These lesson plans look at the Korean War (1950-53) and particularly at Britain’s involvement in the conflict. www.legasee.org.uk/korea/the-archive/
Lesson Plan 1
This lesson looks at the origins of the war, the role of America and China and puts the Korean conflict in the wider context of the Cold War.
Lesson Plan 3
This lesson looks at how Korea’s geography affected the war and explores the different economic paths North and South Korea have taken since 1953.
Lesson Plan 5
This lesson explains how Britain’s role in the Korean War ended and discusses why the Korean conflict is known as ‘The Forgotten War’.
Lesson Plan 2
This lesson looks at the men and women who fought in Korea and explains the concept of National Service.
Lesson Plan 4
This lesson explores the everyday life of British servicemen serving in Korea. It discusses living conditions in action and at rest, and particularly focuses on the role of prisoners of war and propaganda in the conflict.
At the end of the second world war Korea, a former Japanese colony, was occupied by Allied forces whilst waiting for independence. Two states were established, with Russia occupying the North and America the South. The states were divided by a line called the 38th parallel. On 25 June 1950 soldiers from the North Korean People’s Army invaded South Korea. Against a background of cold war tension America entered the war in support of the South Koreans and they called on other UN member states like Britain to support them.
America believed that if one country fell to communism others would follow. Stopping the spread of communism became the focus of American foreign policy.
At the same time, the Communist Soviet Union had suffered terribly during the Second World War and wanted to protect itself from invasion through the creation of buffer states along its borders.
"An iron curtain has descended across the Continent"
Winston Churchill, 1946
But in September 1950 the South Koreans and their American and UN allies began to repel the attack. By late November, UN forces were only 40 miles from the Chinese border. In the face of this aggression China entered the war in support of the North Koreans.
Led UN forces in Korea. MacArthur believed victory over communism would only be achieved by fighting an aggressive war. He ignored advice from President Truman not to cross the 38th parallel. When China sent troops into Korea, MacArthur threated to use an atomic bomb. He sent a letter which he knew would be leaked to the press and would embarrass the president. For Truman, this letter was the last straw. On 11 April, the president fired the general for insubordination.
What happened in the Korean War?
Put these events in order
(A)UN troops led by the Americans and General MacArthur land in Korea and drive back the North Korean People’s Army
(B)More troops join the UN allies and drive the Chinese back to the 38th parallel
(C) Both sides dig trenches and the war reaches stalemate. Clashes occur along the 38th parallel
(D) America ask the UN to send troops to help defend South Korea
(E) Kim IL Sung and North Korean People’s Army invade South Korea
(F) China join the war on the side of the North Koreans
(G) Peace negotiations begin at Panmunjom
(H) North Korean People’s Army defeat the South Koreans and conquer almost all of the Korean peninsular
(I) Chinese People’s Volunteer Army enter the war in support of the North Koreans and drive back the UN forces advancing into South Korea
(J) President Truman orders General MacArthur to stop and sacks him when he disagrees
(K)UN forces conquer almost all of the Korean peninsular
Labour MP Tom Driberg had originally been against British involvement in the war, but in August 1950 he left parliament to join the British Marines on the Front Line. He wrote articles for Reynolds News (a left-wing newspaper) to explain to people back in Britain what life was like for British troops.
(1)Read this extract from one of Tom Driberg’s articles which describes a raid behind North Korean lines.
(2) Listen to Royal Marine Commando, Gorden Payne’s story who was on this raid with Tom Driberg. http://www.legasee.org.uk/ korea/the-archive/gordon-payne/161429560/
(3) Imagine you were also a reporter on the raid and continue Tom’s story of what happened to the British soldiers.
“I thought jeez, great adventure that, going for eighteen months in Korea, the other side of the world, a place I’ve only dreamed of. You were under the United Nations army as well. I thought that would be better than being in a British army, all the discipline. It would be under General MacArthur, Douglas MacArthur. He was the uncrowned king of the Pacific, American hero and everything. It sounded great... They hated the Communists, the Americans at that time, because the Communists was a threat to them. They said, “The goddamn communists. Goddam communists.”
