A group of veterans travelled for a one week visit to Korea in July 2005. They had been chosen to represent each participating nation in the United Nations forces effort to defend South Korea between 1950 – 53. Sixteen war veterans participated from the UK with the support of the British Korean Veteran’s Association.
Over the weekend of 2-4th February 2007 in Stratford Upon Avon, the veterans, some with their wives, met again to share their own highlights of the trip to a land many had not returned to since the war in the early 1950’s.
For many of the veterans the chance to visit the United Nations cemetery in Pusan was the highlight that brought back many emotional memories. Eric Dooley told us,
‘When we visited the cemetery my first impression was I have to find a grave. I got some poppies and some wooden crosses. I had to find a grave of a Korean veteran like myself. I found someone, he was unknown to me but not unknown to God. I put his name on a cross.’
Maurice Geoghegan shared that one moving experience was also at the cemetery in Pusan.
‘I am not a softie but I am sentimental. I had a load of tears coming down when I saw an old friend Tommy’s grave.’
‘That was very typical of our experience’, said Jim Fenner, who as a member of the Glorious Gloucesters had been able to return to Castle Hill – a landmark that they had defended at such a high cost during the war.
They all agreed when several said they had been astonished by the gratitude of the Korean people. ‘I’ve never been thanked like that for something I had done’ said John Bailham. ‘We were given beer by someone outside the hotel as we were having a drink. Someone delivered beer and said it was from his boss. He couldn't speak any English but just wanted to buy us a drink.’
Alan Esam said, ‘We had heard many times of the good reception of the Korean people by veterans who had returned but I was still choked by the experience.’
Maurice told us of another of his highlights visiting the Little Angels Performing Arts Theatre. ‘The Little Angels performed and I had to go up on stage. A little girl gave me a medal and she kissed me. The last time I saw little kids like them in Korea some of them had lost limbs or had bits of stick as crutches. I had another lot of tears when she kissed me.’
Many expressed the surprise that they felt seeing the development of Korea as a nation. One after another said that as they saw this nation with its skyscrapers and busy streets they felt they had done something good in their life by defending South Korea.
Jim Fenner was typical when he said, ‘My impression was how Korea has re-established itself. Korea was rubble when we were out there. There wasn’t a house standing. This time we went out there and all we could see was skyscrapers and wealth. The Korean people have amazed me to do what they have done in that short time. In 50 years to do this was brilliant. They have shown the rest of the world how to get on. I guess we did a good thing through being there.’
‘That week was one of the highlights of my life! I saw a lot more in that week than in previous visits’ said Maurice Geoghegan. ‘It was only through the generosity of Dr Moon that we all met together and it was a good crowd of chaps. We all gelled very well as a group. This is our second anniversary since.’
He also mentioned attending a speech of Dr. Moon in London where he got to shake hands and talk with the man the UN forces effort had saved from concentration camp in North Korea after being imprisoned for preaching in Pyongyang.
In front of a banner retained from the Seoul Convention during the visit, three couples received Ambassador for Peace awards during the evening Jim and Mary Fenner, Eric and Paulene Winfield and Eric and Irene Dooley.