Sixty years after the end of ‘The Forgotten War’, one Berwick resident says he will always remember the Korean conflict.
Eighty-year-old Ken Chalmers of Low Greens, Berwick, served in Korea with his regiment the Black Watch in 1952, fighting a war which claimed the lives of over a thousand British troops.
“They call it the forgotten war, but I think it’s important to remember, especially now, with the sixtieth anniversary just past,” Ken told the Advertiser. “At least one person from Berwick was part of it - me. I’m proud to have been there.”
Following the division of Korea in 1945, North Korean forces invaded South Korea on June 25, 1950.
In order to defend South Korea against the North, 16 countries dispatched troops to South Korea under the flag of the United Nations. The UK was second only to the US in the number of troops deployed to South Korea.
The timing was not ideal for Britain, with the country impoverished and exhausted after World War II and demobilising. Nevertheless, the UK was the second country to come to the aid of South Korea.
Ken enrolled for his national service at 18, and almost straight away his regiment, the Black Watch, deployed to Korea.
Transportation was a serious challenge as air travel was in its infancy and land, sea and air forces required considerable supporting equipment.
A number of troopships were tasked, and the journey took between five and eight weeks via the Suez Canal, Colombo, Singapore and Hong Kong. For many of the young men involved this was, in itself, an astonishing experience - not always a good one.
Ken travelled on the Empire Pride. Built by Barclay Curle in Glasgow in 1941, it was 9,248 tons, originally designed as a cargo ship but changed on Government’s instructions to a troopship carrying 1,600 troops. He describes the crossing as “rough”.
“It took weeks to get there,” Ken said. “The drinking water was warm and we had to sleep in hammocks - it was horrible!”
The fighting ended on July 27 1953, when the armistice agreement was signed. The agreement restored the border between the Koreas near the 38th Parallel and created the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), a 2.5-mile-wide fortified buffer zone between the two Korean nations.
Ken left Korea as the main conflict ended. “As we came out the ceasefire occurred,” he remembers. “We went to the cemetery at Pusan (the United Nations Memorial Cemetery in Korea) and got on a ship.”
British Forces were withdrawn in 1957. Of the 56,700 men we sent, 1,078 were killed, 2,674 wounded and 979 were made prisoners of war.
At the end of last month commemorations were held to mark the sixtieth anniversary of the armistice.
As a member of the British Korean Veterans Association (BKVA), Ken attended the Korean War Commemoration Day at the National Memorial Arboretum, Alrewas in Staffordshire, when wreaths were laid at the BKVA Garden.
“We marched from the service up to the monument, and crowds clapped us all the way up,” Ken said. “I never expected to see so many people, there were hundreds. It was quite emotional.”
The Korean War has been referred to as “The Forgotten War” because of the lack of public attention it received both during and after the war. Two-and-a-half million people were killed.