Philip Jackson’s latest London monument will ensure that the “forgotten war” will be forgotten no more.
The Korean War Memorial, a gift from the Republic of Korea (ROK) to honour the British troops that served between 1950 and 1953, is in the form of a bronze statue of a British soldier.
It gives central-London recognition to a conflict which many of its veterans feel has long been overlooked by history.
“The unveiling was actually quite dramatic,” said Midurst-based Mr Jackson. “The weather started to deteriorate to the extent that when it was unveiled there was a huge gust of wind. We thought it was going to unveil itself!
“But the sculpture has been well received. There were about 360 veterans of the Korean War there, and veterans tend to be the most difficult audience to satisfy. They can be quite critical of memorials. They have stored up their memories for all these years, and they want them to be well represented. They want a memorial that is dignified, and they seemed pleased.
“There is a lot of research before one starts a job like this. The thing about the Korean War was that there were a lot of regiments that went out there, but the monument itself has to be non-regimental. It has to represent them all.”
Just as importantly, the piece - on land between the Thames and the Ministry of Defence in London - had to reflect the soldiers’ particular experience of this particular war: “All those that went out there, the thing almost they talked most about was the cold and the wet. That’s why I decided I had to do a winter figure. There were fighting in minus-40 degrees temperature most of the time.
“They went out there five or six years after the Second World War, and they were effectively wearing Second World War kit. Their first winter there really caught them out badly.”
Again this was what Mr Jackson felt he had to capture: “It had to be an image of that war, not something that could be confused with the Second World War or the Gulf War.
“He is a British soldier in winter kit. He is looking down at a battlefield grave. He is saying farewell to a comrade that has died in battle. As a last signal of respect, he has taken his helmet off and is holding it.”
The sculpture - the latest in a string of memorials created for the capital by Mr Jackson - was given to the nation by South Korea.
“The Koreans are still extremely grateful. Britain produced the second largest contingent, and they helped save South Korean from being part of North Korea, and we all know what North Korea is like. They have never forgotten that.”
The work involved the British Korean Veterans Association, the Embassy of the Republic of Korea in London and the Korean Ministry of Patriots’ and Veterans’ Affairs as well as The Lady R Foundation and the British Government.
More than 500 guests, including veterans, watched the Duke of Gloucester lead a ceremony of commemoration alongside Defence Secretary Michael Fallon and the Republic of Korea’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Yun Byung-se.
Mr Fallon said: “We must never allow the notion of a ‘forgotten war’ to take hold. Where Britain’s armed forces put their lives on the line for their country, this must be commemorated, and in the right way. The Korean War was the first ever UN action against aggression, and so has enormous international significance. We will never forget the sacrifices made by our soldiers – losing their lives, sustaining injuries or becoming prisoners of war.”
Around 82,000 British service personnel were deployed during the Korean War, with more than 1,000 of them losing their lives. Most of the British dead are buried in the UN Memorial Cemetery outside Busan in the Republic of Korea.
Mr Jackson’s bronze statue stands in front of an inscribed and carved obelisk of Portland stone on a base of Welsh slate. The carvings in the obelisk include an image of the Korean Peninsula, surmounted by the flag of the Republic of Korea; behind the statue of the soldier is an artistic interpretation of Korea’s mountainous landscape.
On the north face of the obelisk, the emblem of the United Nations is on top of the inscription:
“The Korean War was the first UN action against aggression. The UN forces that fought the North Korean invasion were drawn from 21 countries. Although exhausted and impoverished after the Second World War, Britain responded immediately by providing strong naval, army and air forces and became the second largest contributor after the United States. A distant obligation honourably discharged.”
An inscription on the south face is surmounted by the Union flag. It reads: “In this fierce and brutal conflict those who fought included many Second World War veterans reinforced by reservists and young national servicemen. The land battle was fought against numerically superior communist forces, the terrain was mountainous and the weather extreme. 81,084 British servicemen served in the theatre of operations. 1,106 were killed in action, thousands were wounded and 1,060 suffered as prisoners of war.”