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Commemoration, Happy Valley

Ambassador’s Message – Commemoration at Happy Valley, 24th April

 26 April 2013

Thanks to the pioneering efforts of Col. Robin Charley, his daughter Catherine, the Somme Association and the indefatigable commitment of historian and journalist Andrew Salmon, the memory of the Battle of Happy Valley has been recovered.  As you know from previous messages, this desperate action in January 1951 saw heavy casualties for the Royal Ulster Rifles (157 dead, wounded or captured), the 8th Royal Irish Hussars (10 tanks lost) and other units of the Commonwealth’s 29th Brigade.  They delayed the Chinese advance on Seoul, allowing for many of its citizens to evacuate in what Korea remembers simply as “1.4”, the lapidary code for the 4th January evacuation across the Han.

The recovery of the memory of the action at Happy Valley was manifest on Wednesday in a simple ceremony of dedication at the battle site.  The dedicated efforts of the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans affairs and the 30th Mechanised Infantry Division meant that the site for the battle’s memorial plaque was cleared and terraced and a temporary wooden arch erected.

A military band welcomed the Irish veterans as they debussed in the bright afternoon sunshine.  Deputy Head of Mission Ruth Parkin and Carol Walker of the Somme Association marshalled everyone and everything in place. I gave an opening address (see below).  Speeches were offered by Major General Ryu Sung-sik and Lt Col Lee Young-hyok of the 30th Mechanised Infantry Division, ROK Army, and Lt Col Owen Lyttle, CO, 2nd Battalion Royal Irish Regiment. Canon Robert Jennings, now of Co. Wicklow, Veteran and Chaplin of the Korean War took the service. The Royal Irish Regiment bugler sounded Reveille for a minute’s silence and the Regiment’s piper played a lament.  Wreaths were laid by the RIR, the Somme Association, the Ministry of the Patriots and Veterans Affairs, the RoK Army and the Embassy.  We all felt the poignancy of the moment as veteran Spencer McWhirter laid a wreath on behalf of his comrades, fallen and present.

After the ceremonies, the veterans, relatives and supporters were taken on a battlefield tour by Andrew Salmon, including the location where the bodies of the fallen were first buried before their final internment at the UN Cemetery in Busan.  It was a solemn and moving day for all concerned.

The site of the commemoration bore the hallmarks of its recent and temporary, if meticulous, construction – terraces of beaten earth held in place with planks and stakes, grassy approaches underfoot, wild shrubs along its margins.  It is very gratifying to report that the Koreans who have come to know of this battle and its direct relationship to “1.4” have taken to it to heart now.  Lt. Col Nam of the Ministry of National Defence and Major General Ryu underlined their commitment not only to making the site permanent but also to re-establishing the battlefield memorial that was erected in 1951 and moved in 1962 to Northern Ireland.

I will be in touch again later with news of yesterday’s dedication ceremony of the Irish memorial at Seoul War Memorial.

Best regards,

Eamonn 

“Commemoration of the Battle of Happy Valley”

Wednesday 24th April 2013

Remarks

Dr. Eamonn McKee

Ambassador of Ireland to the Republic of Korea

 Mayor of Yangju, Mr  Hyun Sam-sik; Major General Ryu; Brigadier General Park; Brigadier Lemay; General Park; distinguished guests; veterans of the Korea War; our Korean hosts; local residents; those who have travelled far to come here, and supporters and relatives of those who fought here.

The Irish Government’s support for this project, the revisit and the Memorial are part of an important process.  That is a process of recovery of the many interpretations and experiences of what is Irish identity.

The recovery of all the strands of Irishness is part of the wider embrace, born of the Northern Ireland peace process, of all of the identities and traditions of those who share the territory of the island of Ireland.  It is therefore my privilege and honour to be here at this service in Happy Valley.

It is a sombre occasion.  We recall the many fine men lost their lives here, often in defence of their comrades in desperate circumstances. They knew that disengagement would be extremely dangerous.  It was made fatally so by an accident of war and the onslaught of the Chinese army.  It is also an inspiring occasion. The Royal Ulster Rifles and the Irish Hussars gave no ground to the enemy and only pulled back under orders. There was much heroism on this field of battle.

It was in keeping with the martial tradition of the Royal Ulster Rifles, stretching back to the Napoleonic Wars and including much action in World War II. It was in keeping with that of the 8th Royal Irish Hussars who traced their lineage back to Derry in the 17th century. It was in keeping with the martial tradition of so many Irishmen over the generations that enlisted for military service with distinctly Irish regiments in the British Army.

Dogged in defence and valiant in this action here, the men of the 29th Brigade gave vital breathing space for the evacuation of Seoul, inscribed now in the memory of all Koreans as simply “1.4”.  Looking about us now, it is difficult to imagine that key actions of the Korean War were fought here.  This is not a comment about the passage of time.  Rather, it is a measure of what was achieved here.

For in fighting, under the UN flag, the forces of North Korea and of China, the men of the Royal Ulster Rifles, the 8th Royal Irish Hussars and other units of the Brigade such as the Northumberland Fusiliers, and Glosters and the 45th Field Regiment, were fighting for freedom.  Because of the freedom won, the Republic of Korea was enabled to begin an astonishing journey of development.

