea?
J: Uh, I think it’s, uh, something like 41 million.
I: Now it’s, uh, 51 million.
J: Fifty-one million.
I: Do you know your population?
J: Uh, the last I, uh, was informed of it was something like 24 million.
I: So in terms of population, South Korea is twice of yours
I: But in terms of territorial size, one
J: One dot.
I: Yeah, one dot. You are 78th larger than us.
I: Yeah. And, uh, can you believe the country you saw 1950
become 11th largest economy in the world?
J: Uh, well, through that, uh, Republic of Korea had financial problems.
I: Uh huh.
J: Uh, now what I’m told, um, they’ve through their global, uh, financial, uh, crisis
I: Nineteen ninety-seven.
J: Republic of Korea
owed the [INAUDIBLE] the International Monetary Fund
J: a lot of money.
J: And the government, uh of the day and Republic of Korea, uh, hit on the idea we’ll ask the population to, uh, help pay off the debt because, and they did. Now from, uh, that was
then from, uh, what I’ve been told that the thinking of, uh, or the understanding of the Republic of Korea, they wouldn’t be as willing today as what they were.
I: That’s very good point to make. So do you know the Australian History textbook,
do they teach about Korean War?
J: Say that again please.
I: Does, uh, Australia teach about the Korean War in their History class?
J: Uh, I’m not, uh, aware of that. I don’t know.
I: Um. Do you know, you’ve been know, you, you know that the Korean War has been known as Forgotten War, right?
J: That’s correct.
I: Why is that?
I mean, look at the country you saw and fought for in 1950 was completely devastated. Now it’s 11th largest economy. You couldn’t believe when you saw in 2014.
J: No. It’s
I: Why we don’t teach about it? Why has it been known as Forgotten?
J: Well, probably the easy way out of that question is the government don’t want to know, uh, tell t he people what’s happened.
I: Why is that?
J: It would be embarrassing, uh, for the Australian government, uh, to turn around and say look at Korea. It rose from the ashes
I: Uh huh
J: of fifty-three to being in the top 10 economies in the world in, uh, 19, uh, 2000 and, um, fourteen. We’ll, we’ll settle for that, yeah.
I: That’s a very creative answer. So
that’s why we are doing this. We are making interviews, right, of Korean War veterans and try to tell our future generation about the war that you fought for and what is the legacy came out of your service. That’s why we are doing this.
I: We are making History textbook like this.
J: Right, right.
I: You know?
I: And give it to teachers so that they can teach about Korea that you fought for, you know, 70 years ago.
I: So that’s why we are doing this.
So let’s go back, let’s go back to your, um, let’s go back to your, you said that you joined the Army in 19
I: Fifty-two. And why did you join the Army?
J: Uh, Unem, uh, unemployment was, um, in Australia in 1952 you had like, a, in the textile industry, uh,
they cut back the, uh, they cut back the, uh, uh, from a five-day week
I: Um hm.
J: to a three-day week
J: to keep people employed, you know. So, uh, uh, the Army provided, uh, security, um, for, uh, put it that way.
I: So when, where did you get the basic military training?
J: The basic, uh, well, that was a place called, uh, Kapooka [INAUDIBLE]
I: Could you spell it ?
J: Yeah. Then, then they, uh, uh, af, after three months
I: Uh huh
J: uh, trains went to, uh, 2nd Battalion, uh,
and, uh, did, uh, infantry training before we go to Korea.
I: So you already knew that Korean War broke out at the time, right?
J: Yeah, yeah.
I: Were you nervous that you going to be dragged into the War?
J: That didn’t sort of phase me. Uh, like, uh, no. Like, uh, uh, it didn’t worry me, uh..
It was just another placing, yeah.
I: Did you know that you going to be in the War?
J: Every, because when I, when we were at Kapooka,
I: Um hm
J: there was, uh, a Sargent, uh, Jack Morrison, uh. He was a Korean veteran, uh, of Kapyong, yeah?
J: And, uh, so we were pretty well informed, uh, through, uh, Jack Morrison, right? Yeah.
I: So the Sargent already were in Korean War in Kapyong, right?
