Remembering the Korean War

– in the Scottish Parliament on 12th December 2018.

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Photo of Linda Fabiani Linda Fabiani Scottish National Party

The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-15011, in the name of Gordon Lindhurst, on remembering the Korean war. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament remembers the UK service personnel who fought and died in the Korean War, including the thousands of veterans who were held as prisoners; notes that 2018 saw the 65th anniversary of the signing of the Armistice on 27 July 1953 between representatives of the UN Command, the Korean People’s Army and the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army, which put into place the demilitarized zone close to the 38th parallel and a cease-fire that brought to an end the armed conflict that had lasted since June 1950; recognises that almost 100,000 British troops fought in the war, with more than 1,000, including over 230 Scots, losing their lives and that around 1,000 were taken prisoner; acknowledges that many veterans have expressed the feeling that they were part of a “forgotten” war and have said that, on return home, people did not want to hear their story; welcomes the Scottish Korean War Memorial, which was opened on 27 June 2000 in the Bathgate Hills, West Lothian; appreciates the project, West Lothian and the Forgotten War, which was set up in 2008 and worked for two years with veterans and children from a school in the area to educate the young people about the campaign; recognises the recent action taken by West Lothian Council to install more signage in relation to the memorial, and notes the calls by the Korean War Memorial Trust for Transport Scotland to place signage on the M8 and M9 so that veterans and visitors can more easily access the site.

Photo of Gordon Lindhurst Gordon Lindhurst Conservative

I am proud to stand here as a Lothian MSP to lead the debate to remember the Korean war. I lodged the motion during the summer recess, to mark 65 years since the signing in 1953 of the armistice that brought an end to the fighting. We now have the opportunity, before the end of that 65th year, to remember those who fought in the war, including more than 230 Scots who paid the ultimate sacrifice—they were a quarter of the British dead.

We also recognise the service of the veterans who came home without some of their friends. I am pleased to welcome to the public gallery some of those veterans with their friends and families. They include Major Allan Cameron, who is former president of the Lothians and West of Scotland branch of the British Korean Veterans Association and who sits on the Korean War Memorial Fund’s board of trustees; Adam McKenzie; and Ronnie Wilson. They are all veterans of the Korean war. Other veterans present are Jock Barr and Jim Bain. Many of them have played key roles in ensuring that the Korean war and their fallen comrades are not forgotten. To all of you, I thank you for the service that you have given to your country. [

Applause

.]

1950s Britain was, understandably, a country that was tired of war and threadbare because of it. It was, after all, fewer than five years since the end of the second world war, and Korea was either a wholly unknown country or too far away for many to care about. Prime Minister Clement Attlee admitted that Korea was

“Distant, yes, but nonetheless an obligation”,

reflecting the UK’s membership of the newly formed United Nations Security Council.

That indifference pervaded society, not helped by an inglorious culmination to the war that saw both sides back to where they had started territorially before the war, along the 38th parallel. In interviews with the BBC’s Jackie Bird in 2012, one veteran said of his homecoming:

“We were only young ... we’d start to talk about our war and be told: ‘Away lad, that was nothing ... l was at Dunkirk’.”

That is why, on both sides of the Atlantic, the conflict is often referred to as the “forgotten” war. Yet the stories from it would have reflected the infamous conditions of trench warfare in France, sodden and rat-infested. It was a war of attrition and stalemate that involved ferocious hill fighting, because in Korea the force that controlled the hilltops controlled the country, and culminated in infamous battles such as that of hill 235, where the British Army’s 29th infantry brigade resisted a force that outnumbered it by 18 to 1. It was all made worse by the fact that the first winter of fighting in Korea was the coldest in a decade, with cold that we can hardly begin to imagine in western Europe. Indeed, the late George Younger, who was a platoon commander during the conflict, recalled how the boiling water that he used to shave turned to ice before he finished.

The Scottish Korean war memorial is at Witchcraig in the Bathgate hills in my Lothian region. It is the only war memorial in the UK that is devoted solely to those who died in the Korean war. It lists names from across the whole of the UK, not just Scotland. It is in a beautiful setting, with an historical Korean-style pagoda between two grass mounds that are arranged like the yin and yang on the Korean flag. The pagoda contains the names of around 1,100 British troops who died in the war, who are represented further by roughly the same number of native Scottish trees and 110 Korean fir trees for every 10 of those soldiers. I encourage members, if they have not done so already, to visit and pay their respects if they are able to.

