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.
Eamonn McKee / Ambassador
[“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.