A veteran of the Korean War has returned to the Asian peninsula to commemorate the soldiers of the Royal Ulster Rifles who were killed during an infamous battle against Chinese troops.
Colonel Robin Charley from north Down was invited to revisit the battlegrounds where, in January 1951, he helped delay a massive communist offensive at a perilous time for the United Nations.
At Happy Valley north of Seoul he unveiled an information panel remembering the 157 RUR soldiers who lost their lives, were wounded, or were taken prisoner, while ‘holding the line’ to enable the safe withdrawal of other units.
Many more lives were saved by the regiment’s heroics and the South Koreans have never forgotten their efforts or sacrifice.
The unveiling ceremony was attended by members of both the British and Irish embassies, senior members of the South Korean government and representatives of the South Korean military.
Speaking at the event, Major General Cho said: “This is the historical place where The Royal Ulster Rifles successfully delayed a massive Chinese offence in 1951. I pay respect and gratitude to The Rifles. All those who were sacrificed will be remembered by us forever.”
Sixty-four years on from the slaughter that claimed five millions lives over three years, Col Charley believes an even greater catastrophe was averted.
“The freedom of the whole world might have been changed if we hadn’t stood up against the communists. The United Nations standing up against them was terribly, terribly important,” he said.
The RUR recruited from both sides of the Irish border and there was a strong camaraderie among the troops.
The then Captain Charley volunteered to drop a rank to lieutenant – as the requisite number at the higher rank was already in place – to ensure his place on a troop ship for the six-week journey to Korea via Aden, India and Singapore.
In 2013, Col Charley told the Northern Irish Archive project: “We used to sing songs in the NAAFI – either Protestant songs or Catholic songs – and it was all taken as fun.
“It didn’t matter whether you were a republican or an Orangeman, it didn’t matter at all, we all got on very well.”
A memorial to the RUR soldiers who died in the Korean War stands in the grounds of Belfast City Hall.