I: And what did he say about the Korean War? Do you remember anything that he said to you?
J: Uh, not, no, no specific, uh, details, uh, like, uh. But it couldn’t have been too bad because, um, he got into trouble. And, uh, so, what he, what he, uh,
uh, to, to solve his problems, uh, at, uh, Kapooka, he asked for a transfer back to Korea.
J: So he had two terms in Korea.
I: Oh. What’s his name?
J: Jack Morrison.
I: Jack Morrison.
I: So he, he went Korea twice.
J: He went there twice, yeah.
I: So after, uh, infantry training, where did you go, and how did you, when did you go from where to Korea?
J: Uh, went from, uh, Pakapanu to a, uh, uh, a city called [Dison], and we went by troop train to Sydney and, uh, we were transported, uh, from Australia to Pusan on the, uh, troop ship, uh,
I: What is it?
J: New Australia.
I: New Australia.
I: And was it direct from Sydney to Pusan or was it by way of Japan?
J: Say that again please.
I: Did you go through Japan to Pusan, or did you go directly to Pusan?
J: No, no. Uh, I’m, I’m pretty sure, uh, we went, uh, direct, uh, from Sydney to Pusan.
I: Ah ha. So when, do you remember when did you arrive in Pusan?
J: It’s, it’s in my notes. Uh,
I: Could you tell?
J: Yeah. Uh,
I: Around 19
J: It was, it was, uh, March anyway. It was
I: March 1953.
I: Yeah. And
J: The, uh, if I don’t, if I don’t write down, uh, dates and figures, uh, I never remember it.
I: Yeah, yeah. Don’t worry about it. So it was around March 1953. Is that right?
J: Say again?
I: Was around March 1953.
J: Yeah, yeah.
So tell me about Pusan that you saw for the first time in your life. You never, you never knew about Korea much, right?
J: No, no, no, like, uh, they had welcome committee on the, uh, wharf, uh, at Pusan was a, uh, a U.S., uh, military band, uh, playing, uh, oh, playing, uh,
welcoming, uh, Australian troops
I: Uh huh.
J: uh, to land in Pusan, you know. Then we, uh, from the, uh, wharf we went to a, a transit camp in, um, Pusan
I: Um hm
J: spent a couple of days here. Then by train, uh, uh, from Pusan, uh, uh, headed North, um
We ended up in, um, Camp Casey.
I: Camp Casey.
I: So tell me about the Korea you saw for the first time. What was your impression? What was your image of Korea? Be honest, and tell detail to young generations here in Australia. What did, what was Korea like at the time?
J: Well, to be honest, uh,
I: Be honest please.
J: Yeah. To be honest with you, like, there wasn’t much left of, uh, South Korea, you know, like, uh, uh. As I was saying, uh, previously the shelters or their homes were cardboard boxes with, uh, big canisters, uh, tiles on the roof, uh,
That was standard. It wasn’t just the, uh , isolated, uh, and especially around Pusan, you know, like, um, that was, uh, whole area or suburbs. That’s the way, uh, the population were living in.,
J: But, um, the, um, and there’s, the villages, uh, went, you know, like, uh, uh,
it’s pretty hard to, uh, take away no matter who goes through, their country takes away, uh, it’s very hard to take away the life of a villager, you know.
I: Um hm.
J: So, um, that’s, that’s the way they lived like, um, In the, in those, in that time of ’53, if you compared a farming,
uh, land in Australia to, uh, the farms in, uh, Republic of Korea, uh, Australia was, uh, farming was easy. Yeah. Like the, the farms mainly rice paddies, uh, like, um, uh, Koreans, uh, worked a lot harder and longer, yeah.
I: How about people?
Did you see Korean children or Korean people?
J: Uh, yeah.
I: How did they look at the time?
J: The, uh, uh, I can, uh, there’s a
I: Show it to the camera on your chin, on your chin. So it, did that, did you take that picture?
I: Did you take that picture?
J: I took those.
I: You took.
I: So you had the camera at the time?
J: Yeah. I had a, uh, a Kodak Pony 35mm.