“We knew absolutely nothing I’m afraid we didn’t know where it was other than it was in the Far East so we had to look it up on a map we had… I think we were certainly aware of the war that was taking place there, but we weren’t aware of exactly where it was and all of the men… the men had no idea where it was and of course once we looked at it we thought it’s on the other side of the world which was twelve thousand miles away. Well that was a real challenge. And then we found out a lot more about it and how it had come about and it looked like it had all the makings of the third world war because you had North Korea as you know supported by Russia and trained by Russia and given arms by Russia who had driven the South Koreans –there were only a thousand American advisors there- and driven them right down into the small bulge at Pusan and then the fight out had developed. MacArthur and his brilliant invasion at Inchon which had cut the North Koreans in half and drove them back to the Inchon River and we knew about all that, but we didn’t know much more so we then had to try and find out, we didn’t really find out a lot.”
“When they got us all together on the Troop ship, and they were saying, ‘ear to the right’, as the saying goes, you are going out to join other Marines and join 41 Independent Commando, for Korea. And everybody practically, without fail, turned to their oppo and said, ‘where’s Korea’ because nobody knew where it was and nobody knew what was going on. I hadn’t got a clue where it was, we soon found out…”
The Korean War began in the middle of a century that had already seen two terrible global conflicts. When America called on her UN allies to send troops, the British Army first sent regular servicemen who had been stationed in Hong Kong. But, as the North Korean army advanced reinforcements were needed. In October 1950 the 29th Brigade set sail from Britain for Korea, many of the men were National Servicemen or reservists.
As well as America and Britain, the Philippines, Thailand, Canada, Turkey, Australia, New Zealand, Ethiopia, Greece, France, Colombia, Belgium, South Africa, the Netherlands and Luxembourg also sent troops. Five other countries sent humanitarian aid such as medical supplies.
All ‘healthy males’ had to serve in the armed forces for a minimum of 18 months between the ages of 17 and 21. You could avoid service if you worked as a coal miner, a farmer or were in the merchant navy as these were considered ‘essential jobs’. From 1950 the length of National Service was extended to two years because of Britain’s involvement in Korea.
Some of the first British servicemen in Korea were the Royal Navy and the Royal Marines. Royal Navy ships maintained a tight blockade on North Korea, and played a key role bringing supplies to the allies. Six navy men were killed when H.M.S. Jamaica was hit by Communist coastal guns in North Korea. The American Airforce bombed the cities and industrial plants of North Korea. Continuous attacks on the transport system forced the Chinese and North Korean Armies to rely on the packhorse for much of their logistical support.
Should we bring back National Service?
Decide whether you agree or disagree with each of the following statements and write a sentence explaining why.
|Statement||Agree or disagree||Why?|
|National Service makes people patriotic (love their country)|
|National Service is good for the men and women who do it|
|National Service is necessary during wartime to ensure there are enough soldiers|
|National Service makes a country look strong in the eyes of its enemies|
|National Service is a form of slavery and it harms those who do it|
|National Service is not fair|
|National Service is harmful to the economy|
|National Servicemen and women make bad soldiers and make our armed forces|
Imagine the Korean War had never happened. What do you think South Korean would be like today? Write a paragraph explaining your answer.
“I suppose there were people who did object, of course there was, but generally speaking particularly from the working class are where I was brought up your life was that you went to school when you were five, you left school when you were fourteen/ fifteen and you went in the army when you were eighteen, that was what was planned for you…you see you’ve got to bear in mind that we grew up during the war, there was uniforms all over the place, you couldn’t walk down the street without seeing a uniform be it army, airforce or Royal Navy…”
“That’s right first time out of Lancashire yeah and yeah I got to Aldershot and there was trucks waiting for us… took some more young lads. And on that… I’ll always remember on that truck there was young lads who were never been separated from the mother before and they were actually tears in their eyes because someone shouting at them and do this and do that they’d never been used to it, it never bothered me. I was used to it but, it really broke some lads but, I’ve got to give them their dew when they came out they made fine soldiers.”
“I worked on a farm up at Newton Abbott, which is about twenty odd miles away and the farmer had a relation that was in the Marines. And this guy came up one day when I was there sat milking the cows and I thought that is a smart suit he has got on. So I thought I just might go for that. And that’s how I come to go in the Marines. I had never even knew they were based in Plymouth at the time… I walked through the training quite easily because on the farm everything was manual. With exception of one tractor and I was so fit that I found all the marching and the speed marching a piece of cake”
For most British servicemen Korea was an unknown country on the other side of the world. After a month at sea they arrived in the port of Pusan. They found a mountainous country, with an extreme climate which had been ravaged by war. Those men who were to join the fighting, travelled north from Pusan by train.
