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Rear Admiral Ian Crawford AO AM (Mil) RAN (Ret'd)

Rear Admiral Ian Crawford AO AM (Mil) RAN (Ret'd)

Rear Admiral, Royal Australian Navy



During the Korean War, Rear Admiral (Ret’d) Ian Mclean Crawford AO AM (Mil) served as an 18-year-old Midshipman on HMS Ceylon, a British light cruiser. The ship’s first commitment was to transport British troops from Hong Kong to Busan. Throughout Ceylon’s service in the Korean War its main task was to provide naval gunfire support for shore operations and provided cover for amphibious landings and evacuations. He served 40 years in the Royal Australian Navy, ultimately retiring as a Rear Admiral. He actively promoted the establishment of the Australian National Korean War Memorial in Canberra to honour Korean War service and sacrifice.


Click on images to enlarge.

Photography by Tae Yun. Courtesy of the Consulate General of the Republic of Korea in Sydney.

Rear Admiral Ian Crawford started his service with the Royal Australian Navy at the Royal Australian Naval College in 1949 as a cadet Midshipman. With the others of his entry, he was appointed for training with the Royal Navy, starting in the training cruiser HMS Devonshire

In two training cruises, one to the Western Mediterranean and one to the West Indies, they lived and worked as sailors: slinging hammocks, scrubbing decks, painting ship, keeping watches, running boats as well as attending classes of instruction.

On one occasion, he recalls chipping through the paint of the ship’s superstructure and seeing the different paint colours, knowing that each of these layers of paint represented the history of the vessel, like the growth rings on a tree. 

"In those days the Royal Navy had dark grey for the Home Fleet, light grey for the Mediterranean, and white for the East Indies and the Far East. As I chipped the paintwork, it exposed the ship's history. This was a touch of naval history."

Ian completed the training cruiser time and was promoted to Midshipman. Following this promotion, he was assigned to the British Colony Class cruiser, HMS Ceylon at Malta to be based at Trincomalee as the flagship of the East Indies Fleet. 

Ceylon was deployed for active service in the Korean War to replace HMS Belfast in July 1950. Ian and the other young crew members were excited to connect with Second World War veterans and learn from them. 

"We were 18-19 years old, and we had all been brought up with generations of grandfathers and uncles and fathers who'd fought in the Second World War. They were the standard for how we were expected to serve. We were going to link up with their experience and it was very inspiring for us."

Ceylon’s first mission was to transport a hastily assembled British brigade from the garrison in Hong Kong to Busan to reinforce the Americans holding the Busan perimeter. In an uncontested landing, 600 soldiers of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders were landed. 

From there, Ceylon began patrolling the Korean coast, right up into the Yalu Gulf of the Yellow Sea, to prevent any resupply from China across the sea. It provided air defence and gunfire support for the shore operations.

"We settled down into our routine. Our Captain was very active. He established a patrol scheme and gave all the patrols code names. Our main activities were patrolling to give support to guerrillas and shelling any evidence of North Korean batteries."

At a strategic level, Ian feels that while the most bitter fighting occurred on the Korean Peninsula itself, one of the deciding factors was sea power. The United Nations had maritime and air supremacy.

"Everyone knew that we could isolate the peninsula. A lot of people discredit the effectiveness of maritime and air superiority to the outcome. For a time, air superiority came from aircraft carriers."

While Ian witnessed the brutality of war. One of his most enduring memories is of the kindness that he witnessed over the Christmas period on CHAKYA KU DO, an island adjacent to the ship. 

Sailors had been sent ashore to cut some greenery to make a Christmas tree when they discovered a ROK orphanage. A woman with a baby was looking after about twenty small children in a dilapidated wooden building; and there was evidently an acute shortage of food, clothing and fuel. The Ship's Company at once showed a keen interest in this, and a broadcast appeal produced a large quantity of warm clothing – including a "surprisingly feminine pink garment for the teacher". 

Suitable food was purchased from store by the Welfare Committee and parties went ashore on three occasions to do what they could for the children. Shipwrights with axes and saws led a fueling party which filled the woodshed, seamen dressed up the children and gave them toys, the Engine Room Department busied itself with the water supply and "flashing up, while the Medical Officer attended to two sick children, huddled together on the floor, and left some medical supplies and good advice." 

"Apart from any benefit to the orphans, these expeditions provided a diverting interest for the Ship's Company during this waiting period. We placed a no-fire restriction round CHAKYA KU DO and I often wonder what happened to this little group of Koreans. A lot of people talk about stories of Christmas on the Western Front during the First World War, well that sort of kindness went on also amongst the sailors of  HMS Ceylon during Korea as well."

While distractions like these lifted the sailors' spirits, the severe winter was tough onboard Ceylon. The bitter cold and isolation from the rest of the world caused morale problems. It was the recognition of their efforts that would improve their spirits.

"We were off the North Korean coast, not a light anywhere. We felt the malevolent force of the Chinese ashore there. Morale was rock bottom. We'd missed our mail, which was very important. And we'd been at sea for a long time. Then the report came through: our mail had been picked up, we were told we'd been seen on TV, and we were going to get a medal. Morale picked up. We'd been recognized."

Ian emphasizes the impact that the simple act of recognition has during war time, and even post-war.

"Recognition is important for morale in the time of war and also important for peace of mind in one's old age."

Ian returned to England in 1951 to undertake training and was promoted to Sub Lieutenant. He transferred back to the Royal Australian Navy in late 1952 where he continued to serve for the next 37 years.

Ian was the instigator and Chairman of the Australian National Korean War Memorial Committee. In 2002, he was appointed as an Officer of the Order of Australia for his service to Korean War veterans through this committee.

He feels that the Korean War was more important than just going off and fighting.

"It established our place in the world. We [Australia] made our independent decisions. It was important for us to understand this in our strategic history. The impact of the Korean War on Australia was more than just going off and fighting. It established the reputation of our sailors, soldiers and airmen who were very highly respected in the First World War, Second World War, but also in Korea."

Rising to the rank of Rear Admiral, he credits this to the people who trained him and brought him up as a young Midshipman. He would never forget the lessons he learned in the war in Korea.

Ian feels that his experience in Korea and how he came to appreciate ships’ dependence on the logistic services of the Royal and United States navies shaped his views later when he became an Officer of flag rank largely responsible for modernising the logistical strategies of the modern Royal Australian Navy.

"I think of the impact on a young officer, 17, 18 or 19 years old. We were impressed by not only the officers that led us, but the Chief Petty Officers and Petty Officers who looked after us. They’re a great breed of people and I have enormous respect for them and great pride in Australia’s achievement in the Korean War."

Discover more stories of Korean War veterans at the Armistice in Korea: 1953-2023 photography exhibition open at the Anzac Memorial until 7 August