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James Reardon

James Reardon

Assistant Steward, Royal Australian Navy



Assistant Steward James Reardon served aboard the aircraft carrier HMAS Sydney in Korean waters after the Armistice from October 1953 to June 1954. He had immigrated to Australia from the UK at the age of 17. After the war he worked as a marketing reporter for the NSW Department of Agriculture, and has dedicated a considerable amount of time volunteering for his local RSL.


Click on images to enlarge.

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

As a boy, James (Jim) Reardon witnessed his hometown of Liverpool, England destroyed by German bombs. The memories of air raid shelters, shrapnel and bombed-out buildings were the driving reasons for him enlisting in the Royal Australian Navy. 

Jim immigrated to Australia shortly before he turned 18 and spent about 18 months in Young, NSW, before moving around the state. In Young, he learned "how to Australia", by learning how to ride a horse and work on a farm. 

When Australia began its involvement in the Korean War in 1950, he enlisted in the Navy. Jim had a desire to make sure that the kind of destruction he witnessed as a child didn't reach his new home. 

"I remember being 6 or 7 and hiding in a shelter in Liverpool, and seeing rows of houses blown up, and thinking how much I didn't want that for us here in Australia."

Jim Reardon in Korea.

In October 1953, Jim was assigned to the HMAS Sydney as a Steward. His role was to help feed the pilots flying missions off her deck. Even though he served in Korea after the Armistice, his enduring memories of service and the hardships are as vivid as those of the pilots who surrounded him. He remembers the bitter cold and roiling East China Sea in the dead of winter.

"It was very cold up there. That was the only time I ever saw saltwater freeze. It was traumatic, in that, I suppose, when you get in heavy seas you know the ship could sink."

This, coupled with the constant threat of a possible attack by enemy forces, made the deployments extremely stressful. 

"Well, when you're down below decks, you don't really know what's going up there. The only thing you are conscious of is that something is about to happen when you get called up for Action Stations. You know where you are supposed to go and what you're supposed to do if anything happened." 

Jim was also prepared for if the worst were to happen. He remembers asking another sailor on the ship, a veteran of the Second World War: "'How would I get out? If anything happens, what's the best thing to do?' And he said, 'Get a piece of wood and get over the side.' But of course, that didn't happen to us."

Despite the difficulties and stress, he also remembers the camaraderie and excitement of a career in the Navy. 

Jim Reardon on leave in Korea.

When he was drafted at sea to HMAS Vengeance, Jim had his first ride in a helicopter. "It was quite an experience! The most exciting transfer at sea I'd done. The officer handed me a Mae West [a life vest] and I thought, 'uh-oh!'" Jim was even more on edge because he'd recently seen another helicopter go into the sea outside of Hong Kong. 

His other duty station was most unusual and is no longer a position in today's military. He was the Steward of the officer's bar. 

"The officer's bar was at the back of the ship; my job was in the bar, a terrific job! We had about 136 officers on HMAS Sydney, and I got to know them all by name. I was pretty good at my job."

Taking place between the destructive Second World War and the divisive Vietnam War, the Korean War has become known as the 'Forgotten War'. Jim has continued to feel the effects of being a forgotten veteran.

"It's true that for a long time, you know, it was World War Two and then Vietnam. Korea was kind of, well, it just wasn't talked about. Not seriously, but I think that changed eventually over the years because now more people are talking about it."

Jim wants contemporary Australians to understand that involvement in the Korean War mattered, and that it shaped the future of today's Australia. 

"I just think it's a shame because people will say the First World War, the Second World War and Vietnam and if I'm there and I hear that, I'll say, 'Look, what about the Korean War?'" 

Jim Reardon's experience is as valuable and meaningful as the pilots in his bar. He served a lot more than just drinks.

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