James Plimsoll and UNCURK

James Plimsoll had a significant influence during Australia's involvement in the Korean War.

Plimsoll was Australia's delegate to UNCURK (United Nations Committee for the Unification and Rehabilitation of Korea), in which he played a leading role. UNCURK was formed in October 1950, in anticipation of a swift conclusion of the war. By late November, when UNCURK had its first meeting in Seoul, the Chinese had entered the war and it was clear their participation was going to prolong the conflict. The commission realised that unification and rehabilitation would not be attainable.

Most UNCURK delegates recommended leaving Korea. Only Plimsoll argued to the contrary - that their high-level civilian presence should remain. UNCURK did stay, evacuating to the southern port of Pusan, along with the Republic of Korea (ROK) government. The commission played a valuable role over the next few years, albeit a different one from what was originally intended. UNCURK was in constant touch with the ROK government and UN Command; it reported to the UN in New York and also observed elections.

Plimsoll's most significant role was as a foreign adviser possessing considerable influence on President Syngmann Rhee. He explained to Rhee the views of the UN, especially of the member nations contributing forces to the war, and pointed out to Rhee his tendency to disregard norms of democracy and human rights.

Plimsoll returned to Canberra to take up a senior position. In February 1952, the US State Department officially requested Australia send him back to Korea, as his participation had been greatly missed. Plimsoll returned and was to stay there to the end of 1952, continuing to play a central role in the UN in Korea.

Plimsoll's subsequent career was distinguished: he took up a succession of senior appointments over the next 30 years. In addition to serving as Secretary of the Department of External Affairs in Canberra, he was Head of Mission in several major diplomatic centres: not only at the UN in New York, but also representing Australia in New Delhi, Washington, Moscow, Brussels, London and Tokyo. Sir James then served as Governor of Tasmania, dying in office in 1987.

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Members of 3 RAR are introduced to South Korean President Syngmann Rhee and Australian UNCURK delegate, James Plimsoll, Pusan 1950. 044419

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Group photograph taken in 1952 during a visit to the President of South Korea by the Australian Minister for External Affairs, Richard Gardiner Casey. From the left, unidentified, Mr James Plimsoll, President of South Korea Syngman Rhee, R.G. Casey, Pote Sarasin, Thailand's UNCURK delegate, and Mr Alan Watt, Secretary for the Department of External Affairs.044376