John Munro was raised on a farm with his siblings and his father fought in WWII. After being called up for service, John Munro was trained for three months and decided to transfer over to the Regular Army in 1953 so that he could fight in the Korean War. After being trained, he was sent to Korea in 1954 to protect the 38th parallel while creating a safe barrier between North and South Korea. While in Seoul, he was sent to a Korean orphanage to eat and play with the children who were left without parents due to the war. This experience and the multiple Korea Revisit Trips allowed John Munro the opportunity to see the rebuilding of South Korea.
When the Nation Calls, You Answer
John Munro shares how he was called to service for the Australian National Army in 1952 and was going to be stationed on the home front. Since he wanted to fight in the Korean War, he describes joining the Regular Army in 1953. He recalls being sent to Korean as a nineteen year old in 1954 after the ceasefire to patrol the demilitarized zone (DMZ).
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Guarding the 38th Parallel
John Munro recalls that his mission was to patrol the DMZ at Panmunjeom to make sure the border was safe. He recounts serving in a variety of battalions depending on where he was stationed in Korea. He shares that while serving on the DMZ, he also added mines along the line to keep away North Koreans who might have snuck over the 38th parallel.
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Watching Over the Enemy
John Munro recounts how he tried to go home and work at his parents' cafe and service station. He shares that he decided to go back into the military as an Australian Army Reservist. He recalls being stationed with the 38th Battalion, F Unit, and being sent to the DMZ to patrol right across from the North Koreans. He shares that it was rough protecting South Korea through the freezing winters and steamy summers.
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Growing Up in a Korean Orphanage
John Munro shares that he did not experience any dangerous moments while patrolling the DMZ in early 1954. He recounts how, as part of 1 Battalion, he went to Seoul to spend the day at an orphanage. He recalls his time spent at the orphanage and how he was given six children to eat with and play with throughout the afternoon.
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[Beginning of recorded material]
J: My name is John Munro. M U N R O.
I: And what is your birthday?
J: My birth date is the 22nd of the third, 1934.
I: I’m sorry. Could you repeat that?
J: Twenty-second of March which is the third month, 1934.
I: So you’re very young.
J: Very young?
I: Yeah. Thirty-four.
J: I’m nearly 85.
I Eighty-five, right?
I: But every, it’s more like
88, 89 now.
J: Yes, you’re right. Yeah.
I: So 84 year old, and where were you born?
J: Swan Hill.
I: Could you spell it?
J: S W A N H I L L .
J: H I L L
I: I W O
J: L L
I: Swin Hill
J: Swan Hill. H I L L
I: L. I’m sorry. Swin Hill
J: Swan Hill.
I: Is it close from here?
J: Uh, it’s about, uh, 300 odd Ks up North.
I: Up North.
J: It’s on the border of the Maori.
I: And tell me about your family background when you were growing up.
J: Uh, well, I was only a young boy [INAUDIBLE] and, uh, when Dad was joined up in the 1939-’45 War.
I: Um hm.
J: And he was, uh, yes. I were, I think I was only about a eight year-old when Dad was called up.
And they went to
I: So you were in charge of the family chores?
J: Uh, virtually there was Mom and I and my sister. That’s all.
I: What did you do?
J: I was waiting to go to school. My sister was and me Mum would, we’re living on a little farm.
I: Farm. So what kind of animal did you have at the time?
J: Uh, just a couple of cows and a horse.
I: Um hm.
J: And, uh, didn’t run any [INAUDIBLE]
I: How many siblings did you have?
J: Me, uh, I had seven after I got married.
I: No, no, no, no, at the time when you were growing up.
J: Yeah. This is, after I came home from Korea and got out of the Army.
I: Uh huh.
I: So tell me about the school you went through.
J: I told you about state school, and then, uh, when Dad come home from the War, we sold that and [INAUDIBLE[ back and went into Swan Hill, and I went to school there.
And, uh, I left in the first form after, when I was in Bedford, England to help Dad on the farm.
I: Um hm.
J: And that was the farm in Swan Hill then. And, so we had a few sheep and cows and things like that.
I: Um hm.
J: And then, uh, I used to work for a, a Maori Valley [INAUDIBLE] and transporting company
in Swan Hill. Uh, they ran a tourist [INAUDIBLE] on buses and things like that. And then, uh, I got called up for National Service.
