In 2000 it became very obvious that 50 years had passed and the Korean War was still not really recognised in Australia's Military History, despite the pride Australians take in their diggers' achievements. The World War 2 Australians maintained the Anzac Legend that the diggers had created in World War 1. The Gallipoli story has become Australia's Founding Myth, yet the Australians in Korea who enhanced the digger reputation with legendary skill, courage and endurance have failed to capture the attention of their countrymen. It is not unusual to hear an Australian say, "Did our men fight in the Korean War?"
Too few of our citizens realise the importance of the Korean War, let alone the outstanding way in which diggers acquitted themselves, for instance at Kapyong where their stand against a huge Chinese assault was instrumental in changing the course of the war. For this defence those who participated wear a special badge, a blue square that the wearers call "the swimming pool." It is the US Presidential Citation awarded to a battalion, not to individuals, for a unit's exceptional performance. The lack of recognition is hard for veterans to understand considering the Korean War significantly contributed to arresting the spread of Communism, that led eventually to the end of the threat. Justifiably, the veterans, let alone those who lost a loved one, felt very betrayed by history.
It was thought, as late as 2000, that if some object could be produced to draw attention to the war and the service of of 17164 Australians Australians, and sacrifice of 339 (+1) in the Korean War, it had better be done in a way that could both contribute to history and provide a substitute place of mourning for the families, the children and grandchildren of the dead. The creation of the quilt could be, it was thought, a way of bringing the dead home. It is understood that 229 only of the dead are buried in Pusan in Korea, leaving 10 others in unknown places from which their bodies have never been recovered. (Analysis)
Especially for the bereaved of the 44 "missing" in unknown graves, the quilt could provide a symbolic resting place. It is envisaged that, in time, a register of all the dead will be produced to complement the quilt. In this register there would be a photograph of each man whose body is in Korea so that people could better remember him.
The quilt idea was realised by extraordinary coincidence. Women who had formed the Sit and Sew Group in Coleraine learned about the quilt idea and readily agreed not only to make the quilt but to have it ready for the 55th anniversary of the Cease Fire of the Korean War, on 26th July, 2003. Another coincidence produced a designer. Joan Rowe, a member of the Coleraine group, had a daughter, Meredith, who was at the time practising the art of design and textiles in Korea. Meredith Rowe, steeped in the beauty of Korean craft and textiles, created a design that reflects the Korean experience of the Australians who fought in the freezing cold of the hills of Korea.
The feature of the quilt is the representation of the above-mentioned famous battleground, Kapyong . Indicative of the research and skill of the Designer, the very contours of the battle site are suggested through the shading and layering of fabric. Below this, the names of the dead are presented in lists, on panels. The names, stitched in several strands of black silk, stand out, producing an impact like those rows of white crosses under which Australian war dead lie all around the world .
(The Korean War casualties, for Australia, are statistically second only to those of World War 1).
There is no bright colour on the quilt which makes it hard to photograph. Rather than colour, Meredith chose to hand dye the Korean fabric with ink, according to Korean custom. In this way way, she produced shades of grey, a hue that is very appropriate for it evokes gravity and no doubt sadness.
It is custom when war dead are being commemorated, for a bugler to play The Last Post, a haunting cry that evokes the battlefield itself and the ghosts of the dead who hover over it. Meredith aware of this practise, had the notes the bugler sounds, created in white silk, float across the quilt above the names of the dead.
More coincidence influenced the fate of the quilt. When the quilt was completed it came as a shock to all involved that they had made a false assumption: that The Australian War Memorial in Canberra would take the quilt into permanent custody and exhibit it in one of its galleries. The quilt is not a war relic and was therefore not eligible to be accepted by the AWM.
Suddenly it became apparent that something was happening in Grafton in NSW that could be relevant to the quilt. Korean War Veteran in Grafton, Mr John Fitzpatrick, was working hard to accumulate funds to erect a Charlie Green-Korean War Memorial to be dedicated in Grafton on the 26th July 2003. A local stone, representing the landscape of Korea was chosen as the feature of the Memorial. On one side of the beautifully shaped grey stone, local Grafton "hero" Lt Col Charlie Green was honoured, and on the other the servicemen who fought in the Korean War. Charlie Green is honoured for he was born in South Grafton, grew up at Swan Creek, a little down the road. He fought for 6 years in World War 2; he became the youngest Commanding Officer of a battalion in World War 2; he was the first Battalion Commander (of 3 RAR) to serve in Korea and he was Australia's most Senior Army Officer to die in that war. Charlie Green had earned a high reputation and a lot of respect so the Graftonians wanted to acknowledge their own local hero with a simple Memorial. This event produced, by chance, the occasion to unveil the quilt. A memorable two-day programme of events attracted veterans from afar to witness the results of John Fitzpatrick and his team's work. Visitors were very impressed with the weekend and admired the way the whole community became involved in events.
For two years after that, Nola Gunning and her daughter Lynn, organised for the quilt to be exhibited in Victoria, the home state of the Sit and Sew Group. During that time approaches were made, to no avail, to different museums to accept the quilt. The Grafton people waited in the background, hoping that the quilt would be returned to them. They had submitted their request to take custody of the quilt in December 2003 soon after their successful weekend in June. When the search for a national site failed, the quilt was left in limbo and with national interest waning.
Late in 2004 it became evident that the quilt needed a real home. It was getting "tired" from being packed and unpacked. It was time to find it a resting place. Thoughts turned to Grafton, where it had been so warmly received and where it seemed to naturally belong. John Fitzpatrick's patience was rewarded for the AKF arranged for Grafton to take custody of the quilt for the "foreseeable future". John who organised the very successful unveiling of the quilt in 2003, had in effect become the "father" of the quilt, the one who for a second time rescued it and enabled Grafton to give it a home. Despite the aging of his team of helpers, John Fitzpatrick acted as coordinator for the newly-created Council, The Clarence Valley Council, to organise another outstanding programme to receive the quilt in Grafton during the weekend of 25-26th June 2005, the 55th anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War. Grafton was booked out for what would probably be the last opportunity for aging veterans to pay respect to their dead mates and to engage in renewing friendships with those still alive. No one had any doubt that Grafton had proved to be the natural home of the Quilt.
Those who have had a loved one die, probably on a freezing hill in Korea, can take comfort in the thought that the souls are no longer so distant. They have come to peace and rest by the large lazy river, under a clear blue sky, sensing perhaps the air made heavy when the jacarandas bloom and shed their purple carpets on welcoming paths. May they now rest in peace.
The official number of dead has been 339 in all the histories. It was learned that another name has been added to the honour roll, so the quilt has actually 340 names stitched on it. The list was provided by the Australian War Memorial
- UNMCK 281
- Died of Illness in Australia 6
- Died in Accidents in Australia 3
- Died of Wounds in Australia 2
- Missing 44
- Yokohama Cemetery 3
- Unknown burial (KIA Korea) 44
- Total 340 dead