Australia pauses today (Tuesday, 27 July) to remember the more than 17,000 Australians who fought in the Korean War.
Of that total, some 340 lost their lives defending South Korea from attack by Chinese-backed communist North Korea. More than 1,216 Australian service personnel were wounded and 29 became prisoners of war.
Korean Veterans’ Day commemorates the Armistice between UN forces, of which Australia was part, and North Korea and its allies. The document was signed at 10am on 27 July 1953 and came into effect 12 hours later.
The two Koreas still remain on a war footing
To this day, however, no formal peace treaty has ever been signed and the two Koreas continue to have a hostile relationship and to face off across a heavily fortified border.
“Australia was still recovering from losses suffered during the Second World War when the Korean People’s Army [of North Korea] launched an offensive into South Korea, capturing [the capital city] Seoul within a week,” veterans’ affairs minister Andrew Gee said in a commemorative tribute.
“In June 1950, [Australian] Prime Minister Robert Menzies committed ships of the Royal Australian Navy to a conflict that would see 21 nations join together to defend South Korea.
“Units from the Australian Army and the Royal Australian Air Force joined shortly thereafter, and our forces fought courageously defending the freedom of South Korea, despite the harsh climatic conditions and hazardous terrain on the peninsula.
Australians made an invaluable contribution
“At places like Kapyong, Maryang San and many others, Australians served with distinction and made an invaluable contribution to the UN forces’ efforts to keep South Korea free.”
The minister urged present-day Australians to pause and remember the men and women who served and sacrificed in the three-year conflict.
Thanks should also be given to the Australian Defence personnel who served in Korea up until 1957 as part of a multinational peacekeeping force in the post-Armistice period, he said
In all, nearly 5-million people died in the bitter conflict. More than half of these – about 10 percent of Korea’s pre-war population – were civilians. This rate of civilian casualties was higher than that suffered during World War Two and the Vietnam War.