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100,000 British service personnel were involved in the Korean War with over 1,000 killed. These records cover the 4,502 service personnel who were killed or injured between 1950 and 1953.
After WW2 it was decided to split Korea, which had been annexed by Japan in 1910, into two. The move was intended to be short term, pending a return to Korean independence. Soviet Russia would take control of north of the 38th parallel while the south would be under American military administration under General Douglas MacArthur.
Russia backed a Stalinist regime in the north under Kim Il-sung and created the North Korean People’s Army, equipped with Russian tanks and artillery. In the south the political situation was chaotic and resulted in an American-backed administration under President Syngman Rhee, who was determined to bring about national unity by force. Under this stance, the American-trained South Korean army was simply a lightly armed gendarmerie, with no tanks and combat aircraft and a very limited amount of field artillery.
The tensions between north and south built until, on 25 June 25 1950 the North Korean People’s Army launched an invasion of the south. In response the UN sent a mainly American force to help.
The numbers involved on both sides in the conflict were huge. By July 1953 it was estimated that there were 1,200,000 combined Korean and Chinese forces. The UN contingent included forces not just from the US but also from Canada, Australia, the Netherlands, Colombia, Turkey, the Philippines, France and many others. The USA made the largest contribution of troops and equipment with Britain second. By spring 1951 Britain’s contribution to the UN’s forces was 12,000 strong. By July 1952 UN and Republic of Korea (ROK) forces numbered 932,000.
The war was devastating for both sides. The civilian populations of both the ROK and North Korea suffered massive social and economic upheaval. According to UN estimates, three million Koreans (including soldiers and civilians on both sides) had been killed. Chinese deaths were estimated by the UN at 900,000, while America reported 33,629 of its own dead. The UN also recorded the deaths of 686 British troops with a further 1,102 either missing in action or prisoners-of-war.
Theoretically the two Koreas have remained at war since the uneasy armistice in July 1953. It was not until 1991 that a non-aggression pact was signed between them.
Transcriptions © Martin Edwards