Eyewitness Korea...

 

...The Experience of British & American Soldiers in the Korean War 1950-1953, from Pen & Sword

 

Title: Eyewitness Korea

Author: James Goulty

Publisher: Pen & Sword

ISBN: 978-1-47387-090-1

A fine new book from James Goulty covering what it was like to have fought in the Korean War, 1950-53. As he points out in the book, it is often referred to as the 'Forgotten War', overshadowed by WW2 and later conflicts such as Vietnam, the Falklands and the Gulf Wars. What we read is the story of the 'experience' rather than a simple history of chronological events that made up the war for both the British and American soldiers who fought there under the auspices of the United Nations (UN).

After the invasion of South Korea by the army of North Korea, the UN voted to intervene, based largely on the desire to combat the expansion of the communist ideals of the North. So, the 9 chapters, which in themselves are sub-divided into particular elements, start off with the background to the start of the war and details of the Korean Peninsula. Then it goes on to look at A Lesson in Readiness, which considers how both Britain and America mobilised their troops for deployment to Korea. Both were in a period of reduction after the end of WW2, many veterans had left the army and it was new troops who need to be organised, trained and transported to the Far East. In the case of the UK that meant the new National Servicemen. To get them to Destination Korea, a place many had hardly even heard of, it meant long voyages on troopships, and only a minimum that were flown in. Then it moves on to Ground Warfare in Korea, when in the early period there was greater movement of the front, Southwards, Northwards and back again plus the involvement of the Chinese army. The mountainous terrain and the extremes of weather all had an impact on both European and American troops. The next stage of the Ground Warfare considers major battles from the Chosin Reservoir, a change of commander and then fighting at Imjin and Kap'yong. Then for the last couple of years the war settled down into a stalemate roughly along the line of the 38th Parallel. The final chapters focus on Coping with Active Service, Prisoner of War Experiences and finally the impact of the end of the fighting and how soldiers coped with returning home. Throughout the book it uses memories recorded by a large number of veterans, including names we know from later years, such as Sir Peter De la Billiere and Michael Caine.

It makes for interesting reading, and highlights the wide differences between the two sides. The treatment of POWs was poor, only improving as armistice talks made progress. Terms such as 'Bug Out' were in use and which may be familiar to many of us thanks to the long running TV series of M.A.S.H. (one of my favourites). This is a good record of the experiences of those who had to endure many hardships and hopefully will help in making it not such a 'Forgotten War'.

Thanks to Pen and Sword for my copy.

Robin