Korean War veterans to be honoured with memorial in Perth

By Peter Heeney, Perth Korean War Memorial Committee and Legatee

Just five years after the Second World War, Australia was ‘called to arms’ to fight in Korea. The Australian Government under Prime Minister Robert Menzies immediately offered military assistance to the United Nations Security Council. From 25 June 1950 until 27 July 1953, some 17,000 Australians in the Navy, Army and Air Force served as part of the United Nations (UN) multinational force, defending South Korea from the Communist forces of North Korea and China.

As we approach the 70th Anniversary of the signing of the Armistice on 27 July 2023, it is important that Western Australia has an appropriate memorial dedicated to commemorating and reflecting on the service of those who fought in Korea and honouring those who lost their lives. It has been very heartening to see this recognition through the work of the Perth Korean War Memorial Committee, bipartisan political support, the unanimous support of the RSLWA Board, the Perth Korean community, and the Vietnam Veterans Association of WA. 

In 2021, Australia and the Republic of Korea celebrated 60 years of diplomatic relations. The two countries enjoy a strong bilateral relationship underpinned by trade, shared regional strategic interests, and people-to-people links. These strong ties also exist as a result of a bond created during the Korean War.

In Western Australia, the Korean community has embraced this strong relationship, and through its own Korean Veterans Association they have been involved with ex-service organisations such as the West Australian Branch of the Royal Australian Regiment Association and the RSL Highgate Sub-Branch.

One such involvement is the presentations of Ambassador for Peace Medals to veterans who served in Korea, or to the families of deceased veterans. These are arranged through the Korean Embassy by the Honorary Consul for the Republic of Korea in Western Australia Mrs Fay Duda. These presentations are held with the support of local RSL Sub-Branches and the Korean Veterans Association of WA. The assistance provided by DVA in locating recipients has greatly assisted this process. 

The campaign for the establishment of a Korean War Memorial at Kings Park began with a small working group created in 2018 and with bi-partisan support from the Hon. Peter Tinley AM MLA and the Hon Tjorn Sibma MLC. In March 2019, then Korean Ambassador to Australia, HE Mr Baeksoon Lee was guest speaker at Highgate RSL Sub-Branch and gave a presentation about Australia’s contribution to the Korean War.  Following that lunch, it became clear that a formal committee would need to be established to take the project forward and gain the necessary approvals.

The Honorary Consul set up a meeting with Bill Munro (RSL Highgate), Peter Heeney (RAR Association), Dr James Lee (Korean Community) and Oliver Lovelle (RSLWA Life Member). The outcome of this meeting was the creation of the Perth Korean War Memorial Committee Inc. The committee comprises Australian veterans from other conflicts, members of the Korean community and the Honorary Consul for the Republic of Korea. 

The committee has done an enormous amount of work consulting with the Botanic Gardens and Parks Authority (BGPA) to establish a Korean War Memorial at the Tobruk Memorial Precinct located at the intersection of Saw Avenue and May Drive in Kings Park. In July 2020 a joint announcement was released by ministers, Hon. Peter Tinley AM MLA, and Hon. Stephen Dawson MLC that the WA Government would support the building of a memorial at Kings Park to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the cessation of hostilities in 2023. 

There has been significant progress since that announcement with the Korean War Memorial design being approved by the BGPA Board. The WA Minister for Veterans, the Hon Paul Papalia CSC MLA has announced approval of a grant of $150,000 from the ANZAC Day Trust. A DVA Saluting Their Service Grant of $120,000 has also been approved. Some initial funding was provided by Santos Ltd, by members of Perth’s Korean community and by Australian veterans of the Korean War.

The Republic of Korea has invited the Committee to make an application for matching funding of up to $450,000.

The County of Gapyeong in South Korea has donated and shipped the 10-tonne centrepiece stone and plinth for the memorial which is currently being stored with the assistance of Perth Korean-born sculptor Jina Lee. The stone is from the area where the Battle of Kapyong took place in 1951.  It was a critical year for the Korean War and the men of the 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment showed great courage in this significant battle.  Michael Kelly, an historian at the Australian War Memorial wrote an article for the Sydney Morning Herald in 2016 and said that: ‘The Battle of Kapyong turned the tide of the Korean War, the legacies of which can still be felt today’. 

Of the 340 Australians who gave their lives, many are buried in the United Nations Memorial Cemetery at Busan, some remain unrecovered inside the demilitarised zone. According to DVA, 1,673 people born in WA served in the conflict, 34 of whom were killed and six classified as missing in action. 

Kings Park is a fit and proper place for a memorial to be erected to honour veterans of the Korean War, to commemorate those who served and those who lost their lives and to provide a quiet contemplative space for their families. As someone who volunteers with Legacy, I am proud that the organisation has provided so much support to the families of Korean War veterans over many decades.

The memorial will be unveiled on the 70th anniversary of the signing of the Armistice – 27 July next year. All welcome.

Memorial made up of large stone with plaques on low wall behind it, with Australian and Korean flags

An artist’s impression of the Korean War Memorial