Sheridan O’Brien followed in his father’s footsteps when he enlisted in the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) in 1947.
His father was in the Merchant Navy during the Second World War and inspired him to pursue a naval career. When he saw an advertisement for the Navy, he knew that he had to join.
“It looked like something I would enjoy. I enlisted in Sydney and a group of us went by train down to the Flinders Naval Depot (HMAS Cerberus) in Melbourne. It was a big training depot.”
Sheridan was on leave when he found out that he was being deployed to Korea. He and his family were on a walk on one of his Sunday trips to the Domain in Sydney when he was told that on his return, he would be setting off to Korea.
“We used to walk down with our boy in the stroller. There was free entertainment and we’d take 2 shillings of mandarins. One of the boys that I knew from my ship came up to me and said, ‘When you come back on Monday, we’re getting ready to go to Korea.’”
He went back to work on Monday, said goodbye to his wife and set off for a 12-month deployment to Korea. He sailed on HMAS Culgoa from Garden Island to Japan.
“It was exciting that I got to go to a war. I thought, well Pop, here I go. I hope I do as well as you did.”
The ship stopped in Sasebo, Japan to report for duty and refuel before taking up patrol in the waters around Korea.
Sheridan was a Leading Seaman during the Korean War, and his action station was depth charges (anti-submarine warfare weapons) on the quarterdeck. When enemy submarines were detected, he would drop the depth charges into the ocean and they would detonate near the submarines.
“We also had a hedgehog which was a British invention. The charges would land in a circle around the sub and would shatter the steel and sink it.”
Sheridan quickly settled into the routine of patrol. He would be at sea for two weeks at a time before returning to Japan.
“We just stayed on patrol, then after two weeks, we’d go back to Japan for refuelling and re-ammunition, and have some leave.”
Culgoa occasionally provided naval gunfire support to the land-based troops. From the ship, Sheridan had very little contact with enemy forces.
“They didn’t open fire on us, but we opened fire on them a few times. We’d bombard the enemy so our boys could retreat or move forward.”
Patrols on the Culgoa could be difficult. There was limited storage on the ship for water and the sailors didn’t have bunks, instead they slept in hammocks. Despite the challenges of spending weeks at a time at sea, Sheridan enjoyed his time aboard.
“Living was hard. There were times where you couldn’t have a shower. But, the hammocks were very good to sleep in at sea because you don’t roll out of bed. It’s like rocking a baby to sleep. It was a happy ship though.”
A part of what made Culgoa a "happy ship" was the camaraderie amongst all those on board. Sheridan had the nickname ‘Shamus’ while he was serving.
“All O’Brien’s were known as ‘Shamus’ in the Navy. There were about three that I knew of on my ship.”
When the Armistice was signed on 27 July 1953, Sheridan felt a sense of relief on behalf of those who had been on the frontline.
“I felt that the people would be very happy that the war was ceased.”
The Armistice came into effect halfway through Sheridan’s deployment. He remained on patrol in Korea and returned to Australia in November 1953.
After he returned from Korea, he continued his career in the Navy until 1970, when he retired as a Warrant Officer. He completed 20 years of full service and 2 years of Reserve service. After his retirement from the Navy, he worked in ocean research and later became a welfare officer for ex-servicemen.
Sheridan is proud of his time in the Navy. He believes that his service prepared him for civilian life.
“All I can say is I’m pleased that I joined and I’m pleased that the skills I learned helped me when I got out of the service.”
Discover more stories of Korean War veterans at the Armistice in Korea: 1953-2023 photography exhibition open at the Anzac Memorial until 7 August