J: in 1952.
I: Nineteen fifty-two.
J: Yeah. I got called up for National Service.
I: So you were actually drafted.
J: Yeah. I got called up
I: Called up.
J: Yeah. I was in that time bracket.
I: So you didn’t volunteer, right?
J: No, not then.
J: So anyhow, I did my three months at [Pakaponu].
And then I did 12 months with the CMF, and then I joined the regular Army. And I went straight to, uh, when I joined the regular Army in 1953, and I, I was posted up to Four Battalion in Sydney, Ingleburn, and then my first posting the day after the training was straight over t o Korea.
I: So what was your unit again?
J: The one in Sydney, Four Battalion.
I: Four Battalion.
J: Royal Australian Regiment.
I: And what was your specialty?
J: Just an Infantry man.
I: Infantry man.
J: Yeah, yeah. Front slow gunner, ground, whatever you like to call it.
I: But before we talking about the War, I want you to talk to me about your knowledge on Korea. Did you know at the time before you leave or when you graduate, did you graduate high school?
J: I had one year in high school.
J: When I left to go and help Dad on the farm.
I: Yeah. And did you know anything about Korea?
I: You didn’t know anything?
J: No, no.
I: Not at all?
J: Not at all. The only time I found out about Korea is when I was doing my National Service, the K Force Police for training to go to Korea. And that’s one of the things that stayed with me after I got out of the CMF [INAUDIBLE] I’ll join up and, because they wouldn’t take National Service boys to Korea. So I joined the regular Army. And, uh, I went. I was 19 when I got sent over.
And, of course, the cease fire had been signed by then.
I: When did you arrive in Korea, from where?
J: In February ’54.
I: Um hm. You didn’t go to Japan?
J: Yeah, I’m sorry. I went from Sydney to Japan.
J: Yeah. And that’s where we did the training, [HARAMARA]
I: Um hm.
J: and those places before we went to Korea, yeah.
I: And where did you arrive in Korea?
Uh, that would have been about March, I think March ’54.
I: Um hm.
J: cause we only did a short course. Yeah, it’d be March, April ’54.
I: And where did you arrive, Inchon?
J: Yeah, it was
I: Or Pusan?
J: Pu, went from Japan to Pusan by boat, and then by train from there up to Seoul, and t he truck across to Three Battalion.
I: And then you went to Three Battalion.
I: How was it at the time? Where was it, Three Battalion. Where was it?
I: Was it North of the Imjin River or
J: No. Well, it was, yeah, it was, yeah, it was because, uh, uh, yeah. Trying to think. It’s so long [INAUDIBLE]
I: Yeah, right.
J: Actually, uh, but anyhow we arrived at Three Battalion, and I was posted to A Company. And then, of course, we did patrolling,
- We did a lot of work on the Kansas Line.
I: Kansas Line.
J: Yeah. Digging in the, completing the trenches and everything.
I: But at the time, already War ended, right?
J: Yeah. In Seoul.
I: What was your mission? What did you do actually?
J: Well, we were still on operational duties. We still patrolling and doing all that sort of thing, you know. Uh, A lot of minefields, we sort of checking out, all that sort of thing. A lot of [features] from up and down
to make sure everything was safe and, uh, a lot of patrolling and then, uh, of course, in October ’54 when Three Battalion came home
I: Uh huh.
J: I was posted, I was A Company One Battalion.
I: Um hm.
J: And that’s where we built, One Battalion built their, U Battalion lines on the Imjin River.
I: So you still there in Korea?
I: So you went to First Battalion,
and you still served in the, in the Imjin River area.
J: Yeah, all along the River, yeah. That’s where we had [INAUDIBLE] until, uh, uh, um ’55, yeah when I came, was posted back to Japan. I sat there for three months and then back to Australia. Then I got posted back to Fifteen National Service Battalion. So there I, I did a driver’s course
and, uh, Anyhow, that’s when I thought I’d had enough of this. So I applied for discharge, began helping Dad and Mum with, they bought a [INAUDIBLE] and service stat ion now.
I: Um hm.
J: So I, my discharge was granted, and then after three months, I had enough of this. So I joined the Army Reserve. And that was, uh, uh, the 38th Battalion, the CMF Unit.
