Barry McKillop grew up in Hobart surrounded by rough seas and salty air. The son of a cray fisherman, and grandson of Captain William McKillop, the last of the Tasmanian whalers, a career in the Navy felt like destiny.
At the age of 17, Barry boarded a battle ship headed for Japan. It was 1950 and the Korean War had erupted, resulting in America and Australia committing troops to defend South Korea from North Korea.
“I was part of a big unit that supplied food, ammunition and essential items to the British and Australian ships,” recalls Barry. “They called us the floating supermarket.”
“We were based in Japan for most of the war. Even though it was just after World War II, the locals treated us very well. I never experienced any animosity from the Japanese – they were wonderful people.”
“We had some close calls with the enemy at sea in the Pacific. But there were great times, too,” Barry says.
“I remember being on this huge ship floating on the crystal-clear ocean on a beautiful day. Then, out of nowhere, I heard the sounds of Scottish bag-pipes. Moments later, I heard a didgeridoo and the music of both instruments weaving together. It was magic.”
Barry met his wife Vera, now a resident of Corpus Christi in Clayton, while in the Navy. She was a naval secretary, and they met through a friend when Barry was on land leave in Melbourne. “We’ve been married all these years, and I’m devoted to her. My daughter or I visit Vera every day at Corpus.”
Over 17,000 Australians served in the Korean War, of which 340 were killed and over 1,216 wounded.
John Whelan, a resident at Corpus Christ, also served in the Royal Australian Navy. Like Barry, John joined at the tender age of 17. The year was 1942 and Australia was in the grips of war.
“As a new recruit I was first posted to Western Australia,” says 91 year-old John. “People were fearful that the Japanese would reach our shores and invade Australia. Broome, as well as Darwin, were hot spots.”
A million Australians, both men and women, served in the Second World War – 500,000 overseas. They fought in campaigns against Germany and Italy in Europe, and the Mediterranean, as well as against Japan in south-east Asia and the Pacific. The Australian mainland came under direct attack for the first time, with Japanese aircraft bombing towns in north-west Australia and Japanese midget submarines attacking Sydney Harbour.
Anzac Day is on April 25. Special celebrations will occur across VMCH aged care homes. To all our residents and customers who were involved in military service, we say thank you.