UK

North Korea hands over remains of RAF pilot

  • 5 May 2011
  • From the section UK
North Korean officials hand over remains of pilot to British ambassador Peter Hughes Image copyright AP
Image caption The handover ceremony took place in the village of Panmunjom in the demilitarised zone

North Korea has handed over the remains of a British pilot who died in the Korean War nearly 60 years ago.

The remains are believed to be those of RAF Flight Lieutenant Desmond Hinton whose plane was shot down.

British ambassador Peter Hughes received the fighter pilot's remains at a ceremony in the demilitarised zone.

A spokesperson for the Foreign Office confirmed that the remains had been handed over but was able to add few further details.

"We are unable to confirm the nationality or identity of the remains at this time. A detailed forensic analysis will now take place," said the Foreign Office.

Following the established protocol for any remains of possible UN servicemen found in Korea, these remains will now be transferred to the Joint Prisoners of War, Missing in Action Accounting Command in the US for analysis.

Identification will take "almost certainly a number of months," according to the FO.

Lone grave

Flt Lt Hinton, who received the Distinguished Flying Cross in World War II, was attached to the United States Air Force when he was shot down north east of Pyongyang on 2 January 1952.

He was officially listed as missing in action, although his brother David set out to identify the location of where the plane had gone down.

In an interview with the Asia Times two years ago, Mr Hinton said he was determined to find out where the remains lay.

"I was very close to my brother who was very much my role model and a father figure to me. I have never stopped missing him every single one of the 57 years since he died."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Many World War II servicemen returned to the front line for the Korean conflict

Through contact with the British Embassy and then the North Korean authorities he was able to establish that Flt Lt Hinton had been buried properly, the spot marked by a mound of earth with a white picket fence surrounding it.

In 2004 Mr Hinton made the journey to his brother's grave, the only known one of its kind, commemorating a UN serviceman in North Korea.

For a war that took place in the same century as World Wars I and II the scale of British involvement in the Korean War is often forgotten.

Although the majority of the UN mission came from the United States, almost 100,000 British servicemen took part in the conflict between 1950 and 1953. In that time, over 1,000 British service personnel died.

The war between South and North Korea broke out in June 1950. It was Cold War-inspired with the US-led United Nations forces supporting the South while China and the USSR backed the North.

The death toll was high on all sides with an estimated two million Korean civilians, up to 1.5m communist forces, and around 30,000 US and 400,000 South Korean service personnel believed to have died.

When the war ended no peace treaty was ever signed, no ceasefire was ever declared and the border continues to be controlled by military personnel and artillery.

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