This week’s worrying rumblings from North Korea are a reminder that the ‘forgotten war’, which ended 60 years ago this year, still casts a long shadow over that troubled part of the world and maybe far beyond.
I say ‘forgotten war’ because many of those veterans who took part in the bitter and bloody struggle believe that their sacrifices were lost in the world’s desperate desire to put the horrors of the recent world war behind them.
But for the veterans and their families it has been an ever present memory kept alive by the Korean War Veterans Association and, in recent years, by the very special Scottish Korean War Memorial garden a few miles from Falkirk on the south-west corner of Beecraigs Country Park not far from Torphichen.
It was in June 1950 that a United Nations force led by the United States went to the aid of the Korean people in an attempt to prevent the communist forces backed by the Chinese from overwhelming the whole peninsula.
For the next three years British forces, most of them national servicemen, faced the might of the enemy and the losses suffered were very great – 1090 dead and many thousands wounded – before the uneasy ‘armistice’ which saw the country divided into north and south.
Last year, at the invitation of my friends Peter MacKenzie from Stenhousemuir and Bill Lockhart from Maddiston, both Korean navy veterans, I attended the very moving annual service on the site where all those who gave their lives are remembered including five from Falkirk district.
Old soldiers and sailors many in their 80s and 90s had travelled from all over Scotland to make good their promise never to forget their fallen comrades, something they have been doing there since the hillside garden was created 13 years ago with 110 Korean pine trees and a little wooden pagoda with a pantile roof.
Listed inside are the names of those who died including two privates from the Kings Own Scottish Borderers, HM Brady and Thomas Haldane from Camelon, who were killed on November 5, 1951.
Lance Corporal DF Allan of the Argylls from Denny died a year earlier and Private W. Steven of the Black Watch in November 1952. The fifth local man was Private A Buchan, whose family came from Grangemouth though he had joined the Argylls in Fraserburgh.
Many more local men served and happily a lot of them are still with us to keep the memories of the conflict alive. Last year TV’s Jackie Bird revived interest in the Korean story when she presented a special documentary on the war and interviewed the late Black Watch infantryman Alexander Easton from Denny who survived the conflict unharmed, but admitted he never spoke about the war after the fighting came to an end.
Unfortunately the nature of the sloping memorial site and long periods of very wet weather have damaged the foundations of the pagoda over the last few years and a costly refurbishment was required.
Much time, effort and money has gone into this and the work of renewal is under way. In July this year a new pagoda will be unveiled and the South Korean Government is sending a traditional craftsman to oversee the tiling of the inside.
This year’s commemoration will be a rededication of the memorial garden which will stand as a reminder to present and future generations of the sacrifice made by young men called up to serve 5000 miles from home.