Robert I. Winton
Robert Irving Winton was born in Merredin, Western Australia and grew up with two brothers and a sister. His father fought in the First World War, and his mother served in the Second World War. He was seventeen when he learned about the war in Korea, and he wanted to join the Australian Army. He set his sights on joining the Army but his father would not agree to let him do so for fear of the fighting. However, he did agree to let him join the Navy for he considered it to be much safer. He joined in June of 1951 and served on a light aircraft carrier called the HMAS Sydney as a signalman. By 1953, he was patrolling the waters off of Korea. Having limited shore leave, he did not get to see much of Korea, but what he did see was in ruins from the war. He never dreamed it could recover but was glad to learn of its prosperity when his grandson visited many years later.
Patrolling The Waters Around Korea
Robert Winton describes his jobs as a signalman as well as his responsibilities for coding and decoding messages. He recalls looking for spy ships and coming across a suspected Russian submarine.
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Robert Winton describes life on the carrier, sometimes working twenty hours a day and grabbing sleep whenever you could. He discusses the difficulties presented on board when the weather was bad. He recalls an accident on the carrier in which an injured sailor was flown off the carrier by Americans so that his legs could be saved and not amputated.
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My Grandson Loves Korea
Robert Winton reflects on the marvelous recovery Korea has made since the time of war, having discovered much through the eyes of his grandson who journeyed there many years later. He describes the many wonderful foods offered in Korea with a special preference to Kimchi.
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[Beginning of recorded material]
R: My name is Robert Irving Winton. I R V I N G.
I: Irving. That’s your middle name.
R: That’s the middle name.
I: What is your last name?
R: Winton, W IN T O N.
I: So your first name is Robert. Can I call you Bob?
R: You can certainly can.
I: Yes. Uh, what is your birthday?
R: Twenty-three May,
R: Nineteen thirty-four.
I: Thirty-four. You are very young still.
R: I was 18 when I was up there. Turned 19 when I was up there.
I: I see. Where were you born?
R: Merredin, Western Australia.
I: Could you spell it?
R: M E R R E D I N.
R: In West Australia.
I: West Australia. And tell me about your family background when you were growing up, parents and your siblings?
R: Um, that’s about, sort of a, a long time ago.
But, um, my father was in engineering when he came home from World War I. He was in Belgium, um. He came back to Australia, hang on, he trained horses for a while. Then he went to Teacher’s College for a while.
R: And then, then
I: He taught engineering?
R: No, he didn’t finish college. He left college
I: Um hm
R: and, uh, he married my
mother, um, in, gosh, I can’t remember when, 1920 or something like that.
R: And, uh, they were married till the time of the second World War, um. And, uh, my mother, uh, my father tried to join up again, and he couldn’t because he was 41 or 42
or something. He was too old. My mother joined the Air Force as a nurse. And so my father and I were by ourselves until I was, um, well, 15, 16. I joined the Post Office, um, and got transferred away as a trainee telegraphist. I went to, uh, transferred out of my hometown to a country, to another country town as a trainee.
I: Trainee of what?
R: Telegraphist. You know, Morse Code.
I: Ah hah.
I: Morse Code.
I: Uh huh.
R: So, uh, one day a friend of mine rang up and said let’s join up. Korean War’s on. And so we decided we would. But because I was only 17, I needed my father’s permission. And he said no. You’re not going in the Army. So I rang my mate and I said no Army.
He said we’ll go to the Navy.
R: So we tried, I went home and I said Navy, yes. You’ll be safe there, uh. Okay, you can join the Navy and he signed everything. And in June, uh, ’51, we went to, uh, Cerberus which is the Australian training place.
R: Ser, HMAS Cerberus
R: M A S
I: Um hm
R: which means Her Majesty’s Australian Ship, Cerberus
I: Um hm.
R: And that’s the training depot. Uh, we were there for, uh, only 12 months as, as a trainee radio operator
R: and they said that the HMAS Sydney had returned from Korea and was about to refit and return in a hurry
I: Um hm, um hm.
R: and they said, um, we need two signalmen in a hurry. So they said any of you radio operators, because we’re a little bit ahead of these things, want to transfer? So my mate and I, two mates and I, transferred to signalmen instead of telegraphy.
I: Um hm.
R: And we had to study other things, crypto, cryptography and things like that. And we, uh,
gosh, I can’t remember the time. But we were transferred to Sydney when she just about finished a refit. We did one training, uh, we went South
R: for a workup, and then we went up to, traveled North and, um, did our final training there with the Fireflies and the Sea Furries, flying off aircraft with rockets 500 pound bombs and things like that.
