Britain’s Forgotten War |

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Britain’s Forgotten War

Julian Humphrys tells the story of Britain’s involvement in a war that has never actually officially ended


British soldiers at Naktong River, South Korea, scan the horizon for North Korean incursions as the peninsula becomes the battleground of East vs West


At the end of World War II, Korea – formerly occupied by Japan – was divided along the 38th Parallel. In the north, the Russians installed a communist regime, headed by Kim Il-Sung. In the south, the Americans backed the pro-western and anti-communist government of Syngman Rhee.

In 1948, the south declared itself to be the Republic of Korea and the north responded by proclaiming itself the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Although both the Russians and the US had withdrawn their military forces, the Soviet-backed North Korean army, in June 1950 after a series of border clashes, crossed the 38th Parallel and invaded South Korea. The Cold War had suddenly got hotter.

UNSUNG ALLIES Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders are the first British boots on the ground in August 1950. Over 60,000 British military personnel served in the now largely forgotten conflict

It was about ten in the evening on Saturday 24 June 1950. US President Harry S Truman was relaxing in the library of his family home in Independence, Missouri when the telephone rang. It was Dean Acheson, his Secretary of State. “Mr President,” said Acheson, “I have very serious news. The North Koreans have invaded South Korea.”

At about 0400hrs local time on 25 June, the Soviet-backed North Korean army had crossed the 38th Parallel into South Korea, sparking what would be a three-year conflict costing millions of lives. Later that day, prompted by the United States, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 82, unanimously condemning the invasion. The Soviet Union could have vetoed the resolution, but was boycotting council meetings in protest at the fact that Taiwan and not the mainland People’s Republic of China held a permanent seat on the council. Two days later, the Security Council published Resolution 83, calling on member states to send military aid to South Korea. President Truman immediately ordered US air and sea forces to help the South Koreans. Four under-strength and ill-prepared US divisions were hurriedly shipped over from Japan to try to stem the tide, but the North Koreans were well-equipped with Russian tanks and artillery and enjoyed the advantage of numbers. By mid-August, the Americans and South Koreans had been driven back to the south-east corner of the country around the port of Pusan.

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Imagine, if you can, a mystery bug appearing out of nowhere – one with no cure or treatment and that kills nearly everyone infected in just a matter of days. !en consider one-in-three people in Britain being struck down by it over the course of two years. Unthinkable, isn’t it? And yet that’s exactly what happened halfway through the 14th century. Where did this killer plague, Black Death, come from? How did it spread? And what was it like to live through these unutterable days? We reveal all from page 28. But don’t worry, it’s not all doom and gloom to see in the new year, as we celebrate some of history’s greatest pioneers this issue, from the extraordinary salvagers of Henry VIII’s favourite ship, the Mary Rose (p46", to those magnificent men who took their flying machines into the skies (p56", to the remarkable women whose mathematical genius allowed the US to send men to the Moon (p69". We’ve also given the magazine a bit of a spring clean, taking all your comments on board, and introduced a few new regular features. I hope you like what we’ve done – do write in and let us know. Happy new Year!