Seventy two years ago a war began that has left Korea separated ever since.
Along with the occupants of the East Asian peninsula, many Australian lives were changed forever by that war. To mark the anniversary of its ceasefire in 1953 and to honour those who served, a commemorative service was held by the memorial fountain at Club Taree on the morning of Wednesday, July 27.
Officiated by Club Taree CEO Paul Allan, the service included addresses from RSL sub-branch members Charlie Fisher, Darcy Elbourne and chaplain Reverend Bill Green.
Also present for the service, after driving up from Sydney that morning, was Cheil Church Reverend Matt Kang, who spoke of South Korea's gratitude to Australia for its support during the war, contributing directly, he said, to the peace and prosperity the country now enjoys.
As with anything meaningful, this didn't come about without a cost.
It's not the Forgotten War as far as we're concerned. We want to remember all those who served and this is why we're so keen to make sure it happens. We don't forget- Darcy Elbourne
By the time the Korean war was over, 340 Australians had been killed with 1200 wounded. Another 30 were taken as prisoners of war while 43 remain missing in a conflict that for one reason or another, passed by the collective consciousness of the Australian public.
Perhaps it was the brutalising effect of two world wars in the space of a generation still being felt, or that the conflict ended in a stalemate with no victorious celebration to mark its place in history.
It was this comparison to the recently ended World War II that often saw the effort in Korea derided due to the scale of the conflict, according to Taree RSL Sub-branch vice president, Darcy Elbourne.
"In the scheme of things it was seen as a little skirmish on the side. It wasn't of the scale as World War II. So a lot of the old veterans said it really wasn't a war," Darcy said.
Beginning on June 25, 1950, with North Korean troops crossing the 38th parallel into South Korea, the war would last three years with the loss of approximately three million lives before the signing of an armistice on July 27, 1953.
With the north backed by China and the Soviet Union, they were able to bring the latest of Eastern Bloc weaponry to the conflict. Something Taree RSL Sub-branch treasurer, Ted Hill, observed at close quarters while onboard Qantas flights ferrying wounded back to Australia.
China was in the war then and the MiGs (soviet fighter jets) used to fly alongside us. They were so close you could see the pilot's goggles. Pretty exciting days- Ted Hill
"China was in the war then and the MiGs (soviet fighter jets) used to fly alongside us. They were so close you could see the pilot's goggles. They'd be pointing us away from Chinese airspace," Ted said.
"If the captain didn't move, they'd go ahead and fire a burst of tracer (bullets) across the nose of the aircraft. Of course, as soon as that happened, we'd turn left in a hurry. Pretty exciting days."
When prime minister Robert Menzies committed the 3rd Royal Australian Regiment (3RAR) to operations in Korea in 1950, one of those on the ground was Lance Corporal Leo Holden. Born in 1928 and the second of four children, Leo attended Taree High School until the age of fifteen when he left to start work. After trying unsuccessfully to enlist in the army at 16, he was finally accepted in 1947 after turning 18.
In September 1952 during a fierce battle, Leo was wounded when a grenade exploded causing injuries to both his legs. When his patrol suffered a further three casualties, Leo refused to be evacuated, remaining instead with the covering party and engaging the enemy until ordered by the patrol commander to be assisted once the withdrawal was almost completed.
He was subsequently evacuated to Japan before returning to Australia where he was discharged, and made his way home to Taree. Leo died in 2003, aged seventy four.
Sadly, today there are no surviving veterans of the Korean war within the Taree RSL Sub-branch.
Though some were met by a disinterested public on their return, history shows that those who served in Korea acquitted themselves with bravery and fortitude, often in the face of overwhelming odds. They are part of this nation's military history and deserve to be remembered, just as those who saw action in Tobruk, Pozières, and Gallipoli.
"It's not the Forgotten War as far as we're concerned. We want to remember all those who served and this is why we're so keen to make sure it happens. We don't forget," Darcy said.
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