Address at the Unveiling of the New Zealand Korean War Memorial,Prime Minister
It is an honour for me as Prime Minister to be present for the unveiling of the New Zealand Korea War Memorial today.
I acknowledge especially the Kayforce veterans who have travelled to be with us. This memorial honours our veterans and their fallen comrades, and it is a symbol of the ties which bind New Zealand and Korea together.
In June 1950 New Zealand was one of the first nations to respond to the call of the United Nations Security Council to send troops to Korea.
Within days, our first defence personnel were sent here aboard the frigates HMNZS Tutira and Pukaki. Over the next seven years, some six thousand New Zealanders served in the ground forces and in the navy. Through this Memorial we acknowledge their deeds, and we commemorate the forty-five New Zealanders who never came home.
The Memorial bears forty-five cuts, each representing the loss of a New Zealand life. Its design recalls the moko of a Maori woman, evoking the suffering of women whose loved ones are killed in war, and representing New Zealand as the mother of all who left the safety of home to fight here.
Our servicemen faced many challenges in Korea. They arrived in a very cold winter and had inadequate facilities, insufficient water, and poor-quality equipment and vehicles. But after that initial shock to morale, in true New Zealand style they got on with the job, and went on to play a much-praised role in stemming the Chinese advance of April 1951.
George Burns, a newspaper editor who visited the Kayforce in late 1952, wrote: “The Kiwis go about their jobs quietly, almost in a matter of fact way, but they always do them well”. He found the New Zealand servicemen “proud of their units, of their clothing, and of being volunteers”.
Throughout, our ground and naval forces maintained a reputation of effectiveness and reliability. They did us great credit.
While compared with World Wars One and Two the losses we experienced in Korea were relatively few in number, nevertheless each one represented a devastating blow to families and friends back home. Each death represented the loss of a son, a husband, a brother, a nephew, a cousin, a friend.
Here in this peaceful setting lie 34 of our men, laid to rest half a century ago. Here also are commemorated two Royal New Zealand Navy Personnel, the last two New Zealand casualties with no known grave.
In 2003 I came to Korea for the fiftieth anniversary of the Korean War armistice, and visited this cemetery. I was concerned that no New Zealand memorial had been built here to honour the memory of those who died and all who fought.
On my return home, I asked my officials in the Ministry of Culture and Heritage to work on a proposal for a memorial here, to be unveiled when I returned to Busan for the APEC meeting. I am both pleased and moved to see the project come to fruition with this unveiling today.
On behalf of the New Zealand government, I thank the custodian, Ambassador Byun, and his team at the United Nations Memorial Cemetery, for their assistance, and I thank Korean Air for its generosity in transporting our Memorial to its home in Korea.
This Coromandel granite, a piece of New Zealand here in this beautiful and lovingly tended cemetery in Busan, is a permanent reminder of the sacrifices our people made for the people of Korea.
Korea today is one of New Zealand’s most important partners. We value our trade, education, science, and technology links. We value the migrants and the visitors who come to New Zealand from Korea. Our film industries are co-operating, and we have sister city links. We work closely together in many international and regional settings.
May this New Zealand Korean War Memorial in Busan stand as a permanent symbol of the bonds of friendship and co-operation between our two nations, in the past and in the years ahead.
I now have the great pleasure of unveiling the Memorial.