Charles Bull was born in Bury St. Edmunds, England. When he turned seventeen years old, he joined the Navy and never went back to his hometown. He was in the British Navy for twenty-seven years. As a leader of the Korean War Veteran Organization, he sent Korean War veterans back to Korea for over twenty years. He joined the Navy even though he did not really know about Asia and shares it was a different world for him as he was tasked with taking care of himself, cooking and feeding fellow soldiers, and working with boats. He was first stationed in the drafting office, and then he was stationed to the HMS Kenya with the British Navy. Throughout the war, he wrote in pay ledgers to provide sailors with their payment each month. The few times he landed in Korea, he was able to see the terrible conditions for the civilians and soldiers.
Training Can Be a Huge Pain in the Neck!
Charles Bull was shocked when he joined the Navy. It was difficult to take care of himself by washing, ironing, cooking, and caring for other men. He also had to learn all seamanship training for tools and ships. During a training, he almost was hit in the head with a 14 point lead pipe.
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The Hardest Time in My Life While Active in the Navy
Charles Bull was stationed on the HMS Kenya when he was given the most difficult job he's ever had in the Navy. He had to work in the pay office to hand write all the ledgers for 6 months writing all hours of the night. When he went into Portsmouth to refuel, Charles Bull and two other men caught up all the paperwork to be handed over to the sailors at that port.
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HMS Kenya's Involvement in the Start of the Korean War: June 28, 1950
As one of the first British Naval ships to be docked in Sasebo, Japan, his ship was used as a jump-off ship that took Marines and Army troops into Korea right after the war began on June 28, 1950. Charles Bull was working on pay ledgers for every pay accounts for every sailor in his section for every payday. His job was to document pay and then make sure that the sailors had money in their pocket when they went ashore in Korea. The whole process of getting paid was very formal and Charles Bull gave a detailed description of the process of getting their well-earned money.
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Fighting Along Side and Burying Allied Forces During the Korean War
While aboard the HMS Kenya, Charles Bull worked along side multiple naval allies including the Austrians, Canadians, Dutch, and Belgians. Sadly, bodies of soldiers would be found at sea, so his ship would take the deceased aboard until they were ready to provide a proper burial at sea. Charles Bull remembers the moving ceremonies that the British gave for fallen American soldiers during the sea burial.
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[Beginning of Recorded Material]
Charles Bull: My name is Charles Bull. When I left the Navy, I was a warrant officer and I live here in Ipswich. I was a founding member of this branch
Interviewer: Are you from here? Are you born and bred?
C: I was born British Edmonds, but I left home at 17 to join the Navy, and I never ever went back at all.
I: Navy man ever since?
C: Yeah, 27 years I was in the Navy but then after that 20 years working for the local newspapers in the advertising side of life and then I did about 14, 15 years as a tour manager working with coaches and as I said to you a little while ago I took all the Korean veterans from this branch away and holiday for 20 years, but then I had to give it up because my wife was ill
I: What made you become a Navy man? Did you have a hankering for the sea or a family of sea born people?
C: No connection whatsoever and I think one of the reasons was that I was a bit disillusioned with civvy street, I wanted to become an accountant and I ended up being a clerk more than a trainee accountant and so I volunteered for the Navy
I: So if you were aiming to be an accountant you must have had a reasonable education?
C: Yes, I went to the grammar school at Berson Opens.
I: And when you were at the grammar school, were you taught about
I: the far east and Korea and places like that?
C: Well, the Far Eastern Korea really didn’t exist in those days, never heard of Korea until the Korean War started to be quite honest with you
I: Even though you had a grammar school education?
C: Yes, you know geography never covered that part of the world whatsoever, it was just European geography that we were dealing with and wasn’t that schooling. I’m afraid it’s frightful really then that’s like history you know, you only get certain elements of history over certain numbers of years but you’d never ever cover history as a whole isn’t the more you covered geography as a whole whereas Latin language, French language you learn a whole lot
I: Okay, and so just tell me very briefly a bit about your you know the cut is one thing wanting to know your disillusioned with civvy street, it’s another thing suddenly finding yourself in a military service like the navy
C: Yes, well I found a completely different world, I really was just not used to having to look after myself for a start off doing your washing and your ironing and what have you and I didn’t never experience the need for the work that was imposed upon you like preparing meals for the rest of your class and line them all up on the tables and then they all had to march in and eat in succession it was a totally different work and I was very disillusioned to then again. I was frightened I think and main because if you were last by an out when the muster went, you’ve got cut across the backside with an insulated rubber hose
C: But in those days although I was a writer, everybody joining the Navy all had to do seamanship training, so I had to do things like boat pulling in Portsmouth Harbour, swinging the lid literally not getting away from anything
C: and luckily on one occasion my instructor pulled me out of the way because the lid itself at about a 14-pound lid was descending straight down and didn’t complete the cycle and it would have hit me straight on the back of the head as I was over, but he pulled me out of the way of what was happening. Loved the old man, he was like our father really.
