The Korean War and New Zealand's involvement

  • Rick Barker
Veterans' Affairs

Hon Rick Barker's address to mark the 55th anniversary of the Korean War Armistice, Alexandra Park, Auckland.

This Sunday, July 27 2008, will mark the 55th anniversary of the signing of the Armistice which brought to an end the hostilities of the Korean War.

The Korean War was New Zealand’s first major military commitment since World War II and I am honoured to speak to you today and to commemorate the ceasefire.  

At 4am on 25 June 1950, the southern Republic of Korea found itself under attack by their North Korean neighbour.  The violent and sudden invasion led to the United Nations Security Council determination that, for the first time in that body’s history, a military peace enforcement intervention would be required to assist the South Koreans.  

New Zealand was one of the first countries to respond to the United Nations Security Council’s call for assistance, in what would become a seven year commitment.  

Prime Minister Sid Holland committed two frigates, HMNZS Tutira and Pukaki, whichleft Auckland on 3 July to form part of the convoy escorts during General MacArthur’s Inchon landings. 

The New Zealand government also agreed to dispatch a 1,000-man ground force. 

On 27 July 1950 volunteers for the new force, known as Kayforce, were called for.  Within ten days 6,000 men had volunteered for service in K-Force, six times the number needed.  I believe this is a testament to the courage and spirit of service which would characterise Kayforce.

Over the course of the war more than 4,700 New Zealanders served as a part of Kayforce and a  further 1,350 Royal New Zealand Navy sailors took part in tours of duty during the Korean War. This number represented around half of the total Navy at that time.

It was a cold and bloody war, reminiscent of the trench warfare of the Western Front as both sides dug in along the hill country which marked the line of the 38th Parallel. 

The Korean War would take 45 New Zealand lives. 

We remember those who fell today and also acknowledge those injured as a result of their service in Korea. 

At 10am on 27 July 1953, the Armistice was signed, three years and one month after hostilities began. 

New Zealand witnesses have recalled how on that night, the men of the Commonwealth Division assembled to hear the regimental buglers sound the Regimental and Company calls followed by the ‘Cease Fire.’

A roar of cheering greeted the sounds, and Verey lights were shot up to mark the ceasefire with an improvised fireworks display.

While we commemorate the 1953 Armistice today, we also recall that New Zealand’s artillery regiment was not withdrawn until the end of 1954, and that some troops stayed in Korea to monitor the ceasefire until the final withdrawal of Kayforce on 27 July 1957.

Veterans hold a special place in New Zealand society, and rightly so. 

The servicemen and women who have been put in harm’s way to protect and defend our country, and meet our international obligations, deserve both our respect, and our gratitude. 

We are grateful for your service and recognise the sacrifices you have made on behalf of all of us. 

As you will likely already be aware, 2008 has already seen some significant developments in the way that services to veterans are delivered by government. 

From 1 July 2008, the delivery of War Disablement Pensions was transferred to Veterans’ Affairs New Zealand.  This decision makes VANZ the sole agency responsible for the delivery of War Disablement Pensions and other veterans’ entitlements, and recognises the lifetime responsibility of the Chief of Defence Force to veterans. 

The change means that veterans will be able to deal directly with one organisation for all enquires about the entitlements and support available to them. The changes will also enable improvements to be made in the time taken to process War Disablement Pensions.

I am pleased with these changes and I believe that we now have a system to put in place that will make access to assistance and entitlements for veterans simpler and more efficient. 

The next step in the process of continuing to improve and build upon the services available to veterans is the rewrite of the War Pensions Act, a piece of legislation which only just younger than the Korean War ceasefire we commemorate today.

The work is being led by the Law Commission -headed by Sir Geoffrey Palmer (in close consultation with the RSA and veterans) and we are set to launch the discussion document later this month.

I have asked that consideration be given to calling the new legislation the Veterans Act.

This name sets the scene for a broad view of the issues veterans face.

We need to take a more holistic approach to our duty of care and understand that providing services to our veterans is about more than just paying pensions.

I believe that we need to move away from focusing just on physical injury and towards promoting the well-being of the veterans' population. The Act does not, for example, currently provide for rehabilitation.

I would also like the review to place greater importance on, and give greater recognition to the families of veterans.

I have seen a draft of the discussion document and was impressed by the clarity and understanding shown in Sir Geoffrey's approach.

He has started with the concept of community responsibility. The idea that in return for putting themselves in harm's way during service on behalf of the nation – the community has a responsibility to look after veterans and their families if they are killed or injured.

This recognition of enduring obligation seems to me to be at the heart of all the work we are doing in the Veterans' Affairs portfolio.

I look forward to releasing the discussion document later in the month and hearing the views of veterans on its contents.

Currently the New Zealand Defence Force has personnel posted to ten different locations, including a provincial reconstruction team in Bamyian, Afghanistan.

We wish them all a safe return home.

As a consequence of this change in operational tempo, the largest group of veterans after World War Two veterans, who make up 20 per cent of the veteran population, are the veterans who are currently in uniform.

New veterans are being created all the time and it is important that we have a understanding of the needs of this new group, and strategies in place to address those needs as they arise.

The focus of our service delivery will be on taking a whole of life approach from the time of transition from uniform to civilian life.

There is no such thing as a typical veteran – in the same way there is no such thing as a typical deployment.

We need to tailor services to meet the needs of individual veterans at different times of their life and develop a supportive framework around veterans within their own community, by making the community aware of their needs and experiences.

I am confident that the changes we are making will give you, your fellow veterans, and veterans of as yet unknown conflicts, an even better standard of care.

In conclusion I would like to acknowledge again the brave service of all those who took part in the Korean War and also remember those who laid down their lives in the defence freedom.

The establishment of the United Nations after World War II was underpinned by the idea that nations had to come together in cooperation and security in order to create lasting peace.

These shared values were tested on the battlefields of Korea and those who went away to fight, and those who died, were doing their part to create a more peaceful and more just world.

We must never forget the price of peace.

The ultimate price paid by many, the consequences suffered by many more and the toll on their families.

Our gathering here today is a mark of respect from a grateful country.