Gordon Lindhurst: Let's remember the '˜forgotten' Korean War
'˜People would ask me what happened to my father. When I said he died in the Korean War they didn't know what to say. They had no idea British troops were even involved'.
That quote comes from an interview conducted by BBC presenter Jackie Bird in 2012 when she spoke to the son of a soldier who gave his life in the Korean War, between 1950 and 1953. It provides a sense of how society responded to the veterans both then and now. For good reason it has been referred to as “Scotland’s Forgotten War”.
But the conditions endured by soldiers of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, the King’s Own Scottish Borderers and the Black Watch were often just as bad as those of the trenches in the First World War.
Soldiers in Korea also fought from dugouts infested with rats and temperatures of -25C in winter were not uncommon. Yet the veterans of Korea would feel on returning home that their stories paled into insignificance compared to those of Dunkirk only ten years before.
On Friday we mark the 65th anniversary of the signing of the Korean Armistice agreement, which brought an end to the fighting.
Hostility on both sides remains, although signs of progress have emerged in recent months, most notably the summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un. But regardless of that virtual circus, it is more important than ever that we do everything we can to remember those who gave their lives to fight a war on the other side of the world, when there was so little national appetite to do so.
In Lothian we can be very proud to host the Scottish Korean War Memorial to those who died in the war, situated in the Bathgate Hills. For a long time, it was the only dedicated memorial in the UK – and it opened in 2000.
As we mark the Armistice this year it is natural that visitor numbers increase as veterans and visitors pay their respects. The only problem is – and I am talking from personal experience here – it is not the easiest place to find even if you know the local area well.
Koreans respect the sacrifice that our young men made and their dignitaries have been present at the memorial at remembrance events.
How embarrassing then, that some of them have endured unintended tours of West Lothian lasting up to an hour before eventually stumbling upon the site.
West Lothian Council has now implemented an impressive array of local signage giving good coverage from both Linlithgow and Bathgate, much of which is thanks to the efforts of the Korean War Memorial Trust.
But a national memorial needs a national effort, and I’ve added my voice to calls for Transport Scotland to put up signage on the M8 and M9 motorways. It would be helpful not just to veterans and other visitors, but for dignitaries arriving via Edinburgh too.
It is of course right that over the last four years in particular, the country has devoted a lot of time to remember the sacrifices given during the First World War. I along with so many others have paid my respects at some of these remembrance events across Scotland.
Nevertheless, there are other conflicts which are of particular significance not just to us nationally, but in particular in the lives of those families they so deeply affected.
I hope in this anniversary year of the Armistice in the Korean War that we can do our part, even if it is as simple as installing road signs, which could play a part in helping to remember those who gave their lives in Korea and making it a “remembered” not “forgotten” war after all.
Gordon Lindhurst is a Conservative MSP for Lothian Region