The memorial can be difficult to locate, but members will be guided by local road signage that was recently installed by West Lothian Council. I commend councillors, including Charles Kennedy and Tom Conn, who are also in the chamber, for their role in getting that signage put up. It is disappointing that despite their calls, and those of the board of trustees, including Major Cameron, trunk road signage to complement the local signage has not been forthcoming. A request for trunk road signage was made to Transport Scotland following instances of those who wanted to pay their respects getting lost when trying to find the memorial from the M8 and M9. That includes an incident last year, when a number of Koreans, among them the London attaché, exited the motorway at the wrong junction and spent the next hour trying to find the memorial.

That is all the more embarrassing when we consider the efforts that the South Korean Government has taken in funding the majority of the return visits to Korea that veterans from this country have made over the years under the revisit programme, and the warm welcome that veterans have been given by an appreciative Korean public. People have broken into spontaneous applause in cities such as Seoul, as medal-clad Scottish veterans walked by.

The minister and I have corresponded on signage and I repeat my calls to him to ensure that appropriate signage is installed. The Scottish Korean war memorial is not simply a tourist destination, in the normal sense, and although it might not get the 50,000 visitors per year that are asked for in the signage criteria, its importance to Scottish and British military history should not be diminished.

The costings for signage that I have seen appear excessive, but I understand that the memorial trust has offered to pay. I regularly travel around West Lothian on the M8 and M9, and it does not appear to me that there is excessive existing signage that would prevent signs to the war memorial from being put in place.

The Korean war might be known as the forgotten war, but there are steps that we can take to mitigate that perception. What better year to do so than the 65th year since the signing of the armistice?

Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party

I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to today’s act of remembrance and I congratulate Gordon Lindhurst on securing the debate and providing members with a chance to keep the memory of the Korean war alive. It is a war that is often forgotten, as Gordon Lindhurst said, although it brought more British deaths than any other post-world war two conflict. I welcome veterans of the Korean war to the gallery.

When war broke out in 1950, Scotland and Britain were still recovering from world war two. Of necessity, the fighting force in Korea was made up mostly of young national servicemen. The majority were teenagers, many of whom had never left their home towns. It is hard to imagine being sent to a far-off Asian peninsula at such a young age and with such meagre life experience, but that was the reality for many young soldiers.

After just 16 weeks of training, those young soldiers faced gruelling ordeals, including ferocious hill battles, trench warfare and attacks by human waves from the well-drilled Korean People’s Army, which was backed by tanks, artillery and aircraft supplied by the Soviet Union and China.

Of the 14,198 British soldiers who served with United Nations forces, 1,114 lost their lives, including 236 Scots. United Kingdom forces suffered total losses of 4,502, including the missing, wounded and captured. Almost a third of the entire contingent were casualties in one way or another. It is therefore right that we pay tribute to the men who lost their lives, as well as those who were maimed or who endured the nightmare of a North Korean prison camp.

Scottish soldiers made up nearly a quarter of the dead. It seems that Scotland has long had disproportionate casualties in conflicts, from the Napoleonic wars onwards, as was evident from the 134,712 names of men and women that were projected on to this building on 11 November.

The soldiers who were lucky enough to return from Korea did not receive a hero’s welcome. Veterans report that after experiencing the horrors of war in the brutal cold of a Korean winter and the searing summer heat, young fighters returned home to a Britain that simply did not want to know.

Although Scotland might not have recognised the courage and sacrifice of those young men, in South Korea, United Nations veterans who fought in the war are considered heroes, as Gordon Lindhurst said. The South Korean Government even helps to fund the revisit programme, which enables veterans to pay tribute to fallen comrades who are buried in the Commonwealth cemetery in Busan. Scottish veterans who have returned to Korea, dressed in their regimental blazers and military berets, and with well-polished medals, have been met with bows and applause in recognition of their role in saving South Korea from the Stalinism that still grips the north.

I am heartened that the Scottish Korean war memorial has duly commemorated the sacrifice of each British soldier who lost their life. The 1,114 native Scottish trees and the shrine, which is surrounded by landscape that is indicative of yin and yang, provide a fitting setting for a place of remembrance. In July this year, Ayrshire veterans visited the site and were moved by its serenity and symbolic significance.

I support Mr Lindhurst’s calls to ensure that the site is accessible to all, not only so that veterans can recall that chapter of their lives and pay tribute to fallen friends but so that visitors—young and old—can understand the significance of this forgotten war and the tragedy of young lives lost.

