In London today, serving soldiers gathered with veterans from the UK and Korea, to remember and honour the 81,000 who served in the Korean war, seventy years after the truce was signed. The conflict witnessed more than 1,000 British service personnel killed in action, thousands were injured and 1,060 suffered as prisoners of war.
HRH The Duke of Gloucester, Defence Minister Baroness Goldie, the Korean ambassador to the UK, Yoon Yeocheol, and Chief of the Defence Staff Admiral Sir Tony Radakin were among the VIPs from the UK and Korea attending a specially arranged Royal British Legion national memorial service on Horse Guards Parade.
The Korean War began on June 25, 1950, when the Northern Korean People’s Army, backed by the Soviet Union, launched a military operation to conquer South Korea and unify the territories of the Peninsula under the North Korean communist regime. The UK and the United States were among several partner nations that swiftly heeded the United Nations’ call to take up arms in defence of South Korea. The British contingent was made up of the 1st Commonwealth Division which consisted of four infantry brigades supported by armour, artillery, combat support and combat service support units. It included units from Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand, South Africa and the United Kingdom.
The war was particularly vicious and took place in the most challenging of climates and terrains with temperatures exceeding 40 degrees in the summer and dropping to 40 degrees below freeing in the winter. Armistice negotiations began in July 1951, but it took a further two years while fighting raged on, before a peace agreement was signed at Panmunjom and hostilities between the two nations finally ceased.
“Not many people know that…”
The brutal conflict is often referred to as the ‘forgotten war’ because of the relatively scant attention it has received in the years that followed, in comparison to other conflicts of the era, namely the Second World War and the Cold War. Probably as a consequence of this, not many people know that among those that fought in Korea was Hollywood icon, Sir Michael Caine, then a 19 year old Royal Fusilier from London.
The veterans who survive have never forgotten what they endured and achieved. On Horse Guards Parade this morning as the British Army Band Colchester began to play, it was clear from their faces that memories of the cruel losses of conflict, but also the comfort instilled by the intense friendships that their service engendered, were as fresh as ever.
Supported by their families, the veterans from both nations watched with the widows, as Regimental drums were placed on top of each other to form an altar at the heart of Horse Guards Parade; just as they would have been by the battlefields in Korea before fighting began.
Prayers were said for the departed and families broken by the losses of war.
As an Army trumpeter sounded The Last Post, heralding a sombre two-minute silence, tears fell.
Lance Corporal Jack Rothwell of No 7 Company Coldstream Guards, Lance Corporal Oscar Robson-Murray of No 9 Company Irish Guards and Royal Marine Alastair Grant, whose father Lieutenant Colonel Ferris Grant served with the Royal Marines in Korea, gave readings.
Corporal of Horse Carl New of The Household Cavalry Regiment was among the serving personnel who laid wreaths in tribute to the fallen.
He said: “It’s so important that the courage and sense of duty of all those that fought for freedom is honoured and never forgotten. They are an inspiration to all of us that serve today. It was a privilege to lay a wreath during the ceremony today and meet so many veterans from both nations.”
“It’s so important that the courage and sense of duty of all those that fought for freedom is honoured and never forgotten. They are an inspiration to all of us that serve today. It was a privilege to lay a wreath during the ceremony today and meet so many veterans from both nations.” Corporal of Horse Carl New, Household Cavalry Regiment
British Army Band Colchester performed the National Anthem and, lifting the mood, took part in a joint performance of a Korean folk song along with musicians and dancers from Korea.
Though today recognised a painful past, it was a day filled with hope and optimism for the future.
The UK and South Korea
2023 also marks 140 years of UK-Korea relations and friendship. Today, the UK’s commitment to enhancing Indo-Pacific security, by shifting greater resource to the region and developing nations’ ability to police and protect their waters, is stronger than ever.
Later this year troops from the UK and Korea will carry out military exercises together to enhance our interoperability and strengthen our skills. Our commitments cover soft power too, in October last year the Band of the Scots Guards toured South Korea supporting trade and cultural links between our two nations, and more visits are in the pipeline.
The Korean War Memorial in Victoria Embankment Gardens, which takes the form of a bronze statue of a British soldier, was gifted by the Republic of Korea to the UK in 2014 to honour the British troops that served in the conflict.
After today’s service, veterans and current service personnel gathered for a reception which went on for much of the afternoon, as old and new swapped stories and smiles.