I: Wow. This is very [INAUDIBLE] So that’s how they looked to you, right?
J: Uh, yeah. That, that was a, uh, uh, the life of the average Korean, you know?
I: And when you went back 2014, they completely looked different, right?
J: Oh yeah, yeah.
It was a vast difference
J: like um, Korean, Republic of Korea in ’53 was, uh, in a lot of, uh, what do you say, uh, they, There was nothing. They had nothing. Their money was useless, uh.
And, um, from that situation to, um, what they are today is absolutely amazing of how they, um, achieved, uh, to be in the top 10 economies in the world.
I: So what was your unit at the time?
J: Uh, 2nd Battalion Royal Australian Regiment.
I: 2nd Battalion Royal
I: And company?
J: Uh, in Korea, I was in Support Company.
I: Support Company.
J: Yeah. Any tank platoon which, uh, ended up being a, um, independent rifle platoon.
I: Um. So you are, your specialty was Infantry Rifleman.
I: So tell me about Camp Casey that you arrived. How was it at the time? Was, how was the battle situation at the time?
J: Uh, well, Camp Casey was all tents. The First Commonwealth, uh, Division was in reserve at Camp Casey. And, uh, I, the battalion, uh, on the first night as
an Infantry battalion should have, uh, been secure, uh. But we lost, the battalion crashed on the first night.
I: What do you mean?
J: The motto and, uh , on a [playground] you’d have a, uh, M1 [INAUDIBLE] the, the battalion crest of the 2ndbattalion, yeah. So they had that mounted on the playground the first night.
The next morning, it was gone.
I: Oh really? Who was the enemy?
J: We don’t know.
I: You didn’t know.
J: But the New Zealanders got the blame.
J: Well, they, uh, what do you say, uh, it’s sort of sporting to, uh , uh, help yourself to a visa versa, you know, Australia to New Zealand.
I: So you were adjacent to the New Zealand units?
J: Yeah, not against them.
I: No, no, no. But you were there together. You were there together with the soldiers from New Zealand?
J: They were in Camp Casey.
J: The whole, the whole division was in Camp Casey.
I: I see.
I: Okay. And Camp Casey. So it is a, under the Imjin River, below?
J: Not far away.
I: Not far away.
J: Not far away.
I: So it was quite West, right?
J: Uh, it was cold. Yeah, like, uh, that was a, an tail end of, uh, March would be the tail end of winter, uh. We weren’t used to the, the cold. even though we had, um, winter clothing, um, from Pusan, you know, like, uh, it wasn’t enough to, uh, stop, uh, you feeling cold.
I: Australia it’s hot out every day.
J: Not every day, uh, but, uh, anyway. So, uh, that was, um, Camp Casey, you know, like. I don’t know, I can’t remember how long we, the division stayed, uh, in Camp Casey. But, um, uh, the Americans, they supplied the transport, uh,
for, uh, moving, uh, the division into the line, yeah.
I: So tell me about the typical day of your routine. What did you do there in Camp Casey? What, what was your mission and daily routine? Tell me the details.
J: Uh, well you were still, uh, doing basic, uh, training, yeah. And that was about, um, about it, yeah. So, uh,
there was nothing in to and, um,
I: Were there any combat that you were involved?
J: Uh, I’m trying to, uh, I’m trying to, uh, recollect, um, we, at one, and I think it was after, um, 159 that, uh, there was a, um, a combat team of the Republic of Korea. And they put on a, uh, a fire display, um,
Movement, uh, pretty, um, full on, you know. So that could have been, uh, when we were at Camp Casey, or it could have been at Area 6.
I: So there was no real severe battle going around bet ween us and enemy at the time, in, in Camp Casey area?
J: No. Like, um,
we were, uh, confined to, uh , the camp itself, you know, like we weren’t doing road tricks or, uh, anything at, other, other than being in Camp Casey.
I: So you were in the Support Company, and you were not in the front line?
J: No, no. At, uh, sorry. Uh, You were sort of jumping ahead, yeah.
