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Friday, 20 April, 2001, 17:45 GMT 18:45 UK
Korea veterans remember fallen comrades
Korean war veterans
Veterans march during the 50th anniversary parade
For many veterans of the Korean War, reminders of the killing fields at Imjin River proved to be too much.

Some broke down and cried as they recalled the comrades who were killed in one of the fiercest attacks ever mounted against a British regiment.

The 650-strong Gloucester Rifle Regiment held off 10,000 Chinese troops at the Imjin River in North Korea just north of the 38th parallel, which divides the country from South Korea.

The 50th anniversary of the battle, which lasted from 21 April to 25 April, 1951, was marked with a moving ceremony at the United Nations cemetery in Pusan, South Korea, where 886 of the 1,078 British soldiers killed in the war are buried.

Brigadier Mike Harvey
Brigadier Mike Harvey: They did not stand a chance

About 120 veterans from a number of Commonwealth countries heard the Duke of York say the sacrifices made by British troops, under UN command, had helped create a peaceful, prosperous South Korea.

In the course of the battle of Imjin River, more than 90 of the "Glorious Glosters" troops were killed. Two were given Victoria Crosses, Lieutenant Phillip Curtis, posthumously, and Lieutenant Colonel James Carne.

Chinese division

Only 38 escaped three days of assault by an entire Chinese division which poured across the main ford which opened the way to the South Korean capital, Seoul.

Harry Purcell
Harry Purcell: My brother did not die in vain

The Glosters, using only small arms, killed hundreds of Chinese troops, but were overwhelmed by their huge numbers. They ran out of ammunition and soon found themselves being fired upon from positions they had originally held.

Many tried to make it back to the American lines at their rear, but almost all were captured by the Chinese.

Harry Purcell, a soldier in the Glosters, lost his brother in the battle of Imjin River.

He broke down when he visited his brother's grave for the first time at Pusan this week.

"He has not died in vain. I'm sorry he is here, but he died for a useful purpose," said Mr Purcell.

Brigadier Mike Harvey, one of the Glosters' senior officers, said many of his men had not stood a chance.


One moment they are there full of life and personality, the next instant they are just nothing

Brigadier Mike Harvey

"It was very traumatic to see people, who have served you well and been really good soldiers, die just instantly.

"One moment they are there full of life and personality, the next instant they are just nothing. It is very difficult to deal with that."

The losses suffered by the Glosters were compounded by the indifference of the public to what has become a forgotten war in Britain.

Veteran Tom Eagles said: "We do everything we can to make people notice us.

"Unfortunately, the media and everyone else has chosen to ignore us until now.

Korean war scenes
Hundreds ended up as prisoners of the Chinese

"Even when we had our memorial unveiled by the Queen in 1987, there was nothing in most of the papers. We do feel bitter about it."

Though the war did not end decisively for either side and Communist North Korea remains in being, Mr Eagles believes the sacrifices made by British soldiers in the war were worthwhile.

"When we go out to South Korea, the people look after us very well. The country is prospering whereas the people in the north are destitute and in a bad away.

"We feel particularly proud that we did our duty internationally."

Mr Eagles' remarks were echoed by the Duke of York who paid tribute to the efforts of British troops in the Korean War.

"It is clearly evident that those sacrifices made in some of the harshest conditions were not in vain," the Duke told assembled veterans at Pusan.

"Those of you in the veterans' contingent can remember your endeavours with pride."

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See also:

20 Apr 01 | Asia-Pacific
War dead remembered in Korea
19 Apr 01 | Asia-Pacific
Korea - the forgotten war
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