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Korea revisited

Published: 13 Aug 2013

On the 27 July 1953, military representatives of North Korea and United Nations Forces, signed an Armistice Agreement at Panmungeon, close to the front line, which effectively ended the Korean war.  I can personally  testify that the war ended, as on the night  of the 25/26 July 1953, I was sitting in the back seat of Firefly Mk V -T485, with S/Lt Michael Coles at the controls, watching tracer shells, mainly from the north, arcing through the night sky, across the front line. 

We were one of three Firefly Vs of 810 NAS (Lt Cdr A W Bloomer), that had disembarked from HMS Ocean to form a Night-fighter Detachment based ashore just south of Seoul, to combat the “bed check Charlies”, Russian built Polikarpov Po-2 biplanes, flying at night, below radar cover and in bad weather conditions, with young girls dropping 40 lbs bombs over the side by hand.  We flew three hour patrols just south of the front line – a front row seat to monitor what was happening along the front line.  Sure enough, on the night following the signing of the Armistice – 27/28 July 1953, everything was quiet, with no firework display.  We continued our patrols until the 7/8 August 1953, to ensure that no UN Forces inadvertently crossed the DMZ. The detachment returned to HMS Ocean on 10 August 1953, and we were back at Plymouth in time for Christmas. 

The 27 July 2013, therefore marked 60 years of peace, or at least relative peace, and I was honoured to be invited by the Korean Government to revisit Korea, to participate in the 60th Anniversary Program.   A total of 240 veterans from the 21 UN Member Nations who contributed to the United Nations Force, returned to be thanked and feted by the Government of South Korea. 

The warmth of the reception from everyone we met, from the President to young people in the street, was amazing.  One young businessman, on enquiring who we were, gave every veteran a years supply of vitamin pills to keep us healthy! 

But of course there were many moments of sadness and emotion.  More than 2 million died during the three years of the war.  The UK lost 1,078 KIA, with 36 of those involved in Naval Aviation.  Two members of 810 NAS did not return.  It was therefore very moving for me to lay a wreath on behalf of the FAAOA, at the UK monument in the UN Memorial Cemetery Korea, Pusan, where the Duke of Gloucester also laid a wreath, on behalf of HM Queen Elizabeth. 

I left Korea 60 years ago – a country shattered by war; fought over twice.   My visit showed it now to be a vibrant country, with the tenth largest economy in the world.  My conclusion – the United Nations can work, and I am proud to have played a small part in that success.   


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