We, uh, were in Support Company as a, uh, rifle platoon. We, as a anti-tank platoon, was in the front line. So, uh, uh, when we, uh, went from Camp Casey, we went to a, uh, feature called 159 and, um, the, uh, the particular, uh, area we were in was, uh, christened Ghost Town.
And, uh, uh, one, 159, uh, had its fair share of, um, uh, battle conditions put it that way, you know, like, um. Uh, you’re here today, gone the day, The worst, the worst of the enemies, uh, was mud and rats.
I: Yeah. They talk a lot about rats, right? So were there any dangerous moments that you might have lost your life during your service in Korea?
J: Uh, several times, uh .
I: Tell me about it. How it, how did it happen?
J: Well, that 159, uh, that wasn’t as vicious as, uh, The Hook, you know. But there was a camouflage around.
It went on the reverse slopes up the valley.
I: Um hm.
J: Anyway, uh, we had a listening post, um, down in the, the road. So anyway, I was in a, uh, group of four to go to this, uh, listening post, uh, on, one night
to find out what’s, what to expect, you know. You had to talk to the, uh, the previous night patrol. What happens, not what happens down there. So we used to get issued a, uh, a bottle of beer a day.
J: So down we went to, uh, the listening post. I’m sitting on a, uh, a mound of dirt
about to drink a, a mouthful of beer, and next thing the dirt was spitting up in the air from around me. Up the valley was the Chinese. So, um
J: Snipers, yeah. So I, I quickly moved off the, uh, the mound of dirt to the other side.
But, uh, on the same night the, um, artillery, uh, New Zealand artillery was firing over, uh, to, uh, the Chinese. Anyway, there was a tank squadron and, um, t here was a vehicle going in the d ark, uh, traveling along this, uh,, road.
You can tell when there, there’s a [drop shore] of artillery. Anyway, uh, the driver in the STS, uh, vehicle, armored car, he died. [INAUDIBLE] he died. Uh, he was inside the car, and the passenger was, uh, outside, uh, telling him to keep left or right.
He lived, the driver died.
J: And that was friendly fire.
I: Um. Friendly fire. Oh, okay.
I: That’s, that’s tragic.
J: Yeah. And on the same, uh, time on 159, it was, there was, uh, action and people dying and people
getting blown away. We also had the, um, uh, unfortunate experience, we were out on patrol on the, uh, forward slopes, and there was Chinese, uh, coming across the valley
I; Um hm.
J: where you could see them in the moonlight. So they called for, uh, machine gun fire. The only trouble was we were on the receiving end of,
uh, the machine gun fire. Someone, uh, gave the wrong reference.
I: Hm. What was the most difficult thing if I asked you to pinpoint during your ser vice, what was the most difficult thing for you?
I: Did you feel everyday threatened?
J: Uh, when
you were in the line, yes. Yeah, like um, you’re here today and gone in the next minute. Uh, that’s, that, that’s no exaggeration, you know. Like, um, uh, when, when we, uh, was involved, uh, with the Battle of the Hook, uh, you were under, uh, constant artillery fire and sniper
fire, uh, yeah. Like, uh, that was just, uh, uh, a vicious, uh, time, the battalion
I: Were you in the Battle of Hook?
I: Oh. Tell me about it. Where was it, and how was it? You were, who was the enemy and so on. Tell me.
J: Well, to start with, when we took our positions, um, uh,
B Company was on The Hook itself. Uh, anti-tank platoon was on the lower slopes of The Hook next to the, uh, the First, uh, the First, uh, U.S. Marine Detachment on a hill called 111, you know,
I: Um. Yeah?
The, if you, um, you went out on patrol, uh, you could, uh, definitely, um, look at, uh, having con, uh, a confrontation or a contact at night, you know, like, um, uh, So, you got to know the, uh, uh, if you, uh, uh, went on
[INAUDIBLE] you might not come back.
J: Yeah, like, um. But, uh, uh, I never got to, uh, the point where it was, um, uh, I wouldn’t do what is what, uh, I was instructed to do. You, you, you just did it, yeah, like, and that’s um,
I: Were you able to write letters back to your family? Did you have a girlfriend at the time?
J: Uh, yeah.
I: You did?
[End of Recorded Material]