I: You were a Chatham mate, correct?
C: Yup, no command yes.
I: What was Chatham like back then?
C: Bloody awful and we actually ended up living in sub-Mary’s barracks in the stables, well we didn’t live in the stables, but we did our accommodation was in what used to be the old hay lofts over the stables when they were refurbishing what had been our dormitory in a main barracks.
C: So yeah, and unfortunately, I was duty one weekend and laying in bed one night and I suddenly realized I was wet and what the situations was that the water tank because there was nobody there at the weekends just carried on filling up and filling up and water spilled over and down through the roof and onto me, yours truly. Not a pleasant life.
I: So, when did you sort of pass and then get assigned to a ship and was your first ship the Kenya?
C: Yes, it was, but before that I actually worked in the drafting office in Chatham barracks and then after that I went of all things to an RF station in Norfolk, the naval air fighting development unit where all new planes being brought into use each in a service were all put through the paces to see whether or not they would be available for use
C: or if they were any use at all as a flight or after gone up on an aircraft carrier all air to ground bombing and air to ground strafing and all that kind of thing yeah.
I: Kind of exciting?
C: Yup, it was yeah
I: Why did you get moved to the Kenya?
C: The Navy just drafted people, it’s not like the army you leave where they moved regiments completely. In the Navy, they moved people as the vacancy occurs.
C: From there I went to or went into rural barracks at Chatham and the chap I was supposed to relieve was connected to a leading rent on his section and he didn’t really want to go to sea, he didn’t want to leave her as it was true love and so I volunteered to exchange drafts with him which is what I did do and then started I think probably the hardest time of my life in the Navy.
C: I went to work in the pay office there and the actual ledgers were completely – handwritten ledgers at that time and they were about six months adrift on the ship and myself and two other writers caught up in a nighttime up to midnight you just get order to get turned in by the office of the watch doing midnight rounds. We had no chief writer I was a leading hand at that time
C: corporate equivalent and then you know we caught up to date and so when we went into Portsmouth after our first sea trial to pick up stores and refuel, we were then able to land all the old paperwork necessary to catch up to date, but it’s a really hard time it really was. I never worked for many hours of my life
C: even with defense stations out in Korea, I never put that many hours into work
I: This is all based around the Kenya being ready for sea?
C: What happened was that Kenya was never really in reserve in Chatham Dockyard and the majority of the ship’s company on board they were national servicemen and they landed 50 a time and then 50 general servicemen would relieve them
C: so every time, despite the fact we were way, way behind with our paperwork we still had to get the pay documents for those people closed up and sent off to wherever they were going so that was the major problem with it, it wasn’t an easy transitional period to relieve the part-time national service crew to the general service crew. Yeah, it was a good experience.
I: Were you doing that work at Chatham or onboard?
I: So, what was it like for you to see the Kenyan for the first time? do you remember how you felt when you went on board?
C: Overawed and of course because the ship was undergoing the need to bring her up to scratch and ready to go to sea, we had to move around different places on the ship, so places I slept in, were places which I never ever slept in
C: when we actually went to sea. So, we would just be put where it suited people to be out of the way to sleep so it wouldn’t interfere with work.
I: As a Suffolks lad have you been to the British Isles much?
C: Not at all. The furthest I ever went was Felix on my bicycle
I: So the first stop was Malta?
C: Yes, my first effort at steak, eggs and chips
C: and the eggs all tasted medicinal, and people were wrecked because there were no chickens on the island and all the eggs were imported and they were inoculated for choice of words, they put a needle into them so they would hold longer. I don’t know if it’s true or not, but they did taste medicinal.
I: Did you go out on the island with a padre?
