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Conflicts : The Korean War

After World War Two, Japanese-occupied Korea was divided at the 38th parallel by the Allies to monitor Japanese disarmament. The USSR controlled the country to the north of the 38th parallel and the US to the south. Eventually, the United Nations (UN) pushed for the unification of Korea and the withdrawal of Soviet and American troops. As relations between the Communist-backed north and US-backed south degenerated, the UN sent in military observers including several Australians. The conflict escalated into full-scale war when, on 25 June 1950, the North Korean army crossed the border and progressed towards the South Korean capital Seoul. Seoul fell quickly and the North Korean advance continued.

The US lent support to South Korea immediately and the UN Security Council asked that its members aid the South Koreans in repelling the attack. Initially, Australia contributed forces that were stationed in Japan with the British Commonwealth Occupation Force including the 77 Squadron of the RAAF and the 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (3RAR). Later the 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (1RAR), the 2nd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (2RAR) and nine Royal Australian Navy ships also served.

Communist China entered the war in November 1950 when the international forces successfully pushed the North Koreans back and entered North Korean territory. By the middle of 1951 the two sides were locked again around the 38th parallel and two more years of fighting without any significant gain of ground on either side followed. During this period peace talks began. An armistice was not agreed to until the fate of the prisoners-of-war (POWs) on both sides could be agreed. The peace agreement was signed on 27 July 1953 and POWs were exchanged in Operation Big Switch just over a week later. A demilitarised zone (DMZ) was then established at the border. The DMZ remains in place today. Military personnel from Australia remained in Korea for four years after the signing of the armistice.

A total of 17,164 Australians served in the Korean War. Of these, 339 died including 13 South Australians.

The Korean War is sometimes known as the 'forgotten war'. The Korean conflict occurred soon after the Second World War, but in comparison, relatively few Australians were involved and had less perceived impact at home in contrast to the threat of attack and rationing of the World War Two years. A permanent national memorial to those Australians who served in the Korean War was not dedicated until 2000.

While the State Library of South Australia holds many reference works related to this conflict, we hold little in the way of records relating to South Australians involved. Those items with a South Australian interest include two oral histories with former Norwood Footballer, Gerry Harrison, and with Betty Lawrence of the Royal Australian Army Nursing Corp.

If you have any original items relating to South Australians at war such as photographs, film, diaries and letters, the Library's Archival Field Officers would like to hear from you regarding possible donations, or copies being made for the Library's collections.

Share 'Your story' about this conflict: contribute memories in words and photographs.

Allied forces still pulling back: Austns. help to stem
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Another battalion for Korea
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Australians arrive; off to battlezone
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Fighting ends on Korea battleline
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In memory of hell that was Korea
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Interview with Betty Lawrence
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Interview with Gerry Harrison
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Interview with Peter Scott
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Ivor Hele : the heroic figure : [extracts]
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Korea armistice to be signed today
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Korean War: Fear of escalation
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Most prized medal of all
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