The Parish Church of St George the Martyr, Waterlooville


Revisit to Korea 22-27 April 2012 by Korean War Veterans (June 1950 – July 1953) from New Zealand, Australia, Canada and the UK

The administration for the visit rested with the Korean Government Department, Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs (MPVA). Any veteran who had served in Korea between June 1950 and October 1954 was invited to apply to take part in a Revisit by paying a subsidised airfare with a slightly higher one for a so-called carer, otherwise all meals, hotel and transport was provided free of charge. The visit comes as a profound thank you for our services during our service and entry into the war under the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.

64 representatives from the UK, travelled throughout our five day stay on two buses, numbered 6 and 7 under the leadership of two separate English speaking Korean guides, assisted by at least four young people per bus; they wore high visible jackets to ensure our safety as we progressed from venue to venue. Throughout, though, we could also look for assistance from our British based tour co-ordinator, Charlotte O’Kane.

By implication, at these venues their historical military past unfolded, often as part of a memorial service accompanied with full military honours. They were uplifting occasions rather than sad ones, especially when set against the incredible economic strides Korea has achieved to occupy tenth place in the industrial world moving from aid recipient to aid donor country.

For 60% of us, our service was conscripted as young nineteen-year-old National Servicemen. Our reward has been a life-long pride in South Korea’s industrial and commercial strength kindled under a democracy that has allowed them to sponsor the Summer Olympics in 1988, the World Football Cup in 2002 and a meeting of the G9.

On the Monday morning following the previous day’s 11-hour flight, we enjoyed a visual talk about Korea and its Culture and Spirit, and then invited to dress up in Korean National Costumes and taste Korean refreshments and fruits. In the afternoon, we moved to the 1955 founded National Cemetery set out in 343 acres in the heart of the city, where one hundred and sixty eight thousand graves are maintained. It is also the resting place for Past Presidents. Huge floral dressed wreaths were laid on behalf of civilian and military dignitaries.

From there, we moved to the nearby War Memorial of Korea, completed in 1994 on the former site of the army headquarters. Entrance to the memorial is along a corridor with cast plaques on the walls carrying the names of fallen UN Troops listed by country of domicile. The thousand plus names of the UK fallen fill one and a half plaques, whereas US names fill plaque after plaque listed under states. It is difficult to accept so many lives were lost so shortly after the end of WW2. The building has six indoor exhibition rooms and an outdoor exhibition centre displaying over 13,000 war memorabilia and military equipment exhibits. We returned to the hall on Wednesday, for an ANZAC day dawn service commencing at 6.30 am.

That evening, the UK contingent was invited to a reception at the British Embassy and was received by the Ambassador, Scott Wightman. He was a generous host, receiving us in the garden with an aperitif before dinner.

Tuesday, up early to travel to Gapyeong for a 09.30 – 10.00 Commonwealth Memorial Ceremony. In 1951, intense fighting took place here. We returned to Seoul in time for lunch and afternoon rest or shopping as preferred, visiting an amethyst manufacturer who extended to us, in appreciation 50% discount on his jewellery products and gave each visitor an amethyst key ring.

In the evening, a theatre visit was arranged. We saw a classic love story mimed in dance, action drumming and wonderful coloured costumes. It was brilliant entertainment. It may have been performed at one time at the Edinburgh Festival. DVDs were available and one comes home.

The day started with an ANZAC Day service commemorating the ANZAC arrival on the Gallipoli Peninsula on 25th April 1915. It was followed by breakfast in the Wedding Hall before moving to the railway station to catch the KTX so-called bullet train for a two hour forty minute journey to Busan at speeds up to 300 kmph that were obtained without even being conscious of them. In 1954, the journey took eighteen hours sitting on wooden seats.

The purpose of going there was to visit the United Nations Memorial Cemetery, where 885 UK personnel have their resting place with the military from sixteen other nations. The day was extremely wet, shelter being provided under gazeboes as we stood in heavy-duty plastic coats and umbrellas, all freely distributed. Tea was on hand in the memorial hall. I had previously visited in July 1954 treasuring a memory of a tranquil hillside set in a natural amphitheatre. Today it is terraced and I did not feel quite so at ease, although symbols abound, including the inscription: We engrave your names in our hearts with love; we inscribe your names in our land with appreciation. In Eternal Remembrance of the fallen of UN Forces in the Korean War.

Thursday we travelled to Jeokesong for a Memorial Ceremony and Service. It was held in Gloster Valley, so named after the three day long battle in April 1951.  UK Veterans then presented scholarships to schoolchildren from the area. We lunched on site and went on to the DMZ (Demilitarised Zone) at Pan Mum Jong, supervised for the South by US troops. It remains foreboding with much attention to detail prevailing in order not to offend the North Koreans.

In the evening, the MPVA minister hosted a splendid banquet, presiding over speeches, Ambassador medal awards and thank you certificates ceremonies. It concluded a memorable week, during which we all felt regal and feted.

Next day, Friday, somewhat exhausted but happy with all that we had seen and achieved, we fly back to the UK at a reasonable flight departure time, arriving late on stand at 6 pm, due to severe headwinds. Korea time is nine hours ahead of the UK.

Andrew Clark

Festival Edition 2012

Revisit to Korea, April 2012