Exercise Ulchi Freedom Guardian 17 has provided a brief moment for an Australian soldier to find a family member who lies forevermore in the earth of the nation he fought to defend.
Major Simon Reynolds, currently posted to Headquarters Joint Operations Command, visited the United Nations Memorial Cemetery in Korea (UNMCK) to pay respects to his wife’s grandfather.
Located in Busan (formerly known as Pusan), the cemetery is unique in that it is the only United Nations cemetery in the world.
281 of the 340 Australians who died in the Korean War are interred at UNMCK.
Major Reynolds was in the Republic of Korea (ROK) for Exercise Ulchi Freedom Guardian 17, a complex computer-aided command post exercise involving South Korean, US and United Nations Command Sending State staff to practice concepts for the defence of the ROK.
He visited the cemetery to find the grave of Private Allen James Head, who was killed in action (KIA) on November 17th, 1952, while fighting with 1st Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (1RAR).
Allen was just 19 years old when he died, leaving behind a wife and son.
Scant records reveal 1RAR relieved the 1st Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment, on Hill 355, known as "Kowang San" by the Koreans, on November 1st, 1952.
Located 40 kilometres north of Seoul and to the west of the Imjin River, Hill 355 was nicknamed ‘Little Gibraltar’ by UN troops because of its prominent size and many defensive positions.
The hill was of strategic importance because it overlooked the surrounding front lines and supply routes, and as a result it was often the scene of fierce combat.
1RAR’s Intelligence Section records for November 17th read “One of our standing patrols clashed with an enemy patrol resulting in our casualties of 3 KIA, 1 MIA and 4 WIA. 5 enemy KIA actual body count.”
Allen’s body was interred at the United Nations Command cemetery in Tanggok, Busan.
This cemetery became the UNMCK following the transfer of the land in perpetuity by the Republic of Korea to the United Nations in 1955.
Major Reynolds said the lawn cemetery was a field of great reverence.
“It’s a beautiful place,” he said.
“The graves and lawn are lovingly tended, and there is a pool of reflection and numerous monuments from the various nations who fought in the war.
“When you look out to the city of Busan you can see the prosperity the South Korean people now enjoy.
“It reminds you that defending the nation’s right to exist has been justified.”
Major Reynolds said it had been very special to honour Allen on behalf of his wife and her father.
“It also had great personal meaning to me to pay respect as a member of the Australian Army, and as a former member of the 1st Battalion,” he said.
“Allen is surrounded by so many other Australian and United Nations forces, all who gave their lives to help South Korea.
“The cemetery is a fitting reminder that South Korea’s emergence as a great nation would not have been possible without the help of those who lay here.”
Sadly, the Reynolds have no photographs of Allen or stories of his service in Korea to pass onto future generations.
“All we have now are photographs of his grave and his memorial plaque in Kings Park in Perth,” he said.
“Hopefully there is someone who can help us with photographs and information to keep Allen’s Korean legacy alive.”