Comrades will honour fallen heroes of the `forgotten war'.
AT THE beginning of the Great War, when many still naively believed it ``would all be over by Christmas'' Lawrence Binyan penned his volume of elegiac verse: Poems For The Fallen.
One line - ``At the going down of the sun and in the morning/ We will remember them'' - has been repeated countless times since for the thousands who died in the four years that followed, and the hundreds of thousands who fell in the second global conflict that followed 20 short years later.
Look at any war memorial and you will read the words ``lest we forget'' or ``they will never be forgotten''. And so they have not. In every city, town and village, even though the memory pales with time, the remembering goes on.
It has not been like that for the fallen of the Korean War. Sandwiched between the devastating Second World War that affected the world, and the Vietnam War that was the first of a generation of conflicts to be politicised and protested against, the Korean War slipped from the public's mind.
The later conflicts of the Gulf and the Falkland Islands were over within weeks, with many fewer casualties than the 2,000 British soldiers lost in the three-year Korean War. But these were television wars. We have all seen the pictures.
Now, if it is referred to at all, ironically Korea is known as The Forgotten War. And it seemed almost always destined to have been that way.
When Eric Hughes returned home after a year in a country he had previously never heard of, poorly kitted out in ill fitting boots and inadequate uniform, unable to keep out the bone-chilling cold in rat infested trenches, having been shelled, shot at and bombed, a local taxi driver gave him a lift up the Conwy Valley to his Llanrwst home.
``What war?'' he asked the young soldier. ``Didn't know there was one.''
1945 was supposed to be the end of all wars, as 1918 had been before it. Eric Hughes and his generation grew up with the Second World War an omnipresent shadow on their childhood, yet their teenage years were free of conflict.
But when British troops were called to join the United Nations Force in Korea after communist North Korea attacked the South, his generation were already in uniform, as National Servicemen, and enlisted to help the Americans fight an unknown enemy thousands of miles away.
Within a year Eric went from an 18-year-old, pounds 2-aweek mechanic living in a quiet North Wales market town, to war veteran. He wasn't alone, as he would be the first to point out.
After basic training in the Brecon Beacons he joined the Welsh Brigade and heard he was to be posted to Eritrea, but called back from leave to discover that he was bound for Korea with the 1st Battalion Welsh instead.
``We didn't know where Korea was, I thought it was next to Eritrea,'' he recalls now, more than half a century later, his photograph albums spread on the sofa of his Bodelwyddan home. ``We were marched into Colchester and then set sail for Korea.
It was like being blindfolded and dropped straight into the mountains, we didn't see anything of the country.''
Put on a steam train heading north to the front line he felt no anxiety. ``I was a young lad, I couldn't care less and we had been well trained,'' he says matter of factly. ``We were all hyped up from having been on the ship for five weeks and walking like a drunken sailor, so we were glad to be off it.''
He arrived at Hill 169 at the tail end of winter. ``By God it was cold,'' he says with a shiver. ``It opened your eyes. The kit was terrible, we couldn't walk in our heavy boots. It reminded me of the First World War with trenches full of rats. You couldn't get rid of the food tins which attracted them.''
THEY were in the line when the peace talks, which lasted two years, had just started and were instructed to hold the line, patrolling No Man's Land silently each evening so as not to raise any fire from the unseen enemy half a mile away.
``It was terrible when the snows cleared, you would see the dead bodies of the Chinese soldiers. We would be out wiring and your foot would go through a rib cage, the smell was awful.''
Their information would lead to the tanks fixing targets which would then be bombarded. ``There was firing every day, it was terrible,'' says Eric.
``We had a Centurion tank and every time he fired we would get it back. We would play hell, asking them not to fire, that's how we got casualties.
``The rations were so bad that your tongue would be swollen and sore from eating cold beans and corned beef hash, we just had a little wood alcohol burner. The French Canadians were crazy and would add the wood alcohol to their beer.''
Alcohol was common currency in the trenches with the Brits swapping beer for whisky with the yanks. There were bigger swaps to be had too. While on leave in Tokyo Eric traded his beret and cap badge for a brand new Colt 45, the weapon of choice for every self-respecting American cowboy which has a near mythical status thanks to the movies. A shadow falls over Eric's face as he recalls throwing the gun into the channel on his return home after being tipped off that there would be a big customs search. In the event the troops were waved through without a check.
``The camaraderie was brilliant. Somebody painted the regimental goat green,'' laughs Eric, now 69, who signed up for a further three years military service when he finally returned home, before returning to his trade as a mechanic.
Near misses are brushed off as ``scrapes'' by Eric including the time he feared he had been hit in the back from shrapnel from a shell falling nearby. ``It was a stone, but it was hell of a hit,'' he says. ``After a while I wondered whether I would ever come out of it. They didn't tell us what was going on, we had no idea. We kept hearing that the Chinese had joined and that was terrifying, their battalions are 7,000 to our 700. ``I lost a good few friends out there,'' he adds sadly, ``Young lads not even 20.''
One of them was Idris Evans from Glan Conwy who never returned but lies in Pusan cemetery. The only North Walian to have died in the conflict, he was just 20 and was transferred to the Black Watch when he was killed in action on the notorious Hook.LAST year Eric joined other members of the Korean Veterans Association who returned to the country to mark the 50th anniversary of the war and sought out Idris Evans' grave where they laid a cross and spinkled Welsh soil on his last resting place. It was the first time Eric had been back and he admits that this time he was nervous although he has never been troubled since by the memories of what he had seen. ``I was frightened to go back but when we got there we discovered that whereas they had been 100 years behind us when we were there, the old man in the paddy field with the plough, they are now 100 ahead with the electronics industry. And I think that they will open up the border between north and south eventually. The south is overcrowded whereas they are starving in the north.''
For 50 years there was only one Korean War memorial in North Wales, in Wrexham, but after 12 months of planning wrangles the North West Wales branch of the veterans association have finally been granted permission to place a memorial to their fallen comrades next to the war memorial in Llandudno. On Sunday, following a march by 135 veterans from the town's bandstand, the stone will be unveiled. Its inscription reads: We remember our comrades who gave their lives ... not one of them is forgotten before God. Eric and his fellow veterans can put their hands on their hearts and can confirm they remember, they will not forget. What they hope for now, as their numbers slowly begin to dwindle, is that others will carry that torch with them too and the Korean War will no longer be the forgotten war.
L The march will begin on Sunday at 1.45pm, followed by a service of commemoration at 2pm at the memorial in The Cenotaph Gardens on Llandudno's seafront.
REMEMBERED: Eric Hughes was one of the lucky soldiers who returned unscathed and whose memories do not haunt him. But he and his comrades want to see a proper memorial for those who were less fortunate Picture: JEFF PITT
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|Publication:||Daily Post (Liverpool, England)|
|Date:||May 23, 2002|
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