Shrewsbury ceremony recognises veterans of 'forgotten' Korean War

Under a dull overcast, Shropshire's ageing Korean War veterans marched proudly one last time behind their standard, at a Shrewsbury ceremony attended by one of the county's most famous soldiers, former Gulf War commander and head of the SAS General Sir Peter de la Billiere.

The standard of the Korean Veterans Association in Shropshire was presented to the Soldiers of Shropshire Museum
The standard of the Korean Veterans Association in Shropshire was presented to the Soldiers of Shropshire Museum

Ten veterans, all in their 80s and 90s, led the parade which saw the standard of the Shropshire branch of the British Korean Veterans Association presented to the Soldiers of Shropshire Museum at Shrewsbury Castle.

As young men 70 years ago they had been in the front line in the Korean conflict, seen by many as a "forgotten war."

"It was absolute hell sometimes," said 89-year-old John Baugh of Buildwas, who was a Private in the King's Shropshire Light Infantry and for whom November 17 is a significant 70th anniversary – that was the date in 1951 on which he was badly wounded by an exploding shell, and his comrades dragged him from a trench believing he was dead.

"It bowled me on to my face. I was unconscious and had shrapnel wounds to the back."

Private Baugh, whose home at the time was The Lodge at Shirlett – he had worked as a gardener at Shirlett sanatorium, near Broseley – made a good recovery and was sent back to Korea when he came out of hospital.

"There was no skiving in those days."

The standard presentation

The standard was presented to Richard Gough of the museum by 90-year-old Ray Mead, of Bridgnorth, the standard-bearer of the Shropshire branch of the KVA, which was wound up about five years ago.

The standard of the disbanded branch had been kept at the Royal British Legion Club in Dawley, and the presentation marks it finding an ultimate home at the museum, where it will help the museum tell the story of the veterans' exploits to future generations.

Private Mead, who was in the KSLI, recalls of Korea: "There was a lot of banging and clanging."

He came through unscathed: "I dodged everything."

Many of his comrades did not, as 62 fallen members of the KSLI appear on the roll of honour, although Mr Mead thinks the true number is 64.

Military guest of honour Sir Peter chatted to the veterans – he served in Korea himself. He spent his formative young years in Shropshire, living at Ryton, south of Shrewsbury, and joined the KSLI at Copthorne barracks as a Private, although he soon switched to the Durham Light Infantry.

The laying up ceremony of the standard, or flag, was conducted in the Circular Room at the castle by the Rev Patrick Aldred, Regimental Colonel for the Royal Army Chaplains' Department.

Shropshire's Lord Lieutenant Anna Turner told the veterans: "I feel privileged to have you among us today and to have this standard here, which will help future generations to learn, and remember. We will remember what you did – thank you very much indeed."

From left: Ray Mead, Chris Medlicott and Derek Lineton at the presentation

Mr Gough, director of the museum, which was formerly called Shropshire Regimental Museum, said: "It has been very moving and I'm humbled in the presence of these gentlemen."

After the proceedings 88-year-old Roy Bebbington of Whitchurch was in tears with, he explained, memories of his late wife. He served in the Durham Light Infantry as a machinegunner.

"The winters were absolutely terrible, and the summers were as hot as the winters were cold," said Private Bebbington.

"One of the guys I was at school with, Second Lieutenant Tony Pack of Dorrington, was killed when I was there," recalled 89-year-old Jeep driver Private Derek Ross, of Church Stretton – originally Leebotwood – who transferred to the DLI from the KSLI.

"If you want to know what it was like, it was like hell," said KSLI Corporal Keith Lees, of St Georges, who will be 90 on December 13.

"When the mortars came in you would pray to big G."

Private Bob Adams, 88, of Bridgnorth, who joined up with the KSLI and transferred to the Durhams: "Everybody was frightened to death. We were outnumbered about 20 to one."

Mr Gough said the standard would go on display in the Korean War display in the museum.

The standard presentation
General Sir Peter de la Billiere, who was the commander of British forces during the Gulf War

For General Sir Peter the ceremony was the opportunity to take a trip down memory lane.

"I joined the army here at Copthorne barracks in January 1952, and then spent nine months there as a Private soldier. I was very well looked after and trained for what came later.

"I'm really coming back to my origins – Private de la Billiere 22774920. I lived at Ryton. I've been back for occasional visits, but never before to meet such a grand selection of old warriors with whom I would have served nearby, if not alongside, in Korea.

"I won't have time this time to revisit Ryton or Copthorne, much as I would have liked to, but I have been to the barracks before on several occasions. The first barrack room on the right as you go through the archway, on the first floor, that was my location, where I was placed. I had to box my blankets in G wing, and it was where I trained to be a soldier.

"I'm very privileged to be back."

Sir Peter, who is 87 and attended with his wife Bridget, had joined up into the King's Shropshire Light Infantry but fought in Korea as a young officer in the Durham Light Infantry.

"I learned more about soldiering during my time in the Korea War than at any similar period through my life."

And he recalled of Shrewsbury: "My first girlfriend (named in his autobiography as Christine Gethin) worked in the garage by the bridge."

Other veterans at the event were Private Roy Preece, (KSLI, Shrewsbury); John Lane, an officer in the Royal Artillery, from Shrewsbury; Corporal Reg Fincher (KSLI, Worfield); and Private Derick Lineton, 88, of Shifnal, but formerly of Wrockwardine Wood (DLI).

Widows and family members also attended, as well as Sarah Kerr, Shropshire Council's armed forces outreach support coordinator who worked with Mr Gough in the organisation and tracking down veterans.

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