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HMS Albion honours war dead in rare Far East visit

HMS Albion honours war dead in rare Far East visit
27 June 2018
Sailors and Royal Marines from Britain’s flagship paid tribute to their countrymen who saved South Korea from Communist rule nearly 70 years ago.

Almost the entire ship’s company of HMS Albion paid their respects to nearly 900 Britons who made the ultimate sacrifice and today are at peace in the free soil of South Korea.

Around 2,300 servicemen from 11 countries are commemorated at the United Nations Memorial Cemetery in Busan – the only UN cemetery in the world – at the southeastern tip of the republic.

It was at the city’s gates in the late summer of 1950 that the Communist invasion from the north was halted – North Korean forces were stopped just 30 miles from Pusan at it was known at the time.

For HMS Albion’s Assistant Logistics Officer Sub Lieutenant Matthew Ford the commemoration was particularly poignant.

“My grandfather served as a chief petty officer shipwright on the carrier HMS Theseus during the Korean War,” he explained.

“When I joined the Royal Navy 18 months ago, I never imagined I’d be here in the Far East so early in my career, so it’s very special to be following in his footsteps, and to pay my respects to those who didn’t come home.”

It was a huge privilege for the Fleet Flagship to commemorate the service and sacrifice of all those who fought under the banner of the United Nations

Captain Tim Neild RN, HMS Albion’s Commanding Officer

The Korean War was the last major conflict in which the Commonwealth fought together as a combined force. Sub Lieutenant Pauline Theron from the Royal New Zealand Navy is currently serving on HMS Albion as part of an exchange programme.

“The Commonwealth made a significant contribution to the Korean War,” she said. “I live in New Zealand and I’m South African by birth so I was very pleased to pay tribute to my own countrymen who rest here. The cemetery was immaculate and the South Koreans clearly look upon our contribution with great reverence.”

The Royal Navy served extensively throughout the 1950-53 conflict, with at least one aircraft carrier on station providing air support – including the famous downing of a MiG jet by a piston-engined Sea Fury fighter – while on the ground 41 Commando spearheaded the Royal Marines’ commitment as a raiding party, and later fought with distinction at the Choison Reservoir.

“It was a huge privilege for the Fleet Flagship to commemorate the service and sacrifice of all those who fought under the banner of the United Nations,” said Captain Tim Neild RN, HMS Albion’s Commanding Officer.

“Seeing so many headstones bearing the names of British and Commonwealth servicemen is a poignant reminder of the UK’s ties to the Korean Peninsula, and our continuing responsibilities in this part of the world.

“It seems right and proper that HMS Albion is here all these years later to help preserve and strengthen the freedoms for which they fought and died.”

It is ten years since a British warship visited Busan, South Korea’s second city and largest port, and the flagship was treated to renditions of Hey Jude and Let It Be from the Republic of Korea Navy Band as she arrived for a four-day visit.

In recent years, the two navies have worked together on counter-piracy operations in the Middle East, but opportunities to come together in Asia-Pacific have been relatively scarce.

There was a busy schedules of defence engagement as the ship welcomed members of the public onboard for tours, together with local VIPs at an evening reception. General Vincent Brooks, Commander US Forces Korea, and Vice Admiral Jung, Commander Republic of Korea Fleet, were present at the Ceremonial Sunset to take the salute.

A group from HMS Albion had a special insight into the continuing armistice on the Korean Peninsula when they visited the Demilitarised Zone on a tour organised by the British Embassy.

“It was absolutely brilliant,” said Chief Petty Officer Sean Jarvie, HMS Albion’s operations room manager.

“We were able to enter the blue huts which straddle the border and are used for meetings between both sides, as well as walking through the tunnels that were secretly dug under the border. It’s the best visit I’ve done during my time in the Navy.”

Leading the visit was Lieutenant Commander Craig Guest who said, “We are enormously grateful to the British Embassy in Seoul and the United Nations for helping us better understand a conflict that has been frozen for the past 68 years.”

Meanwhile, 40 Royal Marines made the two-hour journey to Pohang to meet their counterparts from the Republic of Korea Marine Corps.

“I’ve been all around Europe and the Middle East, but this is my first time in Asia-Pacific so it was interesting to meet with the Korean marines who struck me as being fiercely professional. We were very warmly welcome,” said Lance Corporal Gardiner.

Marine Oskar Dickson agreed: “We got to tour their camp and see some of their armoured amphibious vehicles at work on the beach. I could definitely see similarities with the Royal Marines.”

HMS Albion left the UK in February, and has now reached the mid-point of her deployment.

“In the midst of our maritime security duties and busy defence engagement programme, my sailors and marines are getting to visit some extraordinary places and are forging life-long memories. We joined the Royal Navy to see the world and HMS Albion is truly living the advert,” said Capt Neild.

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