We must not allow the Korean war to be just a footnote in Scotland’s public consciousness. Although people at home might not have felt involved in a war that had no real victor, the conflict is intrinsically linked to international relations today.

To understand the harrowing reality of human rights abuses, enslavement and imprisonment for North Korean citizens, we must first understand the history of the region, and our part in it. Although it is often easier to look away and forget, to do so would be to fail people who lost their lives in the conflict, and those now relying on the international community to recognise the scale of the abhorrent situation in North Korea.

In 2018, when we commemorated the 65th anniversary of the signing of the armistice on 27 July 1953, we also witnessed some modest steps forward in the painfully slow Korean peace process. Although there is still much to be done, I hope that the armistice will eventually be replaced by a comprehensive and permanent peace treaty to officially end the Korean war that we commemorate today.

Photo of Elaine Smith Elaine Smith Labour

I thank Gordon Lindhurst for bringing forward this interesting debate to commemorate the Korean war armistice.

I have to admit that my knowledge of the Korean war is somewhat limited. I am sure that this will be the case for many people, as the Korean war is known as the forgotten war, as noted by the two previous members. My main information came from “MASH”, the satirical American television show about a mobile army surgical hospital during the Korean war. When I was 17, I spent time with family friends who lived in Canada, and much of my time was filled watching back-to-back episodes of “MASH” on the novelty of multi-channel TV—we had only four channels in the UK at that time.

Although that dark comedy drama was fictional, depicting a group of doctors and nurses who served as the fictional 4077th mobile army surgical hospital during the Korean war, it exposed some of the horrors of the war and often used satire to do so. That was undoubtedly because it was semi-autobiographical, as it was based on the 1969 novel by Richard Hooker, “MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors”. The book was based on Richard Hooker’s own experiences as a surgeon in 8055th MASH in South Korea, and the main character, army doctor Hawkeye Pierce, is based on the author.

However, I really had no knowledge of the thousands of UK service personnel who fought and died in the war; nor that there was a memorial in West Lothian, which I am now keen to see for myself. The war was part of the cold war between the Soviet Union and the United States, with Korea split into two sovereign states and both Governments claiming to be the sole legitimate Government of all of Korea, neither accepting the border as permanent. The conflict escalated into open warfare when North Korean forces, supported by the Soviet Union and China, moved into the south on 25 June 1950.

The United Nations Security Council authorised the formation and dispatch of UN forces to South Korea to repel the North Korean invasion, and 21 countries eventually contributed to the UN force, with the United States providing around 90 per cent of the military personnel.

The UN force included service personnel from three Scottish regiments, as recognised tonight. I was harrowed to read that the youngest soldiers went out to Hong Kong and Japan to wait until they were 19 and considered old enough to go into battle.

I am pleased that Gordon Lindhurst has raised the profile of the memorial in West Lothian. The Lothians and west of Scotland branch of the British Korean Veterans Association, supported by the local authority, created the memorial nearly 18 years ago, but it is not well known. Therefore, it would be helpful if veterans and visitors could have improved signage on our motorways to help them to locate the memorial—not least myself; if I am going to go and visit it, that would be helpful.

The development of wider education programmes would also be welcome, building on the excellent work that has been done so far in West Lothian. Educating our young people about the reality of war and the sacrifices of those who were injured and died is so important. Education about the horrors of war takes many forms, be that in the classroom, in our museums and galleries, or through satirical dramas such as “MASH”.

In 1945, after millions of lives lost in two world wars, 51 countries signed up to the Charter of the United Nations, which provided a framework for international co-operation, dialogue and discussion to provide solutions to international social and economic problems, rather than conflict.

Tonight’s members’ business debate has given us a chance to reflect on the impact of war on families and communities who have lost their loved ones, and we know that those who have seen war and suffered its effects, think that more should be done to avoid it. Revisiting our history, remembering forgotten wars and adhering to international treaties that respect human rights and freedoms are vital if we are to build a world free of wars and conflicts.

Once again, I thank Gordon Lindhurst for bringing the debate to the chamber.

Photo of Maurice Corry Maurice Corry Conservative

It is a privilege to speak this afternoon, and I thank my colleague Gordon Lindhurst for bringing forward this members’ business debate. I am delighted to welcome the veterans who are in the public gallery, particularly Jock Barr and Jim Bain, my fellow Argylls.

