Australia's Thermopylae

Full details of the battle here. The action was much more complex than the one fought by Leonidas and his Spartans but the spirit was as dauntless and the odds also great.

And, unlike Thermopylae, the enemy was stopped. The Chinese were numerous, well led, well-trained and even had the advantage of surprise -- but were not prepared for the doggedness of Anglo-Saxon troops

JULIA Gillard has credited Korean war veterans with laying the foundations of the modern Australian army at a ceremony to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Battle of Kapyong.

Surrounded by towering mountains in a rugged landscape where Australians foiled the Chinese army's final assault on the South Korean capital of Seoul in April, 1951, the Prime Minister said too few Australians knew the history of the battle.

Watched by surviving veterans and their families on the first day of a three-day visit to South Korea, Ms Gillard said the men had been worthy inheritors of the Gallipoli legacy.

"You, the men of Kapyong, know your story," Ms Gillard said. "I believe it is time more Australians did."

The battle began on April 23 as Australian troops form the 3rd Battalion of the Royal Australian regiment were preparing to celebrate Anzac Day with a nearby brigade of Turkish soldiers also fighting to protect South Korea from the communist north.

But their preparations, including collecting wild azaleas to make Anzac wreaths, had to be put on hold as the Chinese launched their spring offensive, with more than 300,000 troops pouring through the Kapyong Valley in a bid to take the Korean capital. "It was the final attempt to take Seoul," the Prime Minister said.

"That night the defining night for the Australians in the Korean Way began. Kapyong - the great fighting withdrawal - the battle that stopped a breakthrough. "That night you fought them. In the dark, radios failing, telephone lines cut, outnumbered."

She said the men had come to Korea carrying the Gallipoli legacy of "mateship, courage, teamwork and initiative". "You were more than worthy of the tradition you inherited," she said. "You have added to it for the heirs you have today.

"You came here as the sons of ANZAC, you left here as the fathers of our professional army. "And on operations in Afghanistan or East Timor, in training overseas, the modern Australian Army is still Kapyong's child."

The ceremony had a commonwealth feel with Australian, New Zealand and Canadian servicemen on hand to welcome the veterans and a British Army band providing the music.

They remembered the 32 Australians who died in the battle as their South Koreans hosts bowed their heads amid the flapping of brightly coloured banners declaring "Korea will always remember your sacrifice."

More than 17,000 Australians served in the Korean War, which cost 340 Australian lives.


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