I: So tell me about any
particular or, uh, kind of memory that you have during your service in Kora? Any dangerous moment? How was the situation there? Did you see North Koreans or Chinese?
I: Tell me about those details.
J: Well, we spent, uh, we had to spend a certain amount of time up in the DMZ. That’s when we had to put the military police uniforms on and go up and, I took my turn up in the tower to watch the boys
across their [HEAD], uh,
I: Who were there at, North Koreans or Chinese?
J: No, North Koreans.
I: Not Chinese?
J: Well, I couldn’t tell the difference from where we were? They would have been, they would have been. Uh , I let them in there somewhere. Uh, any episodes, that’s what we did a lot of times up there and, uh, uh, mainly patrolling and, as I said, you know, quite a bit of time up in the DMZ. That was good. Uh, very interesting because, uh, one
stage when we were down doing our patrol along the boundary, along the 38th, there was, uh, patrol on the other side went past, and this Scotch bloke yelled out why don’t you come and join us, Aussie? So I said no thanks. I’ll stay on this side. So, um, yeah. So, yeah. In, uh, I found it very good, very interesting because, uh, the country, you know we
froze in the winter time and, uh, you nearly sweated nothing in the summer wet season. But it, you know, I, I wasn’t sorry when I left because, uh, but I enjoyed my time there. I made a. a lot of good blokes and, uh, my good friendships through the Army life.
I: What friendship are you talking about, with your Aussie or other, other soldier from other country?
J: Uh, no, no badly. Uh, well a couple of, uh, English blokes, a couple of Kiwis.
But mainly our own blokes because, uh, we were sort of stationed A Company this, B Company this, C Company there, and we were all, the only time we sort of seen anybody else is when we went on leave into Japan, uh which was, uh, that’s where we got tied up with the Kiwis and Canadians and the others.
I: So were there any new battle, serious battle between enemy and, but were there any skirmish or were there any dangerous moments?
J: No, not that we know of. Well, uh, not really, no. Uh, we were on this side, and they were on that side, and that’s, you know, um, But we were still walking around with a loaded rifle
I: Um hm
J: like in the early ’54. It was, it wasn’t till about, uh, July ’55 when they sort of started to slow down and things became a lot more peaceful. Yeah. So a [INAUDIBLE] well, I can’t say a [INAUDIBLE]
time was had. Work, we had to do a lot of work. It was an experience I’ll never forget. And
I: What, what, what are the things that you still remember? How was Korea there at the time? Did you, have you, have you been to other city other than Kansas Line?
J: No, no.
I: So you didn’t have a chance to look at any other part of Korea?
J: No, no, no. Um, Not being an Infantry soldier probably been lucky enough to be a
truck driver or something. We could have got into Seoul or somewhere like that. But the only time I’d seen Seoul was apart from the trip up. So on the way back when we sent to Seoul to catch the train back to Pusan. Yeah. But it was very interesting and, uh, I’m not sorry I went in a lot of ways because I got a lot of knowledge out of it and, uh, luckily since, uh, uh,
well, I had to retire from the Army Reserve in 1981 when I was 47
J: because I got a commissioning and, uh, so, uh, lucky in 2001, 2010 and just last July, I had a trip back to Korea, and I cannot believe
I: Tell me about it. What didn’t you believe about it?
J: Well, the thing was when I left, Seoul Station was virtually nothing.
I: Did you see, did you see that at the time?
I: Tell me. What did you see at the time in 1952, 3?
J: Uh, well ’55 it was.
J: Yeah. And, uh, well, it was just, the station there virtually and a couple of chairs. Uh, well I must admit, too, that I, in my time at One Battalion, I was posted down to Seoul. Sorry, I forgot about this.
J: I was posted down to Seoul to have a day with the orphanage
I: Uh huh.,
J: And, uh,
the, uh, that was [INAUDIBLE] so I went down for the day with a, I was allocated six little orphans for the day. So I had to sit with them and eat with them and, and that was, was [INAUDIBLE] and, uh, the Korean Minister or whatever he was and, uh, that was, that was well worth the trip to see those kids and spend time with them and have a meal with them eating Korean food, first time ever.
I: What did you think about when you see those orphans? What were you thinking?