C: I can’t remember now. It was one of their jobs, the padres on board were responsible for
C: the welfare and the outgoing was needs for the ship’s company. We had all three then. We had a Roman Catholic. I know we ended up with an Irishman as the Church of England, which always made me smile a bit and I think we had a Methodist padre on board as well
I: Any other memories of Malta or just those you said?
C: The delights of the gut
C: No, it was good. It was a place in Malta called “the Gut” Strada Stretta and that was where my first insight into the other side of life came about
I: A lady in every port?
C: or a storm in every port if you were hopeful, yeah. No, I never, they frightened me actually because they were multi prostitutes proper and they were licensed and they used to wear
C: a big brass tag on their blouses with the letters stamped on them MP multi prostitute and their register number, but they were generally ugly beasts, they really were. Majority got lovely sets you know beards and what have you, but I don’t know I spose seven pints beautiful.
I: Good man. And then you were a young man?
I: Um, Malta to Columbo, do you remember Bevin coming aboard?
C: Yes, I do. I remember distinctly, yeah.
I: What was he on board for?
C: He came on board for some meeting with ah, I can’t honestly now remember. I know he came on board with his entourage, and we were taking him to Columbo, it was for a meeting with foreign secretaries. I don’t know, I can remember but he was a sick man, a very sick man.
C: There were occasions like one of we were supposed to be having a concert on the quarter deck one occasion and because he was down in the captain’s quarters living down there directly under the quarterdeck then it was postponed because he was ill, he was severely ill
I: He was ill?
C: Ill, I double L, yeah not well
I: Not seasick?
C: No, no, no, no, no, he was on his way out, yeah.
I: Did he speak to you?
C: No, No. He walked around the ships company on but even that was a labour for him and no doubt about that, I, excuse me, I do remember him when we had divisions, I don’t know if you remember the term divisions, but in the Navy where everybody has to get the best bib and tuckers and muster in their certain positions according to their calling, to their, their like partnership, we call it like the seamen on the quarterdeck and what have you. I can’t remember where my partnership was
C: but all the writers and the stores assistants and cooks were part of the supply Secretariat division and we used to muster together when we went, we had divisions normally every Sunday but special occasions like when Bevin came aboard he actually wandered around the divisions talking to individuals but he never spoke to me, no
C: I wouldn’t have underwood him anyways because he was Labour. Columbo was fantastic because there was trouble
C: in Burma as it was those days with a communist side of live when we actually took items up to Burma, up to Rangoon in the hope it would appease the situation up there I can remember we took both saplings separate from the bow tree, a split pea and tooth or something like that and it was over there it was all brought to the ship with a big parade of elephants in fancy rig and candy and dances
C: I’ve never seen people dance like that I didn’t know a man’s body could dance the way they danced, I could understand a woman doing it because the pelvic structure is different but these, ah, well perhaps they were women, I don’t know, they were men I’m sure but then we took it up to Burma and uh, we went up the Irrawaddy and then gosh, it’s all coming back to me now and uh we were there 3 or 4 days and whether or not it appeased the situations I don’t know but from there we went to Singapore
C: Of course, we then we’d got the trouble there again with the communist situation in Malaya as it was there and so we were then involved with that in to a slight degree because we used to have to land people off our ships company to go patrol boats up and down the minor rivers with guns, Bren gun forward in the boats to fight the communists to help the army out
I: That was the Marines?
C: Marines and the Armouries, yeah, yeah. The Armouries went to ashore a whole lot if I remember rightly, but in the main it was supporting the army that our people weren’t there but it was not very pleasant because if instance you were on what we called a Liberty Bus, the bus that would take you to Singapore from the dockyard, you’re just as likely to be shot up with a machine gun as she went through Neeson and things like that
C: So, you act going was limited to the dockyard area
I: What about the 28th of June, do you ever remember being told about this, sort of country that you’ve never heard of?
C: Well, we finished in the dockyard, our doctrine down and we’d had the ship fumigated to get rid of the cockroaches, about twice they’d fumigate because when cockroaches die they automatically lay and egg and then the egg then comes to life
C: so you have to fumigate again a second time, it’s ok, was no real smelly situation on board from there we went up to on our way up to Hong Kong when the Korean War broke and so we called it Hong Kong just long enough to take on oil, water and pick up mail, land mail and from there we went up to a place called Sasebo, we always called it Saseho.
