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Speeches

The Hon Darren Chester MP
Minister for Veterans' Affairs
Minister for Defence Personnel
Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Centenary of ANZAC

SPEECH

27 July 2018

Speech – 65th Anniversary of the Korean War Armistice

Commemorative service at the Australian National Korean War Memorial on Anzac Parade, Canberra

The Korean War has long been overshadowed by the world wars that preceded it, and by the decade-long war in Vietnam that followed.

Yet it was a significant moment in world history.

Korea was the first major conflict of the Cold War, the first war between major powers in the nuclear age, and the first in which troops fought under the flag of the United Nations.

Korea was a bloody introduction to a new era in international relations, and as it had done in the world wars, Australia played a significant role.

Then and ever since, the Korean War commanded little attention in Australia.

But it is my sincerest hope that the men and women who bravely served in the war know that Australia honours and respects their service and sacrifice.

For the some 18,000 Australians defence personnel who served in Korea, including Army and Royal Australian Air Force nurses, it was a dangerous war fought over forbidding terrain through scorching summers and freezing winters.

Many were veterans of the Second World War, they would have recognised the familiar tension and exhaustion of wartime service.

Reg Saunders, who remains Australia’s most well-known Indigenous serviceman, already had a proud record as an infantryman and as an officer.

In Korea he earned the respect of a new generation of soldiers, leading his men with care, skill and knowledge borne of years of front line service.

The Australians in Korea also included men who were too young to have seen action in the Second World War.

For them Korea was a chance to experience wartime soldiering.

In their ranks were men who remained in the armed forces and went on to serve in Malaya, Borneo and Vietnam.

None exemplify this better than Warrant Officer Class II Ray Simpson.

Simpson served in the final months of the Second World War and went on to serve in Korea, Malaya and then Vietnam where he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal and later the Victoria Cross.

His years in military service made him, said one officer, ‘a rough tough sort of bloke who knows more about soldiering than anybody I know.’

For Simpson and many others, Korea was an important step in a long military career.

But other Second World War veterans had their service cruelly ended in Korea.

Among those who fell were men whose hard earned experience fitted them for higher command.

Wing Commander Lou Spence, who had received the Distinguished Flying Cross in 1942 and been one of Australia’s first peacekeepers, died on operations in Korea in September 1950.

In October, Australia’s youngest battalion commander of the Second World War, Lieutenant Colonel Charles Green was leading the 3rd Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment, when he was killed.

Green, said a friend, ‘had a fine touch and the presence of a natural leader. His command in Korea was always firm and sure.’

Their loss and the loss of more than 350 other Australians during the war and post-Armistice period was a tragedy for our country and for their families.

Sadly, more than 40 of those brave Australians are still listed as missing in action.

Today, we remember all who served, died and never came home from the Korean war, the effects of which are still felt today.

Lest we forget.

Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service (VVCS) can be reached 24 hours a day across Australia for crisis support and free confidential counselling. Phone 1800 011 046 (international: +61 8 8241 4546). VVCS is a service founded by Vietnam veterans.