27 July 2023
As we commemorate 70 years since the signing of the Armistice that brought fighting on the Korean peninsula to an end, I wish to acknowledge those who served from all nations who join us today, and acknowledge your families.
Today we stand in the tranquillity of Busan, a modern harbour-side city of skyscrapers, glass and light.
It’s a huge leap from one of the last free strongholds of South Korean resistance in 1950.
In mere months, an invasion from the north had rained down, threatening to engulf the south.
The world, watching on, could not stand idle while a violent autocratic regime sought to impose its will upon a free people.
The United Nations condemned the act and called for forces to repel the invasion and restore peace to South Korea.
After the United States, Australia was the first nation to answer that call.
Over the coming years, some 18,000 Australians would serve on this peninsular in both conflict and peacekeeping.
More than 1,200 would be wounded; more than 350 never returned home.
The remains of 281 Australian sons are interred here, alongside thousands of their allies.
And more than 40 Australians are still listed as missing in action.
The Korean War was one of lightning advances and gruelling stalemates.
Of Monsoonal rain, sweltering heat, and winter blizzards that brought temperatures as low as minus 16 degrees.
For many who served on the frontline, the war was a barrage of shell explosions and rifle fire.
Of chilling nights broken by ordnance flame and flares, and the acrid smell of smoke.
Today, I wish to pay special tribute to the Australian veterans and their families who join us as part of the re-visit program.
We have Ernie Holden who served on the front lines, and was just 20 when he deployed to Korea.
There’s Michael Littleton who played his part in one of the key turning points in the war – the amphibious Inchon landing.
Ronald Walker, Rex McCall, Bernard Hughes and Michael Jeffries who served in the Battle of the Hook, which took place during the last days of the warfighting, where the Australians held their position in the trenches protecting their strategically important position.
It was a battle that led to the signing of the Armistice 70 years ago today.
We also have Matthew Rennie, a frequent visitor to South Korea, who served on the front lines and has been a steadfast supporter of his fellow veterans ever since.
And John Taylor whose efforts helped maintain the peace in the post armistice phase from 1953 to 1955.
I acknowledge each of your families as well, for the support you have provided and the sacrifices you have made.
It has often been said that this is the forgotten war.
There were no parades as there had been after the Second World War.
Less than a decade after the devastation of Hiroshima, Nagasaki and the Holocaust, a war-weary public wanted only to look away, to forget.
Some RSLs were not as welcoming of those whose only service had been in Korea.
There were no protests as there had been for Vietnam.
But for those who were touched by this war, its impact has never been forgotten.
For the people of South Korea, this was the conflict that defined your nation.
For many Australians who served in the rugged hills and shell-shattered cities, who saw the impact on the people of South Korea, the memory of this war remained imprinted on their mind.
And for those who never came home, their absence left a void in the lives of their loved one’s – a constant reminder of the heavy cost of war.
And that is why today we remember.
We remember and honour the sacrifices that were made.
We remember and honour the hardships that were endured.
And as we remember we acknowledge what was achieved: a land liberated.
Korean veteran, Arthur Pembroke once said soldiers don’t start wars, soldiers try to end them – soldiers work to bring peace.
In Korea, Australia stood up to restore peace.
Our soldiers, sailors and aviators fought alongside their South Korean partners. Our nurses and medics supported the Korean, Australian and other UN Sending State forces.
In doing so our two countries forged a bond that can never be forgotten.
Today, South Korea is a prosperous democratic nation that has taken its place on the world stage.
It is an extraordinary example of how a nation can rebuild, and indeed thrive post war.
The success of the development of South Korea post-conflict can be a beacon for others concerned about the ongoing social and economic costs of conflict once they are over, such as Ukraine.
But today, we pause.
We pause to remember those who served, and the lives that were lost, those whose loved ones never learnt their fate.
We will pause to reaffirm the bonds of friendship that exists between our two nations - forged from our commitment to respect for sovereignty, a rules based global order, and a desire for peace and stability across our region and the globe.
And we will seal that bond with a prayer for the promise of peace on this peninsular.
Lest we forget.