C: And then we became the depo ship there, landed and set up the British Naval base there.
I: How is an announcement of a war given to a naval crew? Do you remember it?
C: The captain would have put it over the SRE, the sound recording equipment but i don’t remember that happening, sorry I don’t know.
I: So, you were really the first Royal Navy boat at the Korean War?
C: We were yes, yeah well that’s not really true
C: There was one or two C-class destroyers who would detach from Malta from the 8th squadron there they were sent up there but they were only up there for maybe a month at the outside, but as soon as we arrived they then went off back to Malta
I: Ok, so then just explain what you’re doing there, what were you doing?
C: Well, I was doing pay ledgers.
I: What does that mean?
C: I was looking after the pay for all the seamen and the communications and the wrong reigns on board ship
I: And is that for every man on board, or is that for staff that’s being taken off board? Just explain.
C: Well, it wasn’t a cash account but like that not a proper cash account it was purely the pay accounts for all men on my section where were all the seamen, all the communicators, all the roaring band and all raw Marines, so I had to arrange their pay every payday ready for payment. But during Korea we didn’t always pay on it with that was in those days
C: Payment was every fortnight, not every week, every fortnight and we didn’t always do that in Korea, because if we’re at sea there was not much point in paying people as there was nothing for them to spend the money on and also it was a safety factor that meant there was not so much money circulating on board ship and so therefore we used to pay as we entered harbour so that the first watch is sure they’ve got money in their pocket to go ashore with
I: And did you actually physically have this money on board?
C: Oh yeah
I: And did you was it held in a safe?
C: It was in a (INAUDIBLE) very big safe. Yeah, don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t responsible that I was only responsible for putting how much pay that people should get on a payday and then I would call out their names on the ledger and the pay we would have already put up into envelopes and the paying officer would pay them and the seamen would come stand to attention off caps, cap in from of him pay book open in front of him
C: With a face down so that the pay officer could identify him with the face and the money would then be put on that he would salute on caps and off he’d go or on caps and then salute and off he’d go
I: Did you ever get it wrong?
C: We couldn’t afford to, I couldn’t afford to I’m sorry, no way
I: Ok, that fair and interesting. I’ve never heard that before. Alright,
C: We used to have ledgers every quarter in those days, not like now everything’s done on the computer
C: But every quarter we had to write up handwritten ledger, old Ledger to the new ledger you have to close up all the old ledger we had to count down balance down pounds across carry all forward to a complete assessment of all the payments that had gone out which used to go off for the legislators to the director of naval accounts now known as the PDA, the Principal Directors of Accounts
I: talk about what you recall of the ship and the ship’s involvement beyond Sassy Bird, what else was it getting up to, any moments you can recall?
C: oh yeah, I can remember. Our patrol area was the western coast, and we didn’t see much activity there at all, luckily I spose, as far as we picked refugees in certain places. We picked up Airmen that had been downed
C: and i can distantly remember seeing American servicemen back to back-to-back hands tied together picked up at the water, where they had been tied back-to-back, hands-to-hands and chucked in the water to drown picking things like that incidental things, yet things that stick in your memory I can remember we had a mother in some bombardment somewhere
C: the North Koreans that hit it was a boat or a village we brought an injured mother and a brand newborn baby on board and the sick birth people looked after that or tried to but the baby died. we learned that the mother in Sasebo after we arrived back off that patrol, so we used to go invariably on the western coast from our base used to do fortnight, three weeks patrol which was rather boring but films are a very necessary part of life
I: How far offshore are you?
C: Within sight of land all the time because if necessary if there was an item that could require a shell to be lobbed at it, then a shell was lobbed at it. If we saw a lorry an army lorry going along a coast road, we would open fire on it by a four inch or six-inch gun
C: and I started off my war time activities in the B turret, which is raw Marines turret and working two great big raw Marines on left and right and they gave me the middle gun and the middle gun of course was the furthest away from the ring and I was a flimsy little old boy in those day and I ended up, yeah I just couldn’t keep up with it. There was one bloke driving the ring so he’s feeding shells all the time to the people loading the guns
C: but I just couldn’t keep up with it, and I’m afraid that B turret was firing two guns at a time instead of three quite often. I was moved and rapidly from there down at the corner at handling room and when you went to action stations you went down there and you could not get out you were
I: That’s the one that’s underneath, right?