J: Well, I was still only a bit of a boy myself really. But, you know, the experience to see those kids and se how well they’d been looked after by the soldiers. But I felt a lot because, uh, where were their parents, you know, and when you go to an orphanage, it’s not, it’s not funny by any point. So, but anyhow, it was a good experience and one that I’ll never forget. I’ve still
got fondness for those kids that I, um, yeah. So, uh, Yeah.
I: What about, so when did you go back to Korea?
J: And 2018.
I: Last year.
J: Yeah. I took my wife over.
I: Ah. Very nice. And what did you think about this change?
J: Well, it’s, like the first time I went back in 2000, I think it was when I left virtually bare, hardly any buildings, uh. Cities were just, you know. But to come back and then see high rise motels, hotels, streets, people everywhere, beautiful cars and, I couldn’t believe it. They had, it was fantastic to see how well that you people, you know, built up after that Korean War.
J: And, uh, that’s why I wanted to go back again for the 60th, uh.
I: 70th you mean.
J: The 50th was 2000.
I: Right. So, yes, 2000.
I: In 2000, right. Um, when you left Korea, did you think that Korea would become like this today?
I: Why not?
J: Well, I didn’t really know you people, did I, apart from, uh, well, when I was with One Battalion,
we had a Korean Sargent stationed with us, trained with us, uh, and I thought well, you know, when I left I thought God, what’s going to happen to those countries that, that had come up. And, you did, and I’m very proud of what yous done, and I was happy to go back, and I was happy to take my wife over there. And she loved it.
I: You can brag about it
J: Yes. She loved it because she said, you know, when a car wants to come in
she said no one hassles. No one blows their horns. No one gets crook. They just let the other car come in and away. And she really enjoyed it.
J: So I did, too.
I: So, think about this. Have you, has Australia involved in other country than Korea has produced such tangible and clear visual outcome of rapid economic development and democratization.
And we still don’t talk about it, and people call it Forgotten War.
I: What do you think? Why?
J: Well, really, um, even when I came home from Korea, no one said where’s that? What are you doing over there, you know? They, it was really, it was never talked about. It was never publicized. We went over, did our job and come home. [INAUDIBLE] It was never
really apart from us blokes that had been there and come home and if we’re in the same battalion, when we got home we talked about it. But the public, they didn’t really know. I nearly [INAUDIBLE] oh no, I shouldn’t say that.
I: So what do you think we have to do to change that reality, forgotteness of the War?
J: Well, it’s not so much now as it was earlier. It is becoming more and more prominent now.
I: Um hm.
J: And I think we got to, uh, think about that a little because of the Viet Nam boys.
They, when they come home, they started, uh, pushing for us as well. And, uh, they, they’ve done a lot of good for us, um. Yeah. It’s a bit, cause we, you know, we’ve, um, as Association, we’ve, in the other States, we’ve, uh, pushed to help [INAUDIBLE[ and got out and done things and got people to notice that
we have, we were there, and we did fight for that country and, uh, we’re very proud of what we did.
I: So what if I say to you that I’m going to use this interview to make a textbook or curricular resources for the educators so that they can use it, so that basically students will listen from you? What do you think?
J: I’m quite happy about that. If I wasn’t happy, I wouldn’t be here. I’m quite happy about that.
I: Did you have any chance to work with other Korean people?
J: No. Only that Sargent that was, spent time with us. He was a nice fella, uh, Kim. I can’t think of his surname, but Kim.
J: Yeah. No, he was a good bloke, yeah, yeah.
I: Any other message you wanna, didn’t tell me but you wanna share with me about your service?
J: No, not really. I don’t think, I think I finished up doing,
uh, 25 years all up with the regular Army, Army Reserve, um. I got the Reserve Force decoration, an [INAUDIBLE] decoration which was the Koreans. And just recently I was awarded with the RIN, the Australian [INAUDIBLE] medal.
I: Any other special message to the world about the War that you fought for, the Korean War? Any, for 70th, for the 70th anniversary. Do you have any special
message to the world about your experience?
I: Tell me. Don’t be shy.
J: No. I, I think, uh, no. I, I was very happy that I, I put my fist in the armpit if you like to say, to go over there and help.
J: Uh, and, uh, I think if the same thing happened again, we’d probably do it again. But no. I , I, I’m happy that I,
we did our share. Thank you.
I: Thank you so much. Thank you, John. We are done.
[End of Recorded Material]