Korean War Memorial

The Royal Ulster Rifles
The Royal Ulster Rifles

North Korea invaded South Korea on 25 June 1950, advancing rapidly south and forcing South Korean and American forces into a pocket around the port of Pusan. The United Nations responded quickly, calling for international member support for South Korea. The United States, Great Britain, Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand and South Africa were to respond by sending military forces.

The opening battle for the 1st Battalion The Royal Ulster Rifles in the Korean War was near Chaegunghyon on the 3-4 January 1951. The last phase of the battle was the withdrawal at night and events were such that it was impossible to recover the dead. When the United Nations advanced and retook the area in March, parties from 1 RUR, the 8th King's Royal Irish Hussars, and 45 Field Regiment with 170 Mortar Battery Royal Artillery, searched the battlefield and recovered their dead.

The fallen were buried at Menemi (Big Pass) during a brief service at the head of the pass overlooking the battlefield, known to the Riflemen as 'Happy Valley', looking towards the village of Pulmijiri about a mile and a half to the north. The Battalion was at that time part of the reserve brigade at Yongdungpo on the south bank of the River Han and it was there that the decision was taken to mark the Happy Valley burial site. A memorial stone would identify it in the future and act as a memorial both to those killed at 'Happy Valley' and those yet to fall.

KWM1Later, the Commanding Officer was driving through Seoul when he saw a stonemason's yard where he found a block of pink granite. The granite was purchased, and a Korean mason hired to engrave the stone. When the Battalion was sent into the line, the stonemason and his granite block accompanied 'B' Echelon and whenever it halted for a few days, the chaplain, the Reverend James Kelly, supervised progress of the work. An inscription and the Regimental crest were designed by Rifleman Matthews of the Quartermaster's department. When the 8th Hussars, 45 Field Regiment with 170 Mortar Battery, accepted 1 RUR's invitation to be included, their regimental crests, with suitable inscriptions, were engraved on separate faces of the obelisk.

Even though the dead who had been buried at Chaegunghyon were reinterred in the United Nations' Cemetery at Pusan, the principle of a monument on the battlefield prevailed. While the Battalion was busy in the line, a small detachment of Sappers, under the direction of Captain John Page of 55 Field Squadron, Royal Engineers, slipped away whenever they could and constructed a plinth of granite, enclosed in a granite surround, with a stone-flagged path leading from the pass up to the site itself. It was hoped to hold the unveiling ceremony in April, but the Chinese offensive of the 22 April intervened, and it was not until the Battalion again advanced to the Imjin and was established on 'Line Kansas' that a firm date could be set for the ceremony. On the 3 July, a brilliant summer day, contingents from 1 RUR, 8th Hussars, 45 Field Regiment and 170 Mortar Battery assembled at the site.

KWM2The stone, draped in the flags of the three Regiments with the Union Jack at the base, was unveiled by Brigadier T Brodie CBE DSO; Buglers sounded 'Last Post,' followed by 'Reveille' and then Commanding Officers laid their wreaths at the foot of the Memorial. Finally, a brief Service was read by the Reverend Bell of 45 Field Regiment and Father John Ryan. The Memorial was left deserted, a slim polished pillar, with the wreaths at its foot, looking out northwards in the afternoon sunlight and overlooking the valley where those whom it honoured had fallen.

When 1 RUR left Korea in October 1951, action was taken to safeguard the site but as the urban sprawl of Seoul spread northwards towards the site, it was decided to repatriate the Memorial. HMS Belfast arrived in Londonderry in 1962 with the Memorial and it was then transported to St Patrick’s Barracks, the new North Irish Brigade Depot in Ballymena. The Memorial was erected on the south side of the barrack parade square by 591 (Antrim) Independent Field Squadron Royal Engineers. General L L Lemnitzer, Supreme Allied Commander Europe, unveiled the re-dedicated Memorial on 29 October 1964.

On 30 March 2007, the Depot's flags were lowered in a ceremony to mark the end of training at St Patrick's Barracks and thoughts turned to the Memorial's future location as the barracks would be vacated by March 2008. The Royal Ulster Rifles, as Freemen of the City of Belfast, asked the Lord Mayor and Council of Belfast to grant permission for the Memorial to be relocated to a site outside the City Hall. Permission was granted and following a fund-raising campaign, the Memorial was relocated in the City Hall grounds and stands on the east side near the Cenotaph. A re-dedication ceremony was held on 25 April 2010.

This is the only memorial in Ireland to the Korean War. It serves as a focus for remembrance for the families of the fallen and a place of tribute for surviving Korean Veterans from across the island of Ireland and further afield.

To read more about the actions the Memorial commemorates, please click on the events of the Battle of Chaegunghyon.

The Royal Irish Regiment carries forward the Battle Honours awarded to our forebears for their actions during the Korean War; to read more about these please click on any of the following Battle Honours (and any highlighted text within them) to explore further:

Battle Honour KOREA 1950-51

Battle Honour IMJIN