And we set sail for Korea.
I: So you decide to join the Navy because your father asked you to do that, right?
R: He, he would approve the Navy but not the Army.
I: Not the Army. So before we go into the details of your military service part, I want to ask you this question. Did you learn anything about Korea before in your school days?
R: In school days, we did.
I: You did?
R: A little because it was only
in those days a small amount of History. We knew that they were occupied, uh and, I better not say anymore. But we did the geography
R: and where the farming was and things like that. Just general stuff.
I: So you learned about Korea.
R: Oh, I knew, I knew where the country was, and I knew about the ocean between there and Japan.
I: Anything else?
R: No. It, it’s not vivid these days. I’m nearly 85.
I: So when the Korean War broke out in 1950, how did you come to know, how did you come to know the break out?
R: Oh, that was in the newspapers.
R: And they were talking about people like these guys over here
R: the Army wasn’t going there. And some of them were ex-World War II, and they were returning. And, uh,
so that’s, that [INAUDIBLE] I was only 16, so I decided then. My father, my mother and my two brothers were all involved in the War.
R: Two brothers in World War II.
I: Oh. So how many siblings did you have?
R: Two brothers, uh, and a sister.
I: Two brothers and sister. So, um,
when did you leave for Korea?
R: Uh, I have to look it up. The, uh, in the Navy, I was seven years active service. Time in Korea was, the time that we spent in Korea was from the 27th of
October, 1953 till the second of June, 1954.
I: So you were there in Korean, uh, ocean there, right?
I: Yes. And that was after the War.
R: That was ’53. We were there just beyond. We finished in July
R: and we were there in, what’d I say, October.
R: And we were back on patrols, yeah.
I: Okay. So tell me about your ship. What kind of ship was it?
R: It was an aircraft
carrier. It was
I: Aircraft carrier.
R: It’s what they called a CVL which is a light aircraft carrier
I: Um hm.
R: It had
I: What is the name of it?
R: HMAS Sydney. S Y D N E Y.
I: Um hm. And so there must been a lot of soldiers there ready to
R: A lot of sailors, yeah.
R: Um, yes, there was about, I think, 1,200 of us on the ship
I: Um hm.
R: And there was about five squadrons of Sea Furries and Fireflies.
I : And you were there as a radio operator?
R: No, I was there as a signalman.
R: Had to give up the radio
R: to get on the ship.
I: So what do you mean by being a signalman? What did you do? Explain for the young students who will listen to you.
R: A signalman does a lot of, uh, things. He mainly visual.
In those days it was all light, flashing lights either in the h and or a stable 10” or 20” slide which is quite big, um. We were looking out the whole time for other ships and anything else, and in the hot period, we’d go down below into the radio, through the radio room into what they called the Cryptography room,
and we spent, did sessions of cryptography as well.
R: which is coding and decoding messages.
I: So where were you in the, uh, East Sea or West Sea or South?
R: In, uh, mainly in the, mainly our patrols were in the East.
R: But we went around to the West at different times.
I: So you were just cruising around the Korean Peninsula.
R: Well, sort of, yes.
I: Uh huh.
I: Uh huh.
R: We were looking for, uh, spy ships
or anything you could find.
I: Did you find any spy ship?
R: Yeah, but I don’t think you wanna know about that. Um, yes. I guess there were. They were supposedly, uh, fishing boats and things like that.
I: Uh huh.
R: But they’re in the wrong area, um.
I: So not
R: There was a, there were submarines. We had an encounter with a submarine.
I: North Korean submarine?
R: Uh, Russian.
I: Uh huh.
R: But we suspect Russian anyway. And, and destroyers sat on top of it and now, we were in charge. We were what they call the, uh, task group, unit commander, air captain or, we had the flag on there actually. And, uh, he said no, don’t attack. They were getting ready to depth charge.
R: But he said no, that would cause a national, international incident.
R: So they held the, uh, submarine, sat on the top while we went back South to where we should have been anyway because we were probably a little bit North. But, uh, yes. That finished that. Another time we were flying off our aircraft, and we got to close to the Coast and, uh, I heard something whistle overhead and I reported it but they said no, we
must have imagined it up there. But they changed course immediately and went to full speed. So we got away from the Coast again. But we had our aircraft in the air. So we stayed out a bit further. We didn’t come so close to the Coast.
I: Had you ever landed in Korean, uh, soil?
R: Yeah. I, we went ashore at Inchon.
R: Uh, we pulled in there for fuel I think,
I: Uh huh.