The first British troops were ill equipped, but later American army parkas –thick jackets with fur hoods- were provided.
“If the best minds in the world had set out to find us
the worst possible location in the world to fight this
damnable war, the unanimous choice would have been Korea.”
Dean Acheson, U.S. Secretary of State
When war broke out civilians were forced to flee and left their villages on foot to try and find safety. Food was very scarce and many refugees were starving. British veterans of the war remember gangs of children who would gather around them begging for food.
North Korea remains a Communist country. Its economy is focused on supporting one of the world’s largest standing armies. South Korea has become an important economic and industrial power in Asia, embracing foreign culture and ideas. It is a successful capitalist country, with huge corporations exporting goods all over the world.
Today South Korea is very developed country which exports goods and services to other countries around the world.
Can you find five different Korean companies who sell their products in Britain?
Imagine the Korean War had never happened. What do you think South Korean would be like today? Write a paragraph explaining your answer.
“There were kids there from you know walking age up to about eight, they were playing in the muddy pools hardly any clothes and the look that they gave you, pity you know wanton pity, cause they… they had nothing. These were memories that stay with me all my life and just the wanton poverty we talk about poverty in England these days we don’t know what it is anyway…”
“The main task was to prevent infiltration into Korea by sea because as you know Korea’s a big peninsula and so the huge coastline was the potential for infiltration of the enemy from North Korea, from China and indeed the Russians were involved as well in a covert way. So the Navy basically patrolled the whole of the coast of Korea from North to South and both sides of the peninsula and we were tasked to go and support them either going looking for either fishing boats who were not supposed to be there or possible submarines which I don’t think ever materialised.”
“It’s unbelievable you can’t imagine what they have done in such a short time. It’s what they said, they’ve got to build high because there’s that many people and they can’t build out because it’s only half a country isn’t it South Korea…and North Korea is that poor they built a town with no people in it and they don’t put anybody in it. It’s just there on the banks of the Han river on the other side. Just to let you know they can build a town, there’s nobody in it…”
From June 1951 troop movement ground to a halt and the two armies faced each other along the 38th parallel. Both sides fortified their positions and dug defensive trenches. Soldiers lived in dugouts on the side of the hillside called ‘hutches’. Conditions were very basic and there was ongoing close combat with the enemy. With the war in stalemate, both sides agreed to go to the conference table and armistice talks began at Panmunjom.
Small groups of men went into enemy land to gather intelligence or to engage the enemy at close quarters. During these patrols the soldiers kept in contact with their base via radios which were installed in various places in the trenches. Patrols were dangerous and could end with casualties, capture or death.
Throughout the Korean War the opposing armies fought for control of a hill called ‘the Hook’. More lives were lost on ‘the Hook’ than anywhere else in Korea.
"Whoever controlled the Hook controlled the road to Seoul"
Brian Hough, veteran
Loud speaker announcements were made by the Chinese and leaflets written in English were found by British soldiers on the front line. A pretend ‘safe conduct pass’ was produced by the Chinese which promised that any solider who handed himself over would be given safe passage home.
There are international laws to ensure that prisoners of war are treated fairly but they were not always followed. British servicemen who were captured were kept in terrible conditions with little food. The main disagreement in the peace negotiations was the future of the tens of thousands of communist prisoners of war held in camps on Koje Island off the coast of South Korea.
(1)What are the Chinese trying to say to the British and American
(2)How do you think a British soldier would feel when he found this leaflet?
Lt Robert Gill arrived in Korea in November 1950. This is
an extract from a letter to his girlfriend Doreen who was
waiting back at home.
(1)What does Bob’s letter say about:
(a)The fighting he has seen
(b)His everyday life as a soldier?
(2) Do you think Bob is telling Doreen about everything that has happened to him? What might he leave out? Why?
(3) Imagine you are a British solider fighting in the Korean War. Write a letter home to your Mum and Dad telling them about your experience.
