Korea: Why I'll never forget

It has been described as the forgotten war.

James Marston

It has been described as the forgotten war. But for John Juby the Korean Conflict is one that he will never forget. JAMES MARSTON reports.

THOUGH there were more than 4,000 casualties in the Korean War it is a conflict that is rarely mentioned in the media.

But on June 25, 1950 the Republic of Korea was invaded by the North Korean People's Army. The newly-formed United Nations called upon its member nations to send in military assistance to the south and Britain answered the call.

In 1950 John Juby was barely out of his teens.

He said: “I was called up for national service in the January and by October 1950 I was at the frontline.

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“The conflict was an argument between the north and south of Korea which is still going on to this day, there has never been a ceasefire.

“Britain was one of the first countries in the United Nations and the war was one of the first conflicts the United Nations was involved in.

“It wasn't like it is today. We didn't wear the blue berets they have now.”

John, then living in Lyndhurst Avenue, Ipswich, said: “You had to do national service, we didn't have a choice. I don't suppose I minded too much at the time.

“I was in an apprenticeship at that time and I was about 20.

“You didn't know what you were going in to. We certainly didn't think we would be in a war within a few months.”

John initially joined the Suffolk Regiment before being transferred to the Royal Norfolk Regiment.

He said: “There wasn't much specialist training to speak of. It was a big shock. We went up on company orders, I was transferred to the Royal Norfolks and sent to Korea.”

It took a month by ship - the troopship SS Empire Orwell - to get to the theatre of conflict.

John said: “We were sent by boat. I celebrated my 21st birthday on the ship going out to Korea. We had two days on a train going up to the line. I went up early in an advance party and we took over from the Royal Ulster Rifles.

“It was very frightening but at the time you don't really realise what's going on.”

An infantryman, it was John's job to patrol the no man's land between the two lines.

He said: “We lived in dug outs and trenches and we did patrols mostly at night.

“None of us had any experience of war or what we were doing, there were very few regular soldiers, and we were all national servicemen.”

By 1951 the conflict had evolved into trench warfare with each side holding its ground.

John said: “The terrain was paddy fields and hills and rocks. It was a war that was as near to the First World War as possible. We were in trenches, if you were unfortunate enough to be in a rocky area you couldn't dig in.

“There was usually a valley between the two lines, you could see the enemy with binoculars across no man's land. The war wasn't active all the time but there were times that we were shelled.

“You often forget the bad times and remember the good times.”

John, who served in Korea until 1952, also remembers the climatic conditions that he and his comrades endured.

He said: “The winters were very bad there. The temperature at night would go down to 38 degrees below. We were living in holes in the ground with no heaters.

“You didn't wash for weeks or have a bath or anything, it wasn't possible, it was too cold to go outside.

“In the summer you could have a frost at night and then the temperature would rise to the 60s, 70s or 80s during the day.”

One of the tactics used by the North Koreans was to infiltrate the enemy.

John, who now lives in Post Mill Gardens, Grundisburgh, said: “We didn't have much contact with the locals. You didn't know if they were North or South Koreans and the North Koreans could infiltrate us, we had to be constantly on our guard.

“Sometimes there would be an action and you didn't go to bed for nights on end. I wasn't injured but I got poisoning once, the soil was very poisonous, we weren't allowed to wear shorts.”

Looking back at his experience, John said he grew up overnight.

He said: “I wouldn't have missed it. There were frightening moments but you made very strong bonds with your comrades. The Korean veterans all say the same thing.”

Chairman of the Ipswich and District Korean Veterans Association, John has campaigned for a number of years to get the names of those who died in the conflict added to the Ipswich War Memorial in Christchurch Park - the names were finally added to the memorial in May.

John said: “There are eight branches in the region and we have a yearly reunion and the next one is in July though our numbers are dwindling. The next reunion is at Greshams Sports and Social Club in Tuddenham Road, Ipswich, and there will be 250 of us there.

“It is always a very pleasant day, it is good fun to see your comrades again and talk about the war.

“It has been called the forgotten war. We were fighting against the advance of communism and most of us didn't even know what that meant, we were doing out duty.”

Among the names now on the war memorial is Roy McDonald, a friend of John's who was also from Ipswich.

John, now 77 and retired, said: “Roy was killed on patrol one night. The memories of the war never leave you, you never ever, ever forget what happened.”

Were you involved in the Korean war? What do you think? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or send an e-mail to eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

51per cent of Allied prisoners of war died in captivity

10pc of Allied servicemen were killed or wounded compared to 8pc in the First World War and 7pc in the Second World War.

United Nations countries involved included Britain, America, Canada, Australia, France, Belgium, The Netherlands and New Zealand.

British casualties were 1,078 killed in action, 2,674 wounded and 1,060 missing or taken prisoner.

The troopship the SS Empire Orwell was finally scrapped in 1987 after serving in the Indonesian Navy.