As this year saw the 100th anniversary of the first world war armistice, hundreds of thousands took part in remembrance and commemorations of that war. This year also saw the anniversary of another war, but one that lacks the same coverage and awareness—the Korean war, otherwise known as, sadly, the forgotten war, as Gordon Lindhurst said. As a veteran, I am keenly aware of how important it is to remember the sacrifice of those fallen in war. The Korean war—and every other conflict—deserves to be remembered, as do our British soldiers who fought in it.

The cold war left Korea a split nation, with worsening tension between both sides. In response to North Korea’s invasion of South Korea in 1950, the UN commenced its first act of military operations. Indeed, over 21 countries from around the world joined forces in a UN coalition. Britain also had its part to play, which was not insignificant.

Not even a decade had passed since the second world war, yet almost 100,000 Britons committed themselves to fighting in yet another conflict, which was separate and distant from their own country. Many were young men, who had no idea of what they were involving themselves in. Along with other Scottish regiments, my regiment, the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, joined those forces.

In 1953, fighting came to an end, with an armistice signed and a demilitarized zone created as a result. Territorially, the end result proved no different from the beginning for both nations. Over 1,100 British lives were lost and over 230 of those men were Scottish, as a previous speaker has mentioned.

Their bravery should not be forgotten. However, on their return, many British soldiers felt their communities indifferent to their sacrifice. Some were made to feel that their fighting in the Korean war was inferior to the sacrifices made in the second world war. Their cost and commitment were not given the validation that they needed. Perhaps that was due to there being no clear victory; perhaps it was because the nation had just emerged from horrors that it wished not to endure again. Whatever the reason, we need to make sure that we also count the cost of those who fought and died in the Korean war.

There are memorials scattered across Scotland and the wider UK in remembrance of soldiers lost in the two world wars. Edinburgh alone has 37. In Scotland, there is just one memorial to remember the cost of the Korean war.

The Scottish Korean war memorial can be found tucked away in the Bathgate hills in West Lothian. It is designed to create a space of peace and a space to reflect. Surrounding the memorial are Korean firs and more than 1,000 native Scottish trees, which stand as a collective reminder of the lives lost. A traditional pagoda lists the names of those who did not return home. The tribute marks the bravery and admiration that are owed to veterans of the conflict. Their experiences and the casualties from the war are worth no less than any other. It shows a connection that we are proud to share with South Korea, which is one that should not be ignored.

Creating awareness of the project is key, and I congratulate the efforts that have been made to do that. For instance, the 2008 West Lothian and the forgotten war project described what life was truly like as a Scottish soldier fighting in Korea. It brought individuals to the fore who endured injury and captivity. Projects such as that, just like the Scottish Korean war memorial, emphasise the reality of this conflict and give it the detail and nuance that it deserves.

The memorial serves to encourage not just our remembrance but our appreciation of the link that Scotland has with South Korea. I support the calls for greater signage in order to clearly direct visitors to this special place. In this 65th anniversary year, I hope for greater awareness and understanding—for it is only with that that we can have true gratitude for those who fought in the Korean war.

Photo of Graeme Dey Graeme Dey Scottish National Party

I begin by thanking Gordon Lindhurst for securing an opportunity to highlight the Korean war, and for his scene-setting opening speech.

As we have heard again tonight, support in the chamber for our veterans is cross party. We remember the hardships that they have endured, the courage that they have displayed in the face of adversity, and the ultimate sacrifice that has been made by many.

Over the past four years, we have been commemorating the many centenaries that are linked to the great war. Although those commemorations have focused attention on one major conflict, they have also raised more general awareness of other conflicts, and have led to recognition of the dedication and determination of previous generations.

It is important that we continue to remember those who served and who lost their lives in all conflicts. That is not to glorify war, but to recognise the sacrifices that in many cases were made to protect the freedoms that we enjoy today. Tonight’s debate has helped us to do just that, so I thank members for their contributions. I should explain to the veterans who are in the gallery that my colleague Fiona Hyslop would have added her voice to those contributions but for the fact that she is, as a cabinet secretary, prevented from doing so.

As we have heard, 2018 marks the 65th anniversary of the conclusion of the Korean war. It was a brutal conflict in which many lives were lost, including approximately 1,100 UK lives, of whom 236 were Scots. As we have also heard, in June 1950, just as the UK was rebuilding, regenerating and recovering from the second world war and was still subject to rationing, many families were plunged, yet again, into the uncertainty and worry that were caused by loved ones fighting overseas. Some people who had survived the second world war, which had taken place only a very short time before, and who thought that they would never again be involved in such conflict, were recalled for service in Korea. We can only imagine how they must have felt.