Listen to Bob Gill’s story online at http://www.legasee.org.uk/korea/ the-archive/bob-gill
“Anyway one of the lads turned around and said ‘come on I’ll show you where you’re kipping’ like and when I got there it was just like a hole… genuinely, no joking it was just like a hole in the wall… and he said ‘in there’ well when I got in there were two four six eight… there was eight ammo boxes empty of course and on top of it was a stretcher. He said ‘that’s your bed’ and I says ‘where is toilet’ he said ‘just go out of here, turn right up the hill and anywhere you want’…”
“Well the fear came to me as we were walking up from what they call the start line to get into position to attack this hill. We were walking down a path and alongside was some paddy fields the typical thing and shells kept landing on these paddy fields very near. You know when they went in a paddy field then stuff went all over the place rather dramatic… and I said to my company commander I said ‘ Pat those shells are a bit close for ours’ and he said ‘they’re not ours Godfrey they are theirs’ and that is literally when I felt frightened. The fear ‘oh god what am I doing here please I want to live”
“So we fought all night but, then we started to run out of ammunition and we had lots of wounded and the wounded were freezing to death. It was pretty awful and then the Chinese asked us for surrender… the convoy had been broken up into pieces…. And what could you do… the Major came around and asked everyone ‘what do you want to do?’ ‘you can either fight on to death or you can surrender?’ and most of us thought you know you might get away with it… and live to fight another day.”
On 27June 1953, the adversaries signed an armistice and the divide between North and South Korea was established. Britain provided troops for the United Nations Peace Keeping Forces in Korea until July 1957. When British troops returned home to civilian life there was no fanfare. The war had received little press coverage and some have called it ‘The Forgotten War’. Officially the War continues. No peace treaty has ever been signed between North and the South Korea.
A Demilitarised Zone or DMZ was established on the border. Both sides withdrew from their fighting positions, and a UN commission was set up to supervise the armistice.
The British press sent correspondents to Korea and four men were killed. But by the 1950s the British public were tired of conflict and did not want to read stories about the Korean War. Later conflicts like The Falklands and the Iraq war have had better coverage and so we remember them better.
Veterans associations such as the BKVA march at Remembrance Day parades, organise return visits to Korea called ‘pilgrimages’ and organise meet-ups for veterans so that the Korean War is not completely forgotten. The BKVA disbanded in 2014 after successfully installing a permanent memorial to veterans of the Korean War in Whitehall, London.
Fill out the table below and think about the question from the point of view of each group of people. List as many ideas as you can in each column.
|Was the Korean War worthwhile?|
|Agree or disagree||Why?|
|The South Korean People|
|A British soldier|
On balance do you think the Korean War was worthwhile? Write a paragraph explaining your answer.
“I was amazed truly, truly amazed. Seoul when we knew it there was nothing, it had been fought over four times in eighteen months I mean you know it was devastated. You’ll of seen pictures of Hamburg after the second world war, very similar you know, very few buildings standing in Seoul but, when I went back in 97, god it was amazing. There was only one bridge over the River Han that I can remember then, not now, there’s bridges over bridges over bridges and huge six lane motorways and the people are happy, the people look happy, they look well dressed and they’re cared for. it’s fantastic what’s happened.”
“When we came into Southampton there was no bugger there. Well there was one or two who lived perhaps near, mothers and wives or whatever but, it was very, very few and that was a bit disappointing. I didn’t want a brass band or a VC or anything like that but, well it became… well known as the Forgotten War. A mate of mine up at bowling club he was taking the micky when I was talking about it. He said ‘oh it was only a bit of a skirmish weren’t it?’ He was having me on… but he wouldn’t of thought it was a skirmish if he had been there… but, I’m glad I did it, I really am”
“Afterwards nightmares for forty years, unable to talk to anybody for fifty years about it except soldiers who’d experienced the same thing and my intimate family, but I couldn’t speak… I wouldn’t of been able to speak to you twenty years ago and this is the first time I have ever told my full story, but I’m finding in my old age that I’m able to tell this and for younger people there’s so many things to learn from this… the fact that it’s the mind that rules the body not the other way round, and if you think it’s cold your mind can tell you it isn’t, if you think you can’t do it your mind can tell you… you can do it and you will do it. I shall grieve to my death over the loses and I shall remember the great humour and the fun and the fact that any other worry in life is small compared to what we went through then”