Spencer (Ray) Seaver was a Cadet Electrical Engineer in the Blue Mountains when he saw an advertisement in the paper that, due to the Korean War, there was a shortage of pilots in the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF).
“I was bored of what I was doing workwise and thought that this would be a good chance to do something worthwhile and interesting.”
He enlisted in the RAAF in Sydney in 1951 when he was 19 and went to RAAF Base Point Cook in Melbourne to complete an 18-month pilot course. In 1952, he got his wings and was chosen to be a fighter pilot – “which is what most of us wanted to be”.
He went to the RAAF Williamtown base in Newcastle for a 3-month fighter pilot training course and on New Year’s Eve, he and his course mates set off for Korea. The plane was full of young men who were excited for the opportunity to serve in Korea.
“We embarked on a Qantas flight to Japan. We spent New Year’s Eve in Hong Kong which was exciting for a bunch of young men who’d never left Australia.”
Ray spent almost a month completing conversion training on Meteor jets at the airbase in Iwakuni, which is not far from Hiroshima in Southern Japan. In late January, he arrived in Korea.
“We’d come from a hot Australian summer, and it was bitterly cold. Most of us had never seen snow before.”
Ray was stationed at Kimpo Air Base on the Han River near Seoul with 77 Squadron. The RAAF shared the base with a number of American squadrons.
“We lived in 6-man tents and there was an oil heater in the middle of the tent for warmth. That was our accommodation for the duration of our stay until the end of the war.”
The Meteors that Ray flew in Korea were given a low-level ground attack role, as the North Korean Mig fighters flew too fast and high for the Meteor to be competitive
“We flew at quite low altitudes at times and care had to be taken to avoid ground fire.”
Each day was different for Ray. Some days there would bd specific targets for his flights, and other days he would be tasked with road reconnaissance, patrolling highways to stop trucks bringing supplies to the enemy troops.
“Sometimes you’d fly a couple of times; other days you’d not fly at all. When we were given designated targets, you could be part of a squadron of 12-16 airplanes loaded with rockets. We’d go up and attack a particular target, like a large troop camp or something important like an electricity station, otherwise we would do road patrols.”
While it was cold when Ray first arrived in Korea, the climate warmed up as the year went on and by the middle of the year, it was hot and humid. The seasonal thunderstorms meant that the planes were occasionally grounded.
“We weren’t able to fly during periods of low cloud and rain because the terrain in North Korea is very mountainous.”
The terrain in North Korea was very rugged and flying operations were only allowed during the day since they wouldn’t be able to see the hills during periods of darkness.
Taking off and landing at Kimpo in the dark were allowed and were used to do road patrols as long as the flying over North Korea was done in daylight.
“Enemy trucks would hide during the day and some would leave a little early or late to squeeze in some extra time and go an extra couple of miles. That’s when we would try and catch them.”
On one particularly memorable day for Ray, he was part of a squadron tasked with stopping a large convoy of around 100 trucks that was detected in the hills of Wonsan on the east coast of North Korea.
“When you were stopping a convoy, you’d attack the front truck then the back truck and immobilise them then attack the middle as they couldn’t move.”
Ray did a number of trips that day and likened the routine of battle to going to work.
“It was a bit like going to the office. You’d get up, go out, come back and have lunch, then go back again and return home at night.”
Ray’s tour finished earlier than expected as on 27 July 1953, the Armistice was signed and so in early August, he arrived back to Australia.
“I came back from Korea and I thought, oh this is gonna be great! I’ll have some money, buy a car and have some fun.”
He went to the RAAF to find out where his next posting was and was told that he was going on an Antarctic expedition.
“All my plans had to be changed. The Antarctic Division were setting up a new base on the continent to be known as Mawson and we flew two Auster airplanes taking photographs and doing general reconnaissance.”
The expedition lasted three months. He continued his career in the Air Force as a Flying Instructor and resigned in 1956 to fly civil aircraft with Qantas. After a 30-year career with Qantas, he became a Flying Operations Inspector with CAA for about eight years before his retirement.
Ray continues to feel a sense of pride when he sees how South Korea has progressed as a nation and is please that whenever a Korean person knows that he is a veteran, they express their gratitude.
“Every time we think, was it worthwhile? We can look back and think, Yeah, it sure was.”
Discover more stories of Korean War veterans at the Armistice in Korea: 1953-2023 photography exhibition open at the Anzac Memorial until 7 August