An experience that shaped a lifetime

Korea veteran Barry Barnard at work on a vehicle in Korea. Sadly, Barry passed away on Thursday. Photo: Supplied.

Barry Barnard's family are feeling his loss this week following his passing on Thursday, just ahead of ANZAC Day.

"He's always attended ANZAC Day commemorations," says Barry's son Bruce Barnard.

When the Korean War broke out on June 25 1950, Barry was a 20-year-old farmer in the Waikato.

With family members who had served in both World Wars, it was only natural that Barry would want to ‘do his bit’ and serve his country too.

“I joined because it was only five years after WW2 had ended and I couldn’t support the oppression that the northern hemisphere was enduring,” says Barry.

Born in Auckland and schooled at Newton Primary, Kowhai Intermediate and Mount Albert Grammar School, Barry did his training at Papakura then Trentham before his first posting overseas.

For a large part of his service he retained the rank of a Gunner of the Royal New Zealand Artillery.

Barry Barnard was one of the first recipients of the new New Zealand Defence Service Medal. Photo: SunLive.

With his experience on the land, working with tractors and machinery meant that Barry was put forward to train as a specialist in field engineering.

After two weeks in Japan he was sent across to Korea with 12 other Kiwis attached to the 28th Field Engineer Regiment, as part of the 1st British Commonwealth Division, just south of the Imjin River.

Barry describes it as going ‘into the madness’.

“It’s just living under the constant permanent stress. All the time, there is danger everywhere, on every corner and every turn. You can cope with it fairly well until something violent happens, it’s nothing that you can escape from.”

It was tough knowing that so many mates were killed, and it was often harder seeing them injured.

“Those that were killed, their suffering was over immediately but so many were badly injured and suffered for the rest of their lives.”

The field engineers developed a reputation for being problem solvers, says Barry, whose role as a Recovery Operator was primarily to rescue vehicles that were damaged or in dangerous positions and drag them out.

“Being so mobile we encountered a vast area and a variety of problems so the others seemed to have the view that we solved every problem!”

On one occasion, Barry and his mate were driving a Jeep that was hit by a mortar. The force of the explosion threw them both out, landing on the ground behind the vehicle.

Incredibly they only suffered from grazes. “The Jeep was unusable,” he says.

Those 2.5 years in Korea would impact Barry greatly, and while the bonds with his army mates were unbreakable, adjusting back to civilian life was a surreal experience.

“I was very unsettled. I don’t think I ever quite settled after relying so much on other people.”

Barry went back to the farm near Matamata and after that came marriage and children before a change of career into drilling and then the power board in Hamilton.

A return trip to Korea years later left him incredulous at the change he saw.

“When we left, all the buildings were pockmarked with devastation and so to see these huge, shiny buildings there it gave me a sense of satisfaction that the people had succeeded.”

Barry wrote a memoir of his experiences titled ‘A Taste of the Sharp End’ and last year, the Tauranga RSA awarded Barry a uniquely created ‘Cloak of Honour’ at a Quilt Award ceremony for his service in Korea.

Desmond ‘Barry’ Barnard, a resident at Bob Owens Retirement Village, pictured with his commemorative quilt presented to him by the Tauranga RSA.

Barry Barnard, who has been a resident at  Bob Owens Retirement Village in Bethlehem, sadly passed away on Thursday.

"He was a lovely man and his death is particularly poignant as it was his late wife’s birthday," says Ryman Healthcare's Senior Communication Adviser Maryvonne Gray.

"He was 91 years old," says Bruce. "Mum died in December. We were planning a celebration of her life on her birthday as we hadn't had a funeral for her as she didn't want to have one. But we postponed her memorial service as Dad wasn't looking well. And as it turned out that was a good decision as he died on the very day of her birthday."

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