C: Yeah, right down below the big tubes of cordite but yet that big that long and that wide about that much in diameter and that’s what used to go in the gun
C: After the shell and so that ignited and the shell was then pushed out of the barrel
I: And how long would you stay in that chamber?
C: Um, well it depended all the time at action stations but if we went to defense stations it meant four hours down there and then four hours but here to go back the office and work and catch up on your work and then back down again so your four hours of out officially
C: Whereas the rest of the ship’s company did their four hours, and they would’ve got the heads down but yours truly was not so fortunate. I mean people still have to get paid saying the stores have to be issued and stuff like that.
I: How claustrophobic was that corridor?
C: It didn’t worry me. They were all in big aluminum cans I think and five cordites to each can
I: And what did you do with the cordite, could you just explain?
C: We were taking it from the, we were actually given numbers that we had two on each of the cordite cases were numbers and they were like sell by dates on them so you could only take cordite from them, you couldn’t just log from the nearest canister you had to take it from where it was the way where you were told to take it and you would put it into a container that you’d shut up and that used to take a hoist, it was a hoist actually
C: And the hoist would then take it up to the gun turret
I: And they would then use the cordite then in the back of the shell?
C: Yeah, that’s right and the only thing about that of course you’re in the cordite handling room oh and you couldn’t get out because you were clamped in from up top, no way out
I: Because obviously when we hear about the arctic convoys we hear about people and the ships got top heavy on occasion and they barrel roll.
I: What were conditions, what was sea and weather conditions like in?
C: In Korea, sometimes you know you’ll go gale force. I can remember in the middle of real
big gales, our trunking coming down, trunking; that that’s the air conditioning –
supposed to be — coming down. I can remember something which doesn’t happen now.
All the all the overhead, all the deck-heads were plastered with asbestos and that used to
C: Any crockery — what have you — if you’re unlucky, that went down and you were only allowed so many cups and saucers –oh saucers we didn’t have sorry — oh cups and plates. Any of those went, and if you’ve exceeded your allowance for your mess, it meant that somebody had to go and wash out the plate before they can eat their food. And water sloshing about on the deck, people were being seasick. And of course, you’re clamped down.
C: You’ve got dead lights over your scuttles with what you call a porthole I suppose, the scuttle and then a metal deadlight would go over that so that no water would have come in, but equally no air could come in either. And it was pretty disastrous at times.
And in winter we used to get called around about 4:00 o’clock in the morning if we were near the Manchurian border to go up top and chip the ice off the guns because the ice from the sea forms so thick that if you had tried to move your gun turrets, their electric motors were driving them and the and the turrets would burnout because the ice would stop them from moving.
C: You normally used to get called about 4:00 o’clock in the morning to go out and chip ice. Luckily, I didn’t have to do that, I just had to muster at 4:00 o’clock and make sure that my particular working hands were all there as they should be and then allocated to a certain part of the ship, or certain turret to start chipping.
I: Was it cold enough for the sea to freeze?
I: So, the sea froze?
C: Yeah, yeah. So, all the water from the sea during the night come up over the fo’c’sle and it would freeze on board.
I: I mean in the sea
C: Oh, there were ice flows in the sea as well in places, yeah.
C: Well, you’re talking about 40 below.
I: Oh yeah, yeah. I know it’s chilly.
C: More than chilly. As I said, the army would very, very keen to point out that we had hammocks to sleep In at night time where they, if they were unlucky, were able to sleep in a slit, a slit trench.
I: And what about subs; did you ever see the Perch or any of them? Did you ever see any of the submarines, the American Subs that we use to land the Marines and stuff?
C: Never, no.
I: Tell me about your commander.
C: Our commander. Are you talking about the captain of the ship or the commander?
I: I was talking about — well, both?
C: The captain of the ship was a chap called Brock, who was, well I don’t know, you never really saw him at all. He was a gaunt man. He got relieved by another captain towards the end of our Commission. And that Captain walked into the overhead gantry of the torpedo tubes and was taken away nearly blinded by it.
C: And then we ended up with another chap called Podger. I remember — I can’t remember the name of the second captain and we ended up with the Captain Podger. And — but you never really saw the captain, except when you had divisions — as I was talking to you and then he would just walk along maybe he would talk to you. Maybe not. But the commander on board was a chap called Munn. And his name was Nick-a-bit.
