LKL reports from an event commemorating the 60th anniversary of the start of the Korean War, held on HMS Belfast on 25 June 2010.
The HMS Belfast was the perfect venue for one of many events taking place across the globe to mark the 60th anniversary of Kim Il-sung’s troops storming south over the 38th parallel in an attempt to crush the South and unify the peninsula by force. 21 nations responded to join the UN-sponsored action to repel the communist aggression – 16 with combat forces and 5 with medical assistance.
The UK responded to the UN’s call with some 58,000 troops over the course of the war, and sustained 1,078 fatalities – more than were suffered in the Falklands, Iraq and Afghanistan put together.
HMS Belfast was one of three cruisers from the Royal Navy to see action in the Korean War: first serving in the Yellow Sea, supporting the Incheon landings, then, after a brief stint in Singapore, returning to support the land forces on the East coast. During the course of its service in the Korean War, the Belfast fired over 10,000 6-inch shells from its guns. The Belfast is now moored on the Thames opposite the Tower of London.
The event on the Belfast on 25 June was attended not only by veterans from the war but by military attaches from some of the 21 nations who had supported the war effort. The special guest was retired vice-admiral Ham Myung-soo who had served for three months on the Belfast as a liaison officer during the war.
All veterans I have met are struck by the warmth of the gratitude expressed by the Republic of Korea for their service and sacrifice in the Korean War. When they return to Korea they are amazed at the changes which have taken place in the country since the war. To have emerged from the ashes of war to be chair of the G20, and to turn around from being an aid recipient to being a significant aid donor, is something of which the Republic of Korea has every right to be very proud.
ROK Defence Attaché Captain Choi Chong-ho commented:
This event is a salute to the courage of the British forces in enduring the horrors of the Korean War and a tribute to their commitment to the preservation of liberty and freedom and to their sacrifices. We made a promise to all the veterans of that conflict that we would build a strong, prosperous and democratic nation and the achievement of the modern South Korea, with all the freedoms its citizens enjoy, we dedicate to them.
In the UK, the ROK ambassador always attends the annual commemorative events at the National Arboretum and in the crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral. On this, the 60th anniversary, the special event was marked by a personal message to the veterans from President Lee. The anniversary is also being marked by a special exhibition at the Korean Cultural Centre of works commissioned by 40 Korean artists which will be auctioned later this year in aid of British War veterans. Postcards of these works were handed out to the veterans at the end of the evening, along with a DVD of a special thank-you message from President Lee.
An orchestra of Korean string players with an English wind section serenaded the reception with Korean folks songs from the back of the vessel, as the sunset lit the brickwork of Tower Bridge.