Remembering forgotten war

Majon’ni, Korea June 9, 1953, men of C Coy 2 RAR in the trenches on The Hook.
Majon’ni, Korea June 9, 1953, men of C Coy 2 RAR in the trenches on The Hook. Contributed

THE Korean War, sometimes referred to as the forgotten war, started like a civil war where the communist North wanted to re-unify the country which was divided during the Second World War peace settlement.

The US sent air and sea support to South Korea almost immediately the North started attacking the South and United Nations Security Council asked member nations to defend South Korea. In total, 21 countries responded to the UN call.

Australian troops from 3 RAR (Third Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment) arrived in Korea on September 28, 1950, soon after the war between North and South Korea began in June 1950. They came in from Japan and the battalion comprised Australian enlistments into K Force, members of the Occupation Force in Japan after the Second World War, and veterans.

Australian troops participated in a number of battles during the war but two in 1951 resulted in the loss of many men and brought significant recognition to the fighting abilities, courage and determination of Aussie units.

On the evening of April 22, 1951, Chinese forces attacked the Kapyong valley and forced South Korean and New Zealand troops into retreat. Other UN troops, including Australians, were ordered to halt the attack.

After a night of fierce fighting, during which their positions were overrun, the Aussies recaptured their positions and stalled the Chinese advance, at a cost of only 32 men killed and 53 wounded. For this, 3 RAR was awarded a US Presidential Citation.

The second major battle for the Australians was Operation Commando, an attack against a Chinese-held salient in a bend of the Imjin, a river running north-south which crosses the 38th parallel, just above Seoul. Here the Commonwealth Division, including Australians, had two key objectives: Hills 355 and 317. The attack began on October 3 and, after five days of heavy fighting, the Chinese withdrew. Twenty Australians were killed and 89 were wounded.

Between 1951 and the war's end, 3 RAR occupied trenches at the eastern extremity of the Commonwealth Division position in hills north-east of the Imjin River. There they faced heavily fortified Chinese positions across a stretch of no-man's land which ranged from 300m to 2km in width.

As the war settled into stalemate, it became apparent a negotiated truce was the only solution but military pressure was maintained on communist forces, to extract concessions at peace talks.

As fighting continued, many UN combatants grew less willing to contribute more ground forces to the conflict.

While some countries were keen to extricate troops from Korea, Australia increased its commitment and the government sent a second battalion, 1 RAR. The battalion remained in Korea for 12 months, leaving in March 1953 and replaced by 2 RAR in April. Australian casualties numbered more than 1500, of whom 355 were killed.

Even as heavy fighting continued at the front, the UN and North Korean leaderships signed an agreement which ended in a truce on July 27, 1953.

Remembrance Day in Warwick this year will specifically remember those who were wounded or killed as a result of Australia's involvement in the Korean War, 60 years after those two major battles.

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Topics:  korean war remembrance day warwick

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