C: I remember distinctly he was so intent on making sure the ship was ready for sea that he kept on nicking bits off us timewise. So, in other words, instead of going ashore at 4:00 o’clock next thing you’ll find it you go ashore at 4:15. And then 4:30. Instead of turning-to at 8:00 o’clock in the morning, you’ll turn-to at 7:45 in the morning. I’m not saying those are exact times, but that’s where he got the name – the nickname Nick-a-bit.
C: Captain Brock, I think, went outside, retired as a captain. Commander Munn got promoted to captain. And then ended up as an Admiral. I think ended up as the 2nd Admiral of the Home Fleet and the last I’ve heard him is when I was up at Rosyth. He came in with the Home Fleet there, and there was a boxing competition, to take place in our gymnasium
I: What was it – was it a good ship?
C: I don’t know really; my life was limited really to work. I spent a lot of time of time refereeing and looking after the ship’s company football teams, that I did do, so I always had a break away from life on board. Wherever we went, the ships’ company football team was always landed to play the army in Inchon or something like that, and I always used to go with them, so I used to get more breaks away from the ship, maybe than the average person did.
C: We lived in a mess about the size of that stage behind you. We had 22 people in there. Hammocks were slung right across the top of the dining table. You’d sit down for your breakfast in the morning, and all of a sudden, a hairy leg would appear alongside your breakfast table, your breakfast plate; it was somebody getting out of their hammock. (Laughs).
C: I don’t think people could understand how so many people could live in such a confined space, I really don’t. And yet, sickness never happened, I don’t know why. I’m not talking about seasickness, I’m talking about something like diarrhea and what-have-you, it never happened. Funny that.
I: The good clean air isn’t it?
C: The number of inoculations that we had, going from place, to place, to place, was phenomenal. I reached a stage where I was afraid that water was going to run out of my arms actually, you know, with the pinpricks, the jabs going in.
I: Did you have to take Paludrine every day?
I: What about, did you lose anyone on board?
C: We lost, well we lost–
I: In Korea?
C: In Korea we lost two, maybe three people – I can’t remember. I remember one; it was a Royal Marine called Martin, and there was an Acting Petty Officer called Tait/Tate.
C: I think there was somebody else. They were specially qualified men; I think they were sent to join the special forces out there and neither of them came back. Well, they were killed out there actually. Yeah.
I: You didn’t have to do any burials at sea?
C: We did actually. We had one Royal Marine put aboard us for burial at sea and then we quite often buried, like, American servicemen that’d been picked up out of the water and buried them at sea as well. Rather a moving ceremony that is, believe you-me.
I: Does the whole ship’s company turn out for something like that?
C: Generally, yeah.
I: Even though it’s an American?
C: Yeah, it doesn’t make any difference. But, well, it depended what time it was: if defense stations were on, half of your ship’s company were closed up at action stations you see, so you couldn’t have had the whole ship’s company there for that. I think that it was in the main, a voluntary thing.
I: It’s interesting that you’d take American on board and bury them?
C: Well, yeah, we couldn’t… take them ashore, because we’d maybe picked them up out of the sea.
I: There was no mortuary on board?
C: We used to put them in the cold-rooms, you know, where the meat was stored. Bodies used to be put in there.
I: Did you deal with other navies, in terms of operations?
C: Yeah, yeah. There was Canadian. I can remember one destroyer called the Sioux. When we went to sea, we always had two destroyers escort us. And yet we could out-strip them; we ran normally off two in-board boiler rooms, but if necessary, we could also connect up two out-board boiler rooms. And on one occasion we outstripped a destroyer at sea when we went to pick up some Americans somewhere.
C: We could get up to 29-30 knots in a cruiser, which was something not heard of normally. It was something that didn’t happen very often because it was a very expensive situation.
And then we dealt with – we had quite a lot Australians, the Warramunga I remember.
C: Dutch I remember were there as well. Germans no, but Dutch and Belgian. The Dutch and Belgians were all vrijwilliger, volunteers. There were actual servicemen, but they were all volunteers to serve in Korea. I think the enhancement of cash was the thing that took them away.
I: You mentioned that you had some downtime of football was a good release —
C: Yes it was.
