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Brit talks about Korean War to mark the armistice

Many of the British soldiers who were brought to the Far East to fight in the Korean War in the 1950s had no knowledge of the country. The first non-American UN soldiers dispatched to Korea during the war were the 27th Commonwealth Brigade. Some of them were Scots. They were very brave and wore bagpipes. They were immediately put on a train to the frontline after arriving in the port city of Busan, not knowing there was a bloody war going on just miles away.

This year is the 60th anniversary of the armistice that ended the war in 1953. Many events are being held to commemorate the armistice, and British correspondent Andrew Salmon gave a lecture on a war story told by British and Australian soldiers.

The event took place at the British Council in central Seoul on June 21 as part of a presentation series titled “Brits Talk Korea.”

A Highlander sets up his machine gun during the fight for Sariwon, North Korea in the winter of 1950 (photo courtesy of State Library of Victoria).

A Highlander sets up his machine gun during the fight for Sariwon, North Korea in the winter of 1950 (photo courtesy of State Library of Victoria).


Salmon said soldiers of the 27th Commonwealth Brigade had been celebrating the victory of World War II in Hong Kong and were suddenly called up and dispatched to Korea.

Andrew Salmon speaks at the lecture (photo: Limb Jae-un).

Andrew Salmon speaks at the lecture (photo: Limb Jae-un).


“British soldiers went into action at a week’s notice,” he said.

Only a few months into the war, UN soldiers marched into the North, taking Pyongyang and even reaching a point only 20 miles from the North Korea-China border.

These soldiers thought that they already won the war and even celebrated Christmas by eating rations from the U.S. army. Despite the cold winter, many of the British soldiers were wearing the same short-sleeve shirts they had worn in Hong Kong.

“Under-manned and under-equipped, they lacked armory, artillery, transport, and winter clothing,” Salmon said. However, they undertook some of the war’s most critical missions in an alien land.

“Most fighting took place within 20 meters,” he said, describing how brutal the war was.

Salmon said that many civilian casualties were inflicted because they could not tell North Korean soldiers from civilians. “North Koreans could take off their uniforms and were easily mistaken for civilians,” he said.

Salmon also said there was an incident in Sariwon, in which North Korean soldiers mistook British soldiers as Russians and even welcomed them. It was a scary moment, he said. “North Koreans thought Scotts were Russians and called them as Russky,” he said.

Highlanders overlook the ruins of Chongju, Pyeonganbuk-do (North Pyeongan Province) just 30 miles south of the Yalu River in the winter of 1950. Soldiers were told the war was almost over, but recall a strange menace settling over the battlescape. Just days later, these men would be fighting for their lives as China entered the war (photo courtesy of State Library of Victoria).

Highlanders overlook the ruins of Chongju, Pyeonganbuk-do (North Pyeongan Province) just 30 miles south of the Yalu River in the winter of 1950. Soldiers were told the war was almost over, but recall a strange menace settling over the battlescape. Just days later, these men would be fighting for their lives as China entered the war (photo courtesy of State Library of Victoria).


Salmon authored two books on Korean War: Scorched Earth, Black Snow: Britain and Australia in the Korean War, 1950, and To the Last Round: The Epic British Stand on the Imjin River, Korea, 1951.

To write the books, Salmon interviewed 200 survivors and studied diaries, notepads, and letters written by war veterans.

“More Britons fell in Korea than in the Falklands, Iraq, and Afghanistan conflicts combined,” he said. “The United States suffered worse defeats in two months in North Korea than anything encountered in a decade in Vietnam. Today, however, the Korean War is virtually forgotten.”

Salmon came to Korea to practice martial arts, especially Hapkido, in 1998 when the Asian financial crisis was sweeping the country.

He said he was particularly interested in the Korean War. “I am not into tourism but what I am interested in is the tragedy of the war,” he said.

Salmon covers the Koreas for The Daily Telegraph, Forbes, The South China Morning Post and The Washington Times.

By Limb Jae-un
Korea.net Staff Writer
jun2@korea.kr

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