That journey would take them from being a war-torn aid recipient to being the 13th largest economy in the world and now an aid donor.  The peace and prosperity of South Korea today is a direct result of the sacrifices made in these fields in defence of liberty and the international rule of law.

I wish to commend the Korean people and their authorities for their deep and abiding acknowledgement of this sacrifice.  No effort is spared, no courtesy refused when it comes to the veterans of the Korean War.

I wish to pay a particular tribute to the Ministry of National Defence, the RoK Army and particularly today to the 30th Mechanised Infantry Division for their unstinting support in our efforts to mark this site of the Battle of Happy Valley.

This service today and the erection of the information plaque are vitally important to the preservation of the memory of what was done here, why and by whom.

I wish to acknowledge that one veteran of this battle, who has done so much to make this week possible, cannot be here today.  Col. Robin Charley had planned to be part of this, along with his daughter Catherine who also contributed so much to the events of this week.  Regrettably his loved wife is seriously ill and he remains at her side.

On behalf of the fallen and all those who fought at Happy Valley, we salute the veterans who have come here to recall this Battle and to honour their comrades.

Thank you.

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August 6, 2013 · 12:06 pm

Irish British Welcome Reception, Korean War Veterans

Ambassador’s Message – Remarks at Welcoming Reception, Veterans from Ireland

24 April 2013

You might be interested in my remarks yesterday at the reception which I co-hosted with the British Ambassador, Scott Wightman, to welcome British veterans of the Korean War, including the contingent from the island of Ireland.  I might add that men of Irish heritage who served in English Regiments were also there.

This afternoon we are holding the first commemoration at the Battle of Happy Valley, followed tomorrow morning by the dedication of our memorial to all those of Irish birth and heritage who died during the Korean War.

Best wishes,

Eamonn

Veterans of Ireland Revisit – Welcoming Reception

Remarks by HE Dr Eamonn McKee

Residence of the British Ambassador, 23 April 2013

Thank you Scott for all your assistance and cooperation and that of the Embassy. Thanks too to Brigadier Jacques Lemay [Defence Attaché] for your positive approach and openness.  I warmly welcome the participation of the veterans from Ireland.  For them, it is the first journey back to Korea since the War. For us at the Embassy, it is the first time that we have supported and participated in the revisit of veterans of Irish birth and heritage.

They say life is a journey.  As soldiers and veterans, you have journeyed far more and experienced more than most. You were present at one of the world’s great conflicts here in Korea more than sixty years ago, the only war waged under the flag of the United Nations.

Because of that war, and your contribution, the rule of international law was upheld.  The freedom of South Korea was protected.  Today, 50 million South Koreans enjoy prosperity and freedom. The evidence of this is all around you today and in such stark contrast to the Korea you first encountered.

The life of a nation is also a journey, marked along the way by significant events that shape that narrative for the future.  I was lucky enough to part of one of those events, the negotiation and signing of the Good Friday Agreement in Belfast in 1998.  We are still working through all of the many hard-fought but immensely positive developments that have sprung from that historic accord.

The essence of the GFA was the need to respect and accept all of the identities and traditions that share the island of Ireland. This has led us to embrace not only those distinctive traditions of nationalism and unionism, but the variations within those traditions. This includes the tradition of Irish service in the British Army, Navy and Air Force.

It also includes the tradition of raising and garrisoning regiments in Ireland.  The names are not only redolent of Irish history but the history of Europe and the history of  the British Empire; the Irish Hussars, the Irish Guards, the Connaught Rangers, the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, the Inniskilling Fusiliers, the Royal Munster Fusiliers, the Royal Ulster Rifles and today the Royal Irish Regiment, to name only some.

The National Volunteers were raised at the behest of the Irish nationalist leader John Redmond.  In fighting for little Belgium during WWI, they saw themselves fighting for Irish independence. The Irish Volunteers were raised and stayed at home with the same objective in mind. Such is the complex and fluid narrative of our history.

In Korea, the recognition of this tradition is also the recovery of the contribution of the Royal Ulster Rifles and the King’s Own 8th Royal Irish Hussars to the 29th Brigade’s defence of Seoul under the UN flag in January and April 1951.

The erection of the Irish memorial at Seoul War Memorial and of the information plaque at the Battle of Happy Valley is part of that process of recovery, acknowledgement and commemoration. I am delighted to welcome the veterans of Ireland and their supporters here for this week.

I wish to thank warmly the cooperation of the Somme Association, the Royal Irish Association, the Royal Irish Regiment, the Irish Association of Korea and all our sponsors for their vital contribution to this week’s very special events.

Thank you.

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August 6, 2013 · 11:55 am

Irish Memorial and Veterans Revisit

Ambassador’s Message – Irish Memorial and Veterans’ Revisit

18 April 2013

We commemorate this year the sixtieth anniversary of the end of the Korean War.  Ireland was not a member at its outbreak and so we could not be one of the contingents fighting under UN Command.  However, many men of Irish birth and heritage fought and died in the War, mainly with Commonwealth and US forces.