Three Scottish regiments served in Korea: the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, the King’s Own Scottish Borderers and the Black Watch. We should acknowledge—as Kenny Gibson did—that many combatants were very young national servicemen.

The Korean conflict has been labelled by some as “the forgotten war”, but for many—certainly in the services community—it is one that is recognised just as much as others. At last month’s national remembrance event—which was held in Dundee’s Caird hall and which I attended as the Minister for Parliamentary Business and Veterans—veterans of the Korean war were rightly afforded their place.

For the Black Watch, with its near 300-year history, Korea is up there with the other conflicts in which it served. On Monday, I visited the Black Watch museum in Perth, where I saw a number of references to the regiment’s involvement in the Korean war. They include a photograph of the first battalion of the Black Watch being inspected by Her Majesty the Queen Mother before it embarked for the east.

Let me commend the efforts of all those who have been concerned with making sure that the Korean war receives wider recognition and is remembered by the current generation. In particular, I acknowledge the two-year education project called West Lothian and the forgotten war, which involved veterans and local schoolchildren in developing educational material and raising awareness of the conflict. It is essential that our young people today continue to understand such parts of our history. For them to learn directly from veterans of the conflict—many of whom would have been in their late teens in the 1950s—is a unique experience, the significance of which should not be underestimated.

Let me also recognise the Scottish Korean War Memorial Trust, Major Allan Cameron and his predecessor, the late Lieutenant Colonel Johnny Johnston, West Lothian Council, and the previous work of the Lothians and West of Scotland branch of the British Korean Veterans Association in establishing, promoting and maintaining the Scottish Korean war memorial in the Bathgate hills. All Scottish war dead are commemorated at the Scottish national war memorial, including Scottish servicemen who served in the Korean war. However, it is also fitting that such a striking memorial—it is a Korean-style wood-and-slate crafted pagoda—to all those who fought in Korea is sited in Scotland. The unique nature of the commemoration is emphasised by the trees around the site that represent the total number of UK personnel who were killed in that war.

I am well aware that the Korean War Memorial Fund has asked for improved signage to the site, as has been noted in the speeches of a number of members. As we have heard, Transport Scotland has been involved in discussions with the trust about signs on the M8 and M9 motorways, and has assessed the application for signage, in line with tourism signage policy. Members will appreciate that a national policy for signs needs to be in place to ensure consistency and suitability of tourism signage on the trunk-road network.

The M8 and the M9 are high-speed routes that carry large volumes of traffic. It is therefore necessary to ensure that signage is limited to that which is essential to the continued safe operation of the routes. Unfortunately, the Korean war memorial does not meet the strict eligibility criteria, which is why it has not been considered to be appropriate to sign it from the M8 and M9 motorways. That is due in particular to the criteria on visitor numbers to the site. However, I am pleased that West Lothian Council has installed brown signs for tourist attractions that direct visitors to the Scottish Korean war memorial from its local—

Photo of Elaine Smith Elaine Smith Labour

W ill the minister clarify a point?

He mentioned visitor numbers. Is he saying that because there are not enough visitor numbers, signage cannot go up? Obviously, that is a chicken-and-egg situation, because if there were signage perhaps there would be more visitors to the memorial.

Photo of Graeme Dey Graeme Dey Scottish National Party

I accept the member’s point and I will deal with it as I close. As I said, I am pleased that West Lothian Council has installed the brown tourist signs on its road network; they were erected earlier this year. I hope that they are now enabling improved visibility and access to this important memorial. In addition, I have asked Transport Scotland to make contact with West Lothian Council to explore what opportunities exist to improve the travel information that is provided on the memorial’s online page.

I have listened to views on signage and representations from my colleague Fiona Hyslop, in whose constituency the memorial stands. As a consequence, I have entered into discussions with the Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity, and as a result of those discussions we will be tasking Transport Scotland with scoping a potential review of its signage policy as it pertains to war memorials that are of national significance, such as the Korean war memorial. I stress that, should it proceed, it would look only at war memorials that are of national significance, and that any changes that might be made would have to be consistent with the other wider requirements for such signage.

However, I hope that that commitment will be seen for what it is—a demonstration of the respect that this Government holds for its veterans community, and of our genuine willingness to explore whether we can address concerns around signage in relation to the Korean war memorial.

Meeting closed at 17:31.