The Parish Church of St George the Martyr, Waterlooville


Readers of St George’s News may recall in the Summer 2010 edition Janet Johnson wrote in verse about our Parish outing to Westminster Abbey at the invitation of Canon Jane Hedges. We picnicked on the Westminster Abbey College lawns after a cathedral tour and then enjoyed Choral Evensong, followed by a river trip on the Thames to Greenwich. It was a memorable outing to say the least.

Imagine then receiving an invitation, printed on A5 card, to attend a Thanksgiving Service in Westminster Abbey on 11 July 2013.

Of course, Wendy and I, who had been on the parish outing in the summer of 2010, had no hesitation in accepting. The question follows what is Andrew’s connection with the British Korean Veterans’ Association (BKVA)?

Like many young men of my generation, born in 1934, we were called up at 18 years old to serve with the regular military for two years, unless there were reasons for deferment. I was told to report with some 50 others to the Depot of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment in Warwick for 10 weeks basic training as infantry soldiers. We were all local lads joining our county regiment, which had been earmarked to go to Korea to relieve the Durham Light Infantry in the late summer of 1953.

What is the background to the Korean War, sometimes referred to as the forgotten war. This is how it was described in our Order of Service:

The Korean War (1950-53). After the end of the Second World War, Korea was divided as a temporary expedient along the line of the 38th parallel of latitude. Communist forces occupied the North and the United States the South.

Elections supervised by the United Nations led to the establishment of an Independent Republic in the South in 1948. The United Nations electoral commission was refused entry to the North.

On 25th June 1950, the North Koreans invaded the South and a war that was to last for more than three years commenced. From this opening point, the Security Council authorised and requested armed assistance for South Korea from member countries. Twenty-two states promised contingents. It was a unique military operation by the United Nations which has never been repeated. The American General Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander of the wartime occupation force in Japan, was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the naval, land, and air contributions placed at his disposal.

Some 100,000 British troops served in Korea, many of them National Servicemen, together with Commonwealth forces from Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand, and South Africa. Overall, the United Nations forces suffered 142,000 casualties. The United States losses alone over the three years of combat were close to those they sustained during the whole ten years of the Vietnam conflict.

Losses by the South Koreans were even more severe and exceeded one million people, military and civilians.

An armistice was finally signed on 27th July 1953 ordering a cease-fire along the battle lines. Due to the fact that all negotiations since for a formal peace treaty between the two nations have failed, the Peninsula remains divided roughly along the 38th parallel. The authority for this separation depends solely upon the armistice terms agreed between the respective commanders-in-chief.

 The Wessex Branch of the BKVA is one of the larger ones with 150 members. Monthly meetings are held on the last Friday in the month at the Atherley Bowling Club in Hill Lane, Southampton from 11 am. A coach was hired and 30 members and wives travelled to London, entailing an early start in order to comply with the instructions to arrive at the Abbey by 11 am and to be seated by 11.30 having completed security checks. We received numbered coloured entrance tickets, enabling stewards to direct us to our places in the abbey. We were located in Poets’ corner, close to a large screen monitor so we had a commanding view of the service, which was of the highest order and splendid in detail.

The Band of the Welsh Guards under the Senior Director of Music of the Household Division, Lieutenant Colonel Stephen Barnwell held our attention until the service started at noon.

We sang some stirring hymns: Praise my soul the King of Heaven 436 NEH; Eternal Father, strong to save 354 NEH; Guide me, O thou great Redeemer 368 NEH. We listened to an Address given by Major General Mike Swindells CB, National President BKVA.

There was a Presidential Message from Park Geun-hye, President of the Republic of Korea, delivered by His Excellency, Sungnam Lim, Korean Ambassador to the Court of St James.

We were then invited to a reception in the College Garden of Westminster Abbey and were rewarded with a splendid finger buffet and a wide range of liquid refreshments from wine to tea. In evidence too were some Chelsea Pensioners in the red tunic, all of whom had served in the Korean War. The Reception provided the freedom to talk with friends, whom one might have met on sponsored revisits to Korea or to those made on Overseas Visits at the invitation of Commonwealth countries, for example, Canada and New Zealand. There were serving officers in uniform present, so senior that one was not too sure of their seniority without an image guide, since their badges of rank were certainly senior than Brigadier or Captain RN.

Canon Jane Hedges is today The Venerable Dr Jane Hedges, Canon in Residence. Jane very kindly found time to speak with Wendy and me at the Reception, sharing with us family news in a relaxed manner. It was charming of her and much appreciated. Although not directly responsible, her duties included the finger buffet and refreshment at the Reception.

Our coach driver could not have been more caring; he was able to drop us at the door of the Abbey and collect us again from there later in the day. Most of the former soldiers marched to the Abbey from Horse Guards Parade and cut a splendid picture as they paraded behind the Band with Branch Standards, including the Wessex BKVA one, carried. Throughout the day in the true military tradition, we had acted with dignity and, as we departed from London, all felt happy and proud to have been recognised and invited to a memorable event.

For many of us, as 19-year-old youngsters, Korea was beyond our comprehension and might have been viewed as drawing the short straw. As events have turned out, many of us have used the experience to great effect, enabling us to take up challenges beyond our wildest dreams. We can certainly bask in the reflected glory of Korea’s 10th position as leading industrial nation from loan recipients to loan donors with remarkable achievements such as hosting the Olympic Games, the World Cup and hosting the G8. Their generosity and respect for veterans is displayed from the old to today’s school children and as a visitor is overwhelming. They are now keen to embrace veterans’ grandchildren and offer them places on Summer Camps in the Peninsular and scholarships to study in Korea.

Andrew and Wendy Clark

Summer Edition 2013

BKVA Thanksgiving Service, Westminster Abbey