Other Remembrance Days
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- Kapyong Day 24 April
- Korean Veterans’ Day 27 July
- Vietnam Veterans’ Day 18 August
Kapyong Day 24 April
The Battle of Kapyong was fought between 23–25 April 1951. It is considered one of the decisive battles of the Korean War.
In April 1951, the 3rd Battalion RAR were positioned in the Kapyong Valley as part of United Nations operation to establish a defensive buffer against a communist advance towards the South Korean capital Seoul.
On 23 April 1951, after breaking through forward positions held by the South Korean Army, Chinese forces assaulted United Nations defensive positions in the hills overlooking the Kapyong River, including those held by Australians. During the night, wave after wave of Chinese troops attacked the Australian positions.
On 23 April, 3 RAR, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Bruce Ferguson, and the 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, occupied prominent hills on either side of the seven-kilometre-wide valley, where a small tributary joined the Kapyong River. Also forward were headquarters units, tanks and artillery. The 1st Battalion, Middlesex Regiment, were to the rear.
Early in the evening, retreating South Koreans streamed past the Commonwealth position, with Chinese forces closely intermingled. Soon afterwards a platoon of American tanks supporting 3 RAR was overrun. The Kapyong valley was too large an area to defend with the forces available, and the brigade was spread very thinly.
Throughout the night the Chinese repeatedly pressed the Australian positions, attacking in waves over their own dead and wounded.
At dawn, A Company, under the command of Major Bernard “Ben” O’Dowd, found that the Chinese had infiltrated its position, but a counter-attack was able to eject them. Meanwhile B Company, which had spent the night on a hill near the river, discovered Chinese occupying some old bunkers on a small knoll. Hand-to-hand fighting ensued with grenades and bayonets. C Company, under the command of Captain Reg Saunders, was in position to reinforce both A and B Companies.
“Major O’Dowd then directed the radio operator to contact anyone. The American 1st Marine Division answered but their operator refused to believe who our operator was speaking for. Major O’Dowd took the phone and demanded to speak to the commanding officer. The general in charge of the Marine division came on the phone and told O’Dowd we did not exist as we had been wiped out the night before. Major O’Dowd said, ‘I’ve got news for you, we are still here, and we are staying here.”
Private Patrick Knowles, 3 RAR, on the morning of 24 April 1951
By the morning of 24 April elements of the Australian force had been forced to withdraw while others found themselves cut off up to four kilometres behind the most forward Chinese troops.
The Australians continued to resist throughout the day but were forced to make a fighting withdrawal under difficult conditions and re-join the remainder of the Commonwealth Brigade late in the day.
On 25 April, the focus of the Chinese attack shifted to the positions held by the Canadian forces, who were able to deflect them with the assistance of the New Zealand artillery batteries whose fire had recently protected the Australians.
By the afternoon of 25 April, the Chinese at Kapyong were exhausted and made no further attacks. The Commonwealth forces’ efforts had halted the Chinese advance.
Thirty-two Australians died in the Battle of Kapyong, 59 were wounded and three were taken prisoner.
The Australian and Canadian battalions were each awarded a United States Presidential Distinguished Unit Citation for their part in the Battle.
Korean Veterans’ Day 27 July
The origins of the Korean War can be traced back to the end of the Second World War, when the Allies were entrusted with control of the Korean peninsula following 35 years of Japanese occupation. The United States and the Soviet Union accepted mutual responsibility for the country, with the Soviets taking control of the country to the north of the 38th Parallel and the Americans taking the south.
Over the next few years, the Soviet Union fostered a communist government under Kim Il-Sung and the US supported the provisional government in the south, headed by Syngman Rhee. By 1950 tensions between the two zones had risen to the point that two increasingly hostile armies had built up along the 38th Parallel.
On 25 June 1950 the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea Army crossed the border into the Republic of Korea, capturing Seoul within days.
Australia, with its commitment to the British Commonwealth Occupation Force in Japan, had two readily deployable RAN vessels, HMAS Shoalhaven and HMAS Bataan (which was on its way to Japan to relieve Shoalhaven), as well as No. 77 Squadron, RAAF. The 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (3RAR) was also available, but it was understrength and ill prepared for a combat deployment.
On 28 June Prime Minister Robert Menzies committed Australia’s RAN assets to the Korean War, followed several days later by No. 77 Squadron. It was not until 26 July that 3RAR was committed to ground operations in Korea.
The Royal Australian Navy, the Australian Army and Royal Australian Air Force served as part of the United Nations (UN) multinational force. Despite still recovering from losses suffered during the Second World War, Australia was the second of 21 nations to commit troops, ships, aircraft and medical units in defence of South Korea.
For more than three years Australians fought with distinction in an unrelenting war of attrition, where we suffered some 1,500 casualties during the war and post-Armistice period, which tragically included the deaths of more than 350 Australians.
More than 150 Australian nursing sisters served both in Korea and Japan, where they were tasked with treating the wounded and sick, including sicknesses brought on by harsh climatic conditions, remote mountain fighting and trench warfare.
An agreement for an Armistice was reached on 19 July 1953 between the UN and communist forces and the date for the signing was set for 27 July 1953. The Armistice was signed at 10am and came into effect 12 hours later, which meant sporadic fighting continued throughout the day. Australian forces remained in Korea until 1957 as part of a multi-nation peacekeeping force.
On 27 July Australia is encouraged to commemorate the more than 17,000 Australians who fought against the spread of communism and in defence of South Korea during the first open conflict of the Cold War – the Korean War.
The Korean War is sometimes referred to the ‘forgotten war’, as it occurred between the large scale Second World War and the first war to be broadcast on television, the Vietnam War.
Each year on 27 July we remember all who served.
Vietnam Veterans’ Day – 18 August
Vietnam Veterans Day is commemorated on 18 August every year. The day was originally known as Long Tan Day, chosen to commemorate the men of D Company, 6RAR who fought in the battle of Long Tan in 1966.
On that day, 108 Australian and New Zealand soldiers fought a pitched battle against over 2,000 North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops in a rubber plantation not far from the small village of Long Tan. The Australians prevailed, but only after fighting in torrential rain for four hours. They were nearly overrun, but were saved by a timely ammunition resupply, accurate artillery fire from the nearby Australian base, and the arrival of reinforcements by armoured personnel carrier. Eighteen Australians lost their lives and 24 were wounded, the largest number of casualties in one operation since the Australian task force had arrived a few months earlier. After the battle, the bodies of 245 enemy soldiers were found, but there was evidence that many more bodies had been carried away.
The United States Presidential Distinguished Unit Citation was awarded to D Company, 6 Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (RAR) for its role in the Battle of Long Tan.
On the third anniversary of Long Tan, 18 August 1969, a cross was raised on the site of the battle by the men of 6RAR. Veterans from the battle gathered at the cross to commemorate the fallen, and the day was commemorated by them as Long Tan Day from then on.
Over time, all Vietnam veterans adopted the day as one to commemorate those who served and died in Vietnam. In 1987, following the successful Welcome Home parade for Vietnam veterans in Sydney, Prime Minister Bob Hawke announced that Long Tan Day would be known as Vietnam Veterans Day. Since then, it has been commemorated every year as the day on which the service of all those men and women who served in Vietnam is remembered.