Next week we will unveil a memorial to them.  Veterans from Ireland will form part of the Commonwealth Revisit.  I would like to apprise you of the Irish dimension to the Revisit which is a new departure made possible by the Northern Ireland peace process and the historic reconciliation between Ireland and Britain.

Our Korean War veterans in Ireland are currently making their final preparations for their long journey here next week.

Old soldiers and elderly gentlemen, they are still game, joking that after seeing all the media coverage of [heightened tensions on] the peninsula recently they should pack their boots just in case they are needed again to defend South Korea.  We are really looking forward to meeting them.

The Commonwealth Revisit programme will keep them busy with ceremonies and visits to battle sites and the UN Cemetery in Busan.

Veterans will travel on Tuesday to Jeokseong for the memorial to the Glosters who were annihilated at the Battle of the Imjin River in April 1951. The Royal Ulster Rifles’ dogged resistance, along with other elements of the 29th British Brigade, blunted the Chinese onslaught, allowed UN forces to withdraw in order, helped stymie the most concerted attempt of the War to defeat UN forces (these events are memorialised by Koreans as “1.4”).   I am co-hosting a welcoming reception at the British Ambassador’s Residence that evening.

On Wednesday we will all attend the Commonwealth Memorial Ceremony in the morning and then travel in the afternoon to the site of the Battle of Happy Valley (January 1951).

After the ANZAC Dawn Service on Thursday morning, we will dedicate the Irish Memorial at the War Memorial of Korea.  Guests will include relatives of the veterans, representatives of the Columban Order, Commonwealth Ambassadors and Defence Attachés and the Korean Minister for Patriot and Veterans Affairs, Mr Park Sung-choon.  The Canadian Minister for Veterans Affairs, Mr Steven Blaney, will also attend: he feels a deep affinity with his Irish heritage and we are very happy to have him attend our dedication.  That evening, the Minister Park will host a thank-you banquet at the Lotte Hotel for all the Commonwealth Veterans.

On Friday, our veterans will be part of the Commonwealth Veteran’s trip to Busan.  On Saturday, they will visit the DMZ and conclude the day with a Reception at our Residence.

Meanwhile, our Korean sculptor is busy completing the memorial itself which we designed as a simply hexagon plinth topped with an image of the island of Ireland and with inscriptions on its facets embracing all those of Irish birth or heritage who lost their lives in the war, including soldiers and missionaries.

The Irish dedication ceremony will be an intensely personal one for the attending veterans.  They came through some of the most intense combat of the twentieth century and saw many of their comrades fall.  Sixty years may seem like a long time but life passes quickly and memories stay fresh.  The memorial is just stone and words but it will help recover and preserve the contribution that these veterans and all those who died in the war made to Korea and to the success of the only war fought under the UN flag.

Best wishes,

Eamonn

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August 6, 2013 · 11:47 am

Bloody Sunday

Ambassador’s Message – Bloody Sunday

15 June 2010

Today is one for the history books.  The report of the Saville Inquiry into Bloody Sunday will be published (www.bloody-sunday-inquiry.org ), some twelve years after it was established in January 1998 and some thirty eight years after that awful event which saw 13 shot dead and a further victim die from his wounds five months later.  The events of Bloody Sunday in 1972 were significant not just for the lives lost.  It accelerated the cycle of violence, ramping up recruitment into the Provisional IRA and alienating nationalists from the forces of law and order.  The British public inquiry under Chief Justice Widgery compounded the tragedy by having the effrontery to blame the victims in an attempt to exculpate the perpetrators.  If the Chief Justice were to deny the victims justice, where stood the rule of law? 

In all its aspects, Bloody Sunday was a pivotal event in the tragedy of the Northern Ireland conflict.  With the emergence of new material about the event and focused pressure from the Irish Government, the New Labour Government under Prime Minister Blair agreed to set aside the Widgery Inquiry and institute a new one.  It was a signal development indicating that New Labour was going to break the mould in Northern Ireland.  Three months later, the Good Friday Agreement was signed.

The inquiry has been criticised for its costs – which is fair enough – and hence for its every establishment –which is neither fair nor logical.  Public inquiries exist to find the truth about matters of deep national concern and as such are of elemental value to democracies.  Costs are a function of legal fees (half Saville’s costs) and the degree of cooperation an inquiry receives (the inquiry had to fight many legal battles; the British Army accidentally destroyed the rifles used on Bloody Sunday just as the Saville inquiry got underway).

Will today’s report reveal the truth?    What course will it recommend to serve justice for the families of the victims?  We must wait and see.  The template for questions raised remains the Irish Government’s Assessment of the New Material which critically assessed the Widgery Report in the light of the new evidence emerging at the time.  And justice ultimately can only be served by the courts and by the rule of law.

But the Saville Inquiry will already have achieved much by way of truth retrieval, the process of collecting new witness statements, new material and new evidence that will be a rich trove for the families and historians in coming to terms with the narrative of that day.  The arguments and interpretations will continue but at least a rich seam of information exists that might otherwise have been lost. 

 

Eamonn McKee

Ambassador

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August 1, 2013 · 2:56 pm