Homage to the veterans of Korea

Harborough man Neil Townsend, second in from the right, during the ceremony at County Hall to honour veterans of the Korean War
Harborough man Neil Townsend, second in from the right, during the ceremony at County Hall to honour veterans of the Korean War

Sixty years after the signing of an armistice to end the
Korean War, a Harborough man has been taking part in
services honouring those who served in the conflict.

Neil Townsend, president of the county branch of the British Korean Veterans’ Association, attended a ceremony at the Stand Easy armed forces memorial at Leicestershire County Council’s headquarters on Monday.

A national service will be held at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire on Saturday – exactly 60 years since the armistice was signed.

Mr Townsend, who moved to Harborough recently after living in Kimcote for manyyears, arrived in Korea in 1952, joining a transport unit and later commanding a platoon of Japanese troops unloading ships at a port near Tokyo before joining the 1st Commonwealth Division as a captain.

As divisional administration officer, he was in charge of ammunition movements and was involved in the Battle of the Hook, one of the last major actions of the war.

The battle fought near Kaesong in May 1953 saw a largely British force hold a position against Chinese attack despite being outnumbered around five to one. Two months later, the armistice was signed ordering a cease-fire.

Mr Townsend said: “I didn’t sleep for three days because we were pouring thousands of tons of ammunition in.

“We were supplying 5.5VT shells to America howitzers. “They exploded in the air and inflicted heavy casualties.”

The war started in June 1950 when the communist Democratic Republic of North Korea invaded the Republic of South Korea.

“You have to remember, rationing was still in force, fuel was in short supply – Britain was broke and yet we went immediately to the aid of the UN,” said Mr Townsend.

“It was absolutely the right decision by our Government. It was the beginning of the end for Communism.

“Korea was a country most of us had never heard of but when you look at the achievements of South Korea since, it is astonishing.”

“We left a totally destroyed country but now its the 10th most developed in the world.

“The people there are so grateful and their generosity is incredible. I’ve been back a few times and to be met still by cheering crowds is quite astonishing.”

Mr Townsend left the army shortly after the war, working in the textiles industry, for Sketchley in Leicester, before setting up a consultancy firm.

He now lives in Welland Place, Harborough, with wife Jean.

Reflecting on the conflict, he said: “It’s often called the forgotten war, but it will never be forgotten by those who fought and certainly never be forgotten by the Koreans.”

Monday’s ceremony at County Hall was attended by dozens of veterans, the Lord-Lieutenant, Lady Gretton, county council chairman Rosita Page, the Lord Mayor of Leicester and the High Sheriff.

Films featuring interviews with some of the veterans were shown at the service.

Cllr Page said: “We were honoured to be joined by many veterans of the Korean War to who we express our gratitude.”