On July 27th 1953, the Korean War, a very much ‘forgotten’ war, came to an end. For over 50 years, the 81,084 British Troops who were sent there feel they have had little official recognition from the authorities or public.
However, on the 3rd December 2014, 320 veterans and 180 other guests, watched as HRH the Duke of Gloucester unveiled a new memorial on the Embankment next to the Royal Air Force, Fleet Air Arm and Battle of Britain memorials.
The memorial, which was a gift from the Republic of Korea in honour of the British Troops sent there, stands six metres high and was carved by Philip Jackson – famed for carvings of Sports personalities, artists and the Gurkha Memorial. It shows a Bronze statue of a soldier, head bowed, standing on a base of Welsh Slate in front of an obelisk of Portland Stone. Dressed in winter wear, the statue reflects the tiredness of constant rain, and the never-ending battle against both a determined enemy and the elements.
Behind the weary soldier are several carvings, including a mountainous landscape representing Korea’s environment, along with a number of inscriptions. On the base, to the front, reads (in both English and Korean)
“With gratitude for the sacrifice made by the British Armed Forces in defence of freedom and democracy in the Republic of Korea.”
To the North side of the memorial is a further inscription:
“The Korean War was the first UN action against aggression. The UN forces that fought the North Korean invasion were drawn from 21 countries. Although exhausted and impoverished after the Second World War, Britain responded immediately by providing strong naval, army and air forces and became the second largest contributor after the United States. A distant obligation honourably discharged.”
On the south side of the obelisk, below the Union Flag, it reads:
“In this fierce and brutal conflict those who fought included many Second World War veterans reinforced by reservists and young national servicemen. The land battle was fought against numerically superior communist forces, the terrain was mountainous and the weather extreme. 81,084 British servicemen served in the theatre of operations. 1,106 were killed in action, thousands were wounded and 1,060 suffered as prisoners of war.”
The Korean War was the first UN action and took troops from 21 different countries, many of whom had only just started to recover from the Second World War. For their action, two British Soldiers were awarded the highest military honour – the Victoria Cross – but yet despite this, it still remains very much a ‘forgotten war’.
Much of the fighting took place around the 38th Parallel, a point that once stabilised, became not only the border between North and South Korea, but the Russians and the West in what would be a long and at times trying Cold War.
The memorial stands facing the Thames, amongst a number of other memorials outside the Ministry of Defence building on the north embankment and forms a group of Korean memorials. These include a plaque in the crypt of St Paul’s, and two other memorials in the National Arboretum in Staffordshire and in Bathgate, Scotland.
This memorial stands as a reminder of a short war, but for those who took part, it is a timely reminder of the sacrifice that they and their colleagues made.
The unveiling of the memorial.
A website dedicated to the Korean War Veterans can be found here.