The ‘Conflicts 1945 to Today’ galleries at the Australian War Memorial commemorate Australia’s post WWII war and peace-keeping operations. The galleries cover Korea, Malaya and Indonesia, Vietnam, Afghanistan and the two Gulf Wars.
In this review I would like to go into a little more detail on what is often referred to as the ‘Forgotten War” – the Korean War.
I am in the fortunate position of having visited North Korea and gaining, at first hand, the official North Korean take on this war. The Pyongyang take is, as readers may expect, at substantial variance to that of most of the rest of the world. Those interested should look at my North Korean reviews and in particular my Panmunjom (DMZ) selection.
Only five years after the end of WWII Australia was back on the battlefield, this time in Korea, under the guise of stopping the spread of communism. The Cold War had well and truly started and Korea was a prelude to the much more (in)famous Vietnam War.
As is often the case, at the end of wars the victors divide the spoils with little consideration of the impacts on mostly innocent non combatants caught up in the theatre of war. WWII was no exception. The Korean people had been subjugated to Japanese rule for thirty five years. Now it was time for the Soviet Union and the United States to take over!
On my Panmunjom, North Korea, introductory review I have written:
‘At the end of World War II, following an agreement between the United States and the Soviet Union the Korean Peninsula was divided, roughly in half, along the 38th parallel north. The northern part came under the administration of the Soviet Union while the southern part was administered by the United States. In 1948, on the creation of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK – North Korea) and the Republic of Korea (ROK – South Korea) the 38th parallel north became the de facto international border between two new countries. While two independent countries were created each continued to rely on its former administrator.
While both countries (as opposed to their administrators) wanted reunification it is generally accepted by most people, but not the DPRK, that the North, under Kim Il-Sung, made the first military move towards that reunification with a major invasion of the South on 25 June 1950. Three years later and after the death of nearly three million people in the Korean War a truce was called and an armistice agreement was signed on 27 July 1953.’
The course of the Korean war is well documented in this War Memorial gallery through a series of information boards, paintings, oral histories and other media with the highlight, I feel, being one of the Memorial’s justifiably famous and highly regarded dioramas. The one in this gallery (picctured above) depicts the battle of of Kapyong, a key battle fought between 23 and 24 April 1951 in response to a major offensive launched by the Chinese (backing North Korea) the previous day. This, very personal, diorama is based on a particular incident and depicts four real soldiers under the command of Corporate Ray Parry (who speaks on the sound track relating his personal experience of the battle) defending their position against repeated Chinese attacks. Australia suffered heavy casualties at Kapyong with 32 killed, 53 wounded, and three taken prisoner.
Australia’s involvement in the Korean War was mainly through the 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (3RAR – initially commanded by, 30 year old, Lieutenant Colonel Charles Green – picture 3). 3RAR formed part of the British Commonwealth contingent of the United Nations’ intervention, initially lead by US General Douglas MacArthur (removed from command on 11 April 1951). Though the war, if only from a military perspective, ended with the signing of an armistice on 27 July 1953, Australia’s presence in South Korea continued with a peacekeeping force until 1957.
Over 17,000 Australians served during the Korean War, of these 340 were killed (289 from the Royal Australian Regiment) and over 1,500 were wounded. In comparison, over 2 million Koreans were killed and millions of Korean civilians were turned into homeless refugees.
Officially, to this day, North and South Korea remain at war.
Picture 4 attached is a sketch of Lieutenant Song Sang Seob by Ivor Hale (official Korean War artist). Lieutenant Song Sang Seob, of the South Korean Army, was attached to the 3rd Battalion Royal Australian Regiment as an interpreter.
Address: Treloar Crescent, Campbell
Phone: 02 6243 4211