Harry Reynolds was the youngest person aboard the HMAS Condamine and he was tasked with one of the most important jobs.
Harry served aboard the Condamine during the Korean War. His entrance into the War began with a grocery run to Lord Howe Island.
The Condamine was in the middle of loading a shipment of potatoes to take to the island when the Commander issued a change of plans. They were now sailing for Korea in support of the United Nations mission there.
Harry served as an electrician aboard. He was tasked with keeping the electricity flowing, a task that was vital to the ship's survival. Besides the obvious, it was important because he was responsible for the degaussing gear.
"The best way of describing it [the degaussing gear] is that it's an electronic belt. It runs around the length of the ship and it negates the magnetism of the ship so if you sail over a magnetic mine, it won't come up and blow it to hell."
A wet plate collodion tintype of Harry Reynolds. © Jack McLain 2022
Condamine was a small, slow ship but she was tough. Harry says, "She did whatever she was ordered to do."
The ship was often tasked with patrolling the seas and inspecting the cargo of passing ships, including Korean fishing boats. Harry remembers treating all those he met with respect.
His fondest memory of service during the War was of his 20th birthday. It was Christmas Day, 1952 and, as the youngest member of the crew, he was allowed to address the mess and be the Chief of the Mess for the day, as is the naval tradition. He demurs from elaborating about the remarks he made on the day, only that his superior cautioned him just before speaking, "He said, 'Remember, you won't be boss tomorrow!'" It was this camaraderie that formed his enduring memories of naval life.
His greatest challenge came from the bitter cold of the East China and Yellow Seas, where the temperature was about 15 degrees below zero.
"There was a lot of ice, and you couldn't sleep because the ice was scraping down the ship the whole night."
Part of his duties included repairing the engine room fan, which was made difficult by the extreme cold. He had to be quick-thinking to do his job effectively.
"The front plate [of the engine room fan] had 12 or 14 bolts and I snapped two or three of them because of the cold. I borrowed a blow torch off the naval stores engineers department and warmed them up that way to loosen them up."
The repair usually takes about an hour to do but due to the harsh conditions, it took about 5-6 hours to complete the job. Harry could only stay outside for 8-10 minutes at a time before having to thaw out inside the ship.
At the end of his duty aboard Condamine, he returned to Sydney to his fiancée who he hadn't seen in a year. They went to Melbourne so he could introduce her to his "people". It was at this time that he was due for a pay rise. He was going to spend the money on a new car, but his fiancée gave him a proposition.
"What are we gonna do: get married or buy a car?"
He never got the car, instead he got a marriage that lasted 64 years.
Harry simply wants the notion of the Korean War being the 'Forgotten War' to be forgotten. He wishes for contemporary Australians to understand that Korean War veterans are veterans too.
"I think people need to be aware of the sacrifices veterans made. They went and did their duty, in the service to be a defence for the country. I hope we'll always have people who will do that."
Harry Reynolds today. © Jack McLain 2022