I: What about other R&R? You went to Sasebo; did you ever go back to the mainland of Japan?
C: We went to Kure a couple of times, and we had R&R at Kure, but not for very long. Maybe four or five days, that’s all because shipping was at a premium out there, you know. If we went away, what ship took our place on patrol? That was always the problem. We had the Jamaica, the Belfast was out there as well, the one that’s laying in the Thames at the moment.
C: When the Mauritius came out, she was condemned as soon as she arrived on station. And we had to take over, swap ship’s company, a complete walkover. I can’t remember – they put two gangplanks, one forward and one aft and one ship’s company went on the aft or the forward. So, you changed over the complete ship’s company in a day, less than a day. And we brought the Mauritius home.
C: But she was condemned as soon as… we took her up to (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and she was condemned then as being unseaworthy, and yet…
I: What was wrong with her?
C: Rust. People on the fo’c’sle, chipping away at rust and the fo’c’sle gave way and they went right through the metal deck. They didn’t fall you know, but the pieces of iron fell through down below into, must have been the cable locker.
I: That must have made your work more difficult. So you’ve got a brand new company of people that you’re managing the — or did their paper –?
C: I took our stuff, our paperwork completely over to that ship. My job in… when we were at sea there was a metal container and if we go into action stations at any time, I had to pick up the ledgers for the whole of the ship’s company, that’s the officers, the engineers – well whatever you think of – and I had to roll them up and put them into this canister and I used to have to take them with me.
C: So, if the ship went down, that canister would float and keep all the records, the pay records of all the ship’s company. It wasn’t a very easy thing to move around, believe you-me. It was heavy with all the paperwork in there.
I: Are there any characters that stand out from your time in Korea?
C: Oh yeah. There was Percy Perfect, who was a giant, huge man. He was the chief bosun’s mate.
C: And we landed him together with a leading seamen, leading patrolman in Sasebo when we first went in there, set up Naval Headquarters there and he became chief of police there. And he’s a man you never-ever would have argued with. Well over six foot and sixteen stone, things like that. And I remember distinctly, the SODS Opera – have you heard of that?
C: It’s not “sods” as a swear word. It means “Ship’s Own Dramatic Society”. Some of the things that used to go on there, the songs, the ribald remarks, comments what-have-you; but you had to make your own entertainment. And the films on board were well and truly – one of our hangers was given over to a cinema, and that was a great relief to be able to go and see a film.
C: So, every time we met another ship somewhere, we used to do a transfer of mail – say if we were going up the coast and a ship was coming down, we’d do a transfer at sea, and that meant that all the film, the new films. We got new films on board, changed our films back with them, exchanged them – and mail, stuff like that. So, more often than not, I’d see a film six times. But it was just an occupation, you know.
C: It was either that – unless you had a hobby. A lot of people made different items. I remember one chap made a LCT – Landing Craft Tank, out of match stalks, things like that. I would never have had the patience to do that. Other people made rugs, the old clipper (?) going through, pulling the rug pieces through, knotting them what-have-you. But no, I never had a hobby on board – my hobby was looking after the football team.
C: Looking after the team was a bit of an exaggeration, but I was a referee for about 19 years in the Navy and at the self-same time I used to also look ahead the teams as much as possible and help arrange the football matches. I can remember in Japan, because in Sasebo, we only had one football pitch for all the British – well for anyone who wanted to play football.
C: And I can remember refereeing three matches continuously because; A there was a shortage of referees, B there was a shortage of grounds, C it was more easy for the ship to send a football party away in a boat to take the old one back. The surfaces went all that great I must say – it was mud; it wasn’t grass.
I: When did the Kenya, when did you know that that the Kenya was coming back and had done her time in Korea?
C: Well, we were told when we first commissioned that we were lucky; we were the first ship – this is something that puzzles me nowadays, you hear about the different loneliness factors of serviceman – we were told that we were lucky, we were only going to do two and a half years in commission. Because prior to that, ships like the London – no the Norfolk and the Suffolk had to do three years out on the far east station.
C: We didn’t have the luxury that the American Navy had were they, their ships company were split into three and they used to relieve one third every six months. So, they never had to have a work-up period, because the new one-third slotted in to take the place of the third that had gone off. I think they do that now, well actually they relieve whole ship’s companies now by air; the smaller ones out in the Persian Gulf.
