Visit to Paju, South Korea 2023

Published on 9 May 2023

Watching Colonel Andy Hodson and Warden, Andrew Tabor laying wreaths at the memorial for those from Gloucestershire lost in the Korean War (1950-1953) was a moving experience.  It was also a satisfying one after almost 4 years of planning.

It all started when Chris Ryland, Chair of Trustees of the Soldiers of Gloucestershire Museum, gave a lecture on the “Forgotten War” to members of the Honourable Company (HCG) at the Royal Agricultural University in December 2018.  At supper afterwards, several of us were discussing Chris’s talk and were so enthralled by the story of the bravery and sacrifice of the “Glorious Glosters” that we felt the only thing to do would be to go to Paju, (I seem to remember it was Past Warden, Helen Lovatt’s suggestion!) to the magnificent memorial built by the people of Paju and pay our respects to those lost. That was to be in April 2020.  Little did we know what was to ensue and the disruption to everyone’s lives caused by Covid. Undaunted, we planned for 2021, then 2022 and finally, got the green light for 2023. So, fifteen members from the HCG and the Soldiers of Gloucestershire Museum (SoGM) visited the city of Paju, near the North Korean border, for what was to be a “first” for the HCG – its first organised overseas trip.  Some of those from the SoGM had been before and were able to guide us through the numerous issues involved and put us in contact with the relevant parties.

Joining up with members of the SoGM was particularly fitting as that magnificent organisation has taken upon its shoulders the responsibility for ensuring “our boys” are never forgotten.  If you haven’t yet visited the museum in the Docks, Gloucester, do take an opportunity to do so. It is the only museum specifically focussed on the Korean war.

One thing which was obvious from the first minute, the Koreans have the deepest respect for the “Glorious Glosters” and that has not diminished over the last 72 years.  This manifested itself in the welcome at the Mayor’s Parlour, where the Mayor presented Col Hodson with a magnificent bouquet of flowers, and also from the Chair of Paju City Council and the Chair of the Paju City Chamber of Commerce and Industry.  At each welcome, we were applauded in by the staff which made one feel genuinely appreciated.  We also visited Hanbit High School and heard from teachers and students alike about their regard for the UK-Korean relationship all of which is reflected in the school exchanges between Stroud High School and Hanbit.  Discussions took place as to how these exchanges might be extended further.

At each event we were given gifts in the most exquisite wrapping which left some of us wondering if we were going to have excess baggage on the return flight!  We had taken gifts to exchange too including a book on the Highgrove Gardens signed by the King (whilst Prince of Wales) and a limited-edition Glosters Regimental Plate kindly donated by the RGBW Regimental Charities.  Past Warden, John Thurston, kindly donated two County flags which we hope will fly proudly over Paju for many years to come.

There were several visits arranged including a private visit to the Demilitarised Zone, the Dorasan Observatory, where we could use industrial-sized binoculars to see right into the North and watch farmers toiling under armed guard, and the 3rd tunnel, one of possibly up to 20 which are said to have been excavated by the North Koreans to covertly enter the South.  The excavation was carried out using dynamite and spades!

The highlight of our visit was attending the 72nd anniversary of the Battle of the Imjin River Commemoration Ceremony at Gloster Hill, just north of Paju.  Present were ambassadors from the UK, Belgium and Ireland as well as the armed forces of Korea and the United Nations.  It was a moving ceremony and if anything over the previous 4 days had left us wondering if the Koreans really did respect and appreciate the sacrifice of the Glorious Glosters that would have been firmly laid to rest with this event.  It was magnificent and totally moving to those present.  Afterwards we went on a battlefield tour led by Andrew Salmon, a well-known writer on the Korean War.  He truly brought to life the horrors of war and the extraordinary fighting prowess of the Glorious Glosters.  We should be rightly proud.

This note does not fully cover all that we did on the visit; that would take up several newsletters!   Safe to say, Rosemary and I and the other members of our party were glad we went.  It will live in the memory. Patrick Brooke