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Korea Remembered

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James Roberts James Roberts | 10:51 UK time, Friday, 25 June 2010

Sixty years ago thousands of British servicemen went to war in a far away land. On 25 June 1950 communist-backed North Korean forces invaded South Korea, triggering a global military conflict just five years after the cessation of the Second World War.

Following the division of the Korean peninsula in 1945, several years of bloody clashes erupted along the disputed 38th parallel. Then, on 25 June 1950 Korea was invaded by the North Korean People's Army.

As the northern communist force blitzed southwards throughout the peninsula, the United States-led administration in the south called on the United Nations Security Council to invoke the UN Charter, thus branding the North Koreans as aggressors. American troops were then massed against the northern invasion with the British government and Commonwealth forces joining in kind. This Included many Welshmen.

Welsh involvement in Korea is focused on in a BBC Radio Wales documentary narrated by Falkland's War Veteran, Simon Weston. Korea Remembered features Bernard Tucker, Grenville Holiday, Danny Simpson, John Morgan, Jim Angel and Meirion Davies; all from the Welsh branches of the British Korean Veterans Association. They all fought under the United Nations banner in Korea. They offer their moving experiences and memories.

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The Korean War is often airbrushed from the collective memory. Coming so soon after the bloodshed and upheaval of the World War Two it seems too much to take in. Despite this, the chaotic events that took place between June 1950 and July 1953, on the ground, in the air and at sea in the distant land of Korea would shape Cold War polemic between the United States and the Soviet Union for the next 50 years. Korea was the Cold War coming to the boil.

With Chinese support and Soviet military hardware North Korea and her allies faced the mechanised war machines from 22 members of the United Nations. The conflict followed a pattern of give and take, characterised by heavily fortified stalemate and heavy military and civilian losses on both sides.

Danny Simpson, who now lives in Pontardulais, was in Korea for 16 months with the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers. In Korea Remembered, he reveals an insight into the harsh extremities of a Korean winter.

"It was a terrible place, end of story. Thirty degrees below in the winter - if you were working on vehicles or recovering stuff you were cold," says Danny.

"If you dropped a spanner and tried to pick it up the next morning your hands would freeze to it. The tanks' tracks would freeze to the ground, they had to be moved continually backwards and forwards, engines were started up every half hour or so otherwise they would just seize up, solid."

Bernard Tucker, from Maindy in Newport, served with the Royal Welsh Fusiliers and the Royal Fusiliers City of London Regiment. He describes some of the day-to-day grim misery of the dreaded trenches.

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After just under a year of fierce fighting, scorched earth and frozen landscapes the allies had achieved air and naval supremacy. Despite this, deadlock prevailed on the ground. This led to talks around the conference table and armistice negotiations. These talks dragged for two years as the future of tens of thousands of communist prisoners and territorial gains could not be agreed upon.

Eventually, by July 1953 the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) was established on the border. It was heavily fortified and remains so today, 60 years later. Both sides withdrew from their fighting positions and a UN commission was set up to supervise the armistice.

By the time of the armistice, the United States lost around 40,000 troops; British forces lost over 1,000, with 2,674 wounded and 1,060 missing in action. United Nations losses totalled nearly 800,000, while it is estimated that up to two million died or went missing on the side of North Korea and her allies.

To this day North Korea, the world's only remaining Stalinist state, and first-world economy South Korea, are still officially in a state of war. Something the world is constantly reminded of. Korea Remembered sheds light on the stories of a few people who made an enormous sacrifice and live with the past every day.

Related content

BBC News: North Korea profile

BBC News: South Korea profile

The Cold War on BBC History

Korean War archive on British Pathé


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