C: But we were told, we were lucky; we would only do a two-and-a-half-year commission. But then we were out in Korea for thirteen months. Fourteen months? Thirteen months. And we then told that we were not going to be home for Christmas – Christmas ’51 and then we were told that we were going to be home. Simple reason that we had the ship’s company exchange with the Mauritius.
C: I think it was expediency then, rather than lose two ships on station, for the Mauritius crew to take her home and then for us to go home a couple of three months later, they decided to swap over ships companies and left the Mauritius crew on board the Kenya and we went on board the Mauritius and brought it home to England.
I: What was it like being on a condemned ship? Did you have any feeling about that?
C: No, not really.
I: Didn’t notice anything?
C: Didn’t even know what was wrong with it you know? We heard stories about the chipping hammers falling through, but there again it was all scuttlebutt, never know if it were true or not or if it was some matelot trying to be big.
I: Did you feel relieved to leave Korea? Had you ever felt unsafe there?
C: No, no. I felt secure on board the ship. That was it.
I: Did you ever see any Chinese aircraft?
C: Yes, when we up on the Manchurian border, we did see Chinese aircraft – well actually we fired on some as well. We’d picked up a couple of MiGs from the Yalu River which is right on the Manchurian border, and that was pretty tense it was, because it was only about 40 miles away from the nearest Chinese airfield. But no, I don’t – when you’re young you don’t even think about things like that (sighs).
I: And what about now, so many years later, how do you feel about Korea now?
C: I’m very worried about it. Very worried about it. Because you never know where it’s going to end up actually because I think if they did start doing things which they shouldn’t do, then I think that Korea would just not exist anymore. If they released an atom bomb – a nuclear bomb, South Korea would just disappear and North Korea would suffer the result of that as well.
C: I understand – I don’t know if it is true or not – but South Korea pays North Korea so much money to keep the peace. Whether that’s true or not I don’t know. But there have been one or two incidents, a South Korean ship was sunk, not long – well last year it was now. There’s always incidents there; the demilitarized zone – I’ve never been back to Korea, I’ve no real desire to go back.
C: The Koreans sometimes do trips for ex-Korean veterans – sorry, for Korean Veterans to go back there and go up to the different cemeteries and places like that, but I’ve never, never wanted…
I: You never went into Pusan?
C: Never landed there?
I: No, no. Oh I landed in Korea in Incheon, but that was only with the football teams. And that’s where I saw the Army really at work, at life, at a rest and recuperation camp. At Incheon there. And when we pulled up there in a lorry – we used to pull in ever now and again, and all day long we would ferry pongos [soldiers] from the shore to the ship, and give them a Sunday lunch, let them have a shower and what-have-you, and water was at a premium on board there, we had 750 people there, a war complement.
C: It meant that we went without showers for two or three days, but the pongos had a shower for a change. I remember, a lorry picked us up, when the first boat went ashore, and we went into this R and R rest camp and there was just nothing there! There were three corrugated iron buildings, I remember distinctly, the corrugated iron was steel – it was corrugated steel, all shiny in the sunlight.
C: What the heck is this? All lumps of plastic laying over on the left-hand side — that was the R and R camp, for the pongos that was it. They were sleeping in their R and R –sleeping in slit trenches, with a canvas over the top, a tent — not even proper tents. That was it. The officers had their mess and there was one other one, then the sergeants had their mess, then there was the troops dining hall.
C: I shall never forget — I couldn’t understand why the corrugated iron or steel never went down to the floor or ground. And then when you went into the mess, mess hall, you had to climb up and sit on benches and your feet just hung in mid-air. I just didn’t understand this at all. What is this, what is it? Oh well, when it floods here it means you don’t get your feet wet when you’re eating your meal.
C: And I thought oh your poor sods, sleeping in the slit trench there, how many of them would have had a warm slit trench, or a dry slit trench to sleep in. We formed an affinity with the Northumberland Regiment there, it was the two of us there together.
I: All right, we better knock It on the head there, that’s a very good interview, much more detailed than I expected.
I: Well I didn’t know as much about the Kenya, so I really appreciate your time.
C: I remember on one occasion at work, one of the chaps said to me, “What were you on out in Korea?” And I said, “On the Kenya”. He said, “What’s that.” I said, “It was a six-inch cruiser,” and he said, “Oh, that’s not very big is it.”
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