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British veterans welcome North Korean return of remains from Korean War

British veterans have welcomed reports that North Korea is willing to return the remains of servicemen killed during the Korean War and hope that some of the 336 Britons still listed as missing in the conflict might soon be handed over at the border truce village of Panmunjom.

Pyongyang is presently in discussions with the United States over the return of around 200 sets of remains that have been found in the North since the end of the three-year Korean War in 1953.

Mike Pompeo, the US Secretary of State, is due to return to Pyongyang this week for direct talks with Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, over the creation of a firm timeline for North Korea to abolish its nuclear research capabilities and its stockpile of nuclear warheads. 

Caskets have already been delivered to the North and Pyongyang is expected to release the remains as a show of good faith in ongoing discussions that many analysts are claiming have lagged due to deliberate foot-dragging by Kim’s regime.

While the majority of those remains are likely to be of US military personnel, veterans here believe they may include British troops because many were issued with US equipment and record-keeping at prisoner of war camps where troops died and were buried was virtually non-existent.

U.S. Marines on the Naktong River front

Credit:
AP

Even if this first exchange of remains does not include British troops, the veterans say, warming ties across the Demilitarised Zone means that more sets of remains could be returned in the future.

And they insist they will go to the funerals of any of their former comrades-in-arms, wherever they are finally laid to rest.

Among those missing men with no known grave are Corporal R.D. Weaver, a regular soldier, Private A.D. Maile, a National Serviceman thought to have joined in June or July 1949, and Private W. Philpot, who was wounded and captured but never seen again.

“It has been a long time since these men went missing and I expect it will be difficult to identify them after all these years, but everything should be done to confirm their identities and give them the burial they deserve”, said Sam Mercer, who was a private with the Gloucester Regiment – the “Glorious Glosters” – and was captured in the infamous Battle of the Imjin River in April 1951. 

In the encounter, some 650 men of the regiment defied an estimated 10,000 Chinese troops to hold a key position and blunt an attack that would have overwhelmed Seoul and turned the tide in favour of the Chinese-North Korean alliance.

“We had a job to do and I think we did it rather well, giving the Chinese a bloody nose in the process”, said Mr Mercer, 88, who now lives in Streatham, South London.

Injured in the early stages of the battle, Mr Mercer lost an eye and was among hundreds who could not be evacuated and went into captivity. And because he was unable to move fast enough, a Chinese soldier shot him in the leg.

Mr Mercer puts his survival during two years in a North Korean POW camp down to “a combination of determination, bloody-mindedness and a large slice of lady luck” – but he knows of at least two British POWs who died in captivity and were interred in the North.

“A lot of time has elapsed, but they should be brought home”, he said.

According to Frank Fallows, the chairman of the British Korean War Veterans Association, a total of 336 British military personnel are still listed as missing. Of that number, 50 were members of the Royal Navy or merchant navy and are considered lost at sea. The remaining 286 were with regular British Army regiments, the Royal Marines or Royal Air Force.

Some 1,108 British troops died in the Korean War and 106 spent time in POW camps in North Korea.

Edgar Green, who served as a private in the Middlesex Regiment, believes it is very possible that British troops have been mistaken for US personnel.

“We arrived in Busan from Hong Kong August 1950 wearing our tropical kit, but a few months later it was well below freezing and we were issued with American cold-weather equipment”, he told The Telegraph. “I know of at least two Middlesex Regiment men who were captured and assumed to be Americans because of the clothes they were wearing. Both of them were very badly treated and died in POW camps.”

Mr Green, 87 and now living in Aldermaston in Berkshire, firmly believes that the remains of British soldiers should be returned from the North and, if they cannot be repatriated to the UK, then they should be interred with the vast majority of other British casualties of the conflict at the United Nations Military Cemetery in Busan. A total of 885 British personnel are already buried at the cemetery.

“I may be old, but I would go to any funeral for a British soldier that they return”. Mr Green said.

“I cannot begin to explain the sense of camaraderie that we had then and still have today”, he added.

Article Source : https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/07/04/british-veterans-welcome-north-korean-return-remains-korean/

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