R: from memory. And, uh,
stores which were, no, it couldn’t have been stores. But , uh, we were able to get off and have a look. And all I saw was bomb craters, wrecked buildings, little groups of children, orphan children, hanging together, bounded together. It was a very sad sight. It was a terrible sight.
I: Inchon you mean.
I: So how long did you stay there in
R: Oh, we were only there for a couple of hours. We were
I: Couple hours.
R: The ship was in there for about
12 hours, uh. But yeah. We, we had limited time because there’s still considered in those times, I think, a war zone.
I: You, you learned something about the location of Korea in the, from the school. But you didn’t really know about the Korea at all, and when you saw those orphans and the wrecked city, what did you think about it? Be honest.
R: I hate war.
War, never changed anything. And, uh, look at it today. And they’ve still achieved nothing at al.
I: Yeah. Korea is still divided.
R: Still, yes.
I: And we are technically at war because we don’t have a peace treaty yet.
R: No. Not yet.
I: What do you think?
R: I think that Kim should come to the party and, you know, come to his senses and grow up. He’s, it’s
so wrong. And families are separated, children separated, you know. People aren’t going to see one another. People die on each side, and the treatment they get in North Korea, I don’t think, they’re starving up there. It, it’s, uh, not a good situation.
I: Well at the same time, the super powers around the Korean Peninsula, they don’t want
to see any changes from here. They want a status quo. They don’t want to break out this status quo. They don’t want us to be reunified. They don’t want nothing. What do you think?
R: Well, I don’t, I don’t know about China if that’s what you’re talking about. Japan, well, Japan doesn’t care anymore. They’ve gone back home. Uh, but China. I think they see that as a buffer zone. That’s all.
R: Just a buffer zone.
I: That’s right. Um, tell me about the life inside of the aircraft carrier.
while we were on patrols, we worked probably 20 hours a day, you know, at action stations. If you were on patrol, you’re an action station. So there’s no rest point. You get your sleep when you can and, uh, because the weather up there with the ice and snow and sleet, storms, and it’s very hard. Yeah, it was a hard time.
I: Um hm. Were you able to write letters back to your family?
R: Only on the odd occasion,
and I only wrote to my father at that stage anyway.
R: But, uh, yeah. It had to, it was an experience. But it teaches you about more and, we had accidents on the aircraft carrier when
I: What was it ?
I: What kind of accident was it?
R: Oh, the one that sticks out in my mind, I was watching, it was, uh, an arrest wire from one of the aircraft slipped back off the aircraft,
cause one of the guys was running out, and he, hit it between, under the knees. And they had a captain surgeon on board, and he said we’re gonna have to take off his legs. Someone said no. There was a doctor, I can’t remember whether it was in Pusan, anyway, the, I think he was called the Great Pretender or something like that
R: and they, so the Americans said they had a helicopter
and took him ashore. And when we left, uh, Yokohama on our way home, uh, they had, Americans had a band there for us saying goodbye, and he was there on crutches with both his legs.
I: Good. That’s good. Have you been back to Korea?
I: No. Do you know what’s been done in Korea in terms of economy and democracy and so on?
R: Yes, I do.
I: How do you know?
R: Well, my grandson has been up there.
R: To, um, Pusan I think,
I: Uh huh.
R: Because of the, uh, interrelationships we have with the Korean Association in Melbourne.
R: And they take the, the grandchildren and will send them up there, and they’re there for a few weeks, and I can’t even stop him eating Kimchi now. His Kimchi Kimchi.
And we eat it, too.
I: What’s his name?
R: His name is Kyle Metchiefski.
I: And what did he say about Korea?
R: He loved it.
I: Tell me the details.
I: What did he like?
R: He said that he loved the culture. He loved the food. That was the main thing.
I: Main thing.
R: And, uh,
I: He liked spicy.
R: Yeah, oh, he did, yeah. But he’s not so sure these days. He’s getting older. But, um, yeah.
Patricia can’t eat Kimshi. She says it’s too hot for her. But, uh, I enjoy it.
I: And what did he say about Korean society, Korean economy and so on?
R: He thought the culture up there is beautiful. He said you were safe on the streets. He said, you know, at the time he was there, there was never anything, any worries. But, um, the people that, that took him there looked after him extremely well. He said it was so well organized, and he went up to the DMZ and, uh,
all that sort of thing and had a look around. So they really showed him the country. And he loved it.
I: When you left Korea, when did you leave Korea, uh, ’54 June
R: Yes, yeah.
I: Had you ever thought that Korea would become like this today?
I: Why not?
R: No because I’d seen the, the destruction and the devastation. And so I didn’t think, you know, anything could [INAUDIBLE] over there.
However, in the, in the future, I got involved with a American company which builds offshore platforms and gas plants and things like that. So originally, we started buying all their equipment and platforms and things from Singapore. But then Korea came into it and started to get more, uh, they were very technical, and budget-wise cheaper,
and we thought better.
R: Engineering wise. So that was when we started buying all their stuff for our offshore platforms.
I: Do you know the rank of Korean economy in terms of GVP?
R: No, but I think it’s pretty high now.
I: It’s the 11th largest economy in the world.
I: Eleventh largest.
I: But in 1954 and ’53, the Korea was completely nothing.
I: What do you think about this
R: I think there’s a lot of brilliant people there and a lot of untapped energy and, yeah. And I think, uh, they’re only going to get better.
I: And our territorial size is 1/78 of
I: We don’t have a drop of oil. We don’t have nothing. But now we were able to accomplish that as well as substantive
democracy because you fought for us and gave chance to rebuild our nation. What do you think about that?
R: Oh, I think that it’s good. But I really feel for the Army goers. They were the ones that did the hard work I felt. Um,
R: Or, you know.
I: Or the Air Force.
R: The Air Force
I: in the air.
R: Oh, well they flew in from Japan, 77th Squadron, the Mustangs and the [INAUDIBLE] and that, yeah.
I: There were in Kimpo also.
R: Kimpo, yes, yeah. I remember that.
I: Yeah. So it’s a choice of, uh, in your life, and you become nation.
R: Give them your service.
I: So, you know. But without Navy, there is no war. So let’s make sure, let’s make sure that everybody contributed to the war.
R: They did, yeah.
I: Any special episode that you still remember in, in the aircraft carrier other than the, the, the boy
that, who, were injured?
R: Um, we, we had aircraft on takeoff, off the end of the ship, engine failure, and we, you know, a couple drowned, I think from memory. But we saved a couple.
I: Um hm.
R: Um, they were the Fireflies. The Sea Furry I was watching him downwind
I: Um hm
R: Uh, through binoculars, when he was landing and he exploded right in front of our, you know, I watched the whole explosion.
R: We went to, uh, get him,
get the, see if anything was left. From memory, they got a wing tip and a helmet, and that was it. So he died there.
I: Died right there.
R: Right in front of my eyes.
I: Were you wounded?
R: Not at any time.
I: Lucky. Very lucky. So, um, any other episode that you wanna share with me?
R: Not that I can think of, nothing that sticks out like those.
I: Anything that you wrote and didn’t
tell me? Look, let’s have a look at it.
R: included in any, in any major battles. Our aircraft flew patrols every day no matter what the weather.
I: Um hm.
R: except from about one or two occasions. I think there’s a typhoon there. Um, right about right there. Whilst in the Navy, we had exposure oh, no. That was me.
I, uh, I just [INAUDIBLE] left the Navy. We needed offshore platforms and the offshoots of all that. And at that stage, Korea was still getting up on their feet again. In the ‘60’s and ‘70’s and on, Korea was, uh, to show the world, herself to the world stage for engineering which is very much a leader today.
R: Um, that’s probably much.
R: Uh, I said we saw a little of Korea as it was constant patrols. We didn’t go, we went ashore at Inchon, I’ve said that.
R: uh, which was devastated. I remember the children, and they had nowhere to go.
R: They had nowhere, and we didn’t know what to do. The KV, in the KWV people that I’ve met are peaceful people. They’re fun loving and very caring.
And when we’re in Melbourne, uh, when we went to the church there with them, the children, uh, which were very respectful, and we’ve got cards here today that were given to us from the children.
R: And, uh, yes I support the reunification but with very many conditions.
I: Yeah. Um, let me ask this question. By 2020, we going to commemorate
70th anniversary of the Korean War, and that’s kind of ridiculous that it’s been here for 70 years without ending, real ending. What would you say to the Korean people?
R: I can’t tell him. Um, I don’t know. Do the best you can. But, uh, be careful. Be on guard.
I: Um hm.
R: If you’re not on guard,
bad things’ll happen.
I: Alright. Any other message that you want to share with me?
I: No? Great. Bob, thank you for coming and, um, for your service, and Korea has never forgotten the contribution made by the, the veterans from all of the world, 22 countries, and now we are here in Australia, and it’s been my honor and
a pleasure to meet you with your wife, Patricia, here. And thank you for your fight, and thank you for your service.
R: We’re ready to do it again. Ask those guys over here.
I: Alright. Thank you.
[End of Recorded Material]