Korea War 1950-54

At the end of the Second World War the peninsula of Korea was divided into two countries: North and South Korea. North Korea was ruled by a Soviet-controlled communist regime, while South Korea was under USA supervision. The supervisory powers were supposed to withdraw from their respective countries between 1948 and 1949.


After the war broke out in Korea on June 25, 1950, when North Korea suddenly invaded South Korea, the UN hurried to convene a meeting of the UN Security Council and voted on the 28 June 1950 to dispatch UN troops to Korea. At this time, the Soviet Union was boycotting the Security Council and no veto was cast by the remaining four permanent members.

In all, 21 nations volunteered to assist under the UN flag to help Korea; 16 nations provided combat troops, equipment and armaments, while 5 nations provided non-combat assistance by dispatching medical ships with staff and medicine.

The combat troops were provided by USA, UK, Canada, Turkey, Australia, Philippines, Thailand, New Zealand, Netherlands, Colombia, Greece, France, Belgium, Ethiopia, South Africa and Luxembourg.

United State of America1,600,000
United Kingdom56,000
New Zealand5,350
South Africa900
Figures from UN Military Commission Korea (UNMCK).

The non-combat assistance were provided by Denmark, Norway, Sweden, India and Italy.

Figures from UN Military Commission Korea (UNMCK).

After several conflicts and engagements involving considerable loss of life, an armistice was signed on 27 July 1953. The battle line at that time forms the boundary between North and South Korea. Even today, this line forms the frontier between the two Koreas. There has still been no peace treaty signed to officially end the state of conflict between the two opponents.

Four Victoria Cross medals were awarded for gallantry during the Korea War: Major K. Muir, Lieutenant Colonel J.P. Carne, Lieutenant P.K.E. Curtis and Private W. Speakman. The awards to Major Muir and Lieutenant Curtis were made posthumously.

Three George Cross medals were awarded for gallantry whilst Korean POWs: Fusilier D.G. Kinne, Private H.W. Madden and Lieutenant T.E. Waters. The awards to Private Madden and Lieutenant Waters were made posthumously.

Three George Medals were awarded for bravery during the Korean War: Lieutenant B.A.F Mawson, Captain A.H.G Gibbon and Corporal Lowes.

The citations from the London Gazette are reproduced below.

Lieutenant Beverly Anthony Foster Mawson, RA:
Lieutenant Mawson was Gun Position Officer of ” G ” Troop 61 Light Regiment which on the night 14th/15th September, 1952, was engaged in an intensive counter mortar programme.

During the programme there was a serious premature, in No. 2 mortar as a result of which three men were killed and a fourth was badly wounded. Lieutenant Mawson who happened to be visiting the detachment at the time was also seriously wounded. Almost immediately a fire broke out in the pit in which there were about 100 live 4.2 inch mortar bombs. Despite his wounds, Lieutenant Mawson immediately took charge. He directed operations to extinguish the fire with exemplary coolness and finally succeeded in so doing.

This action undoubtedly prevented a large explosion which would have resulted in further casualties and loss of equipment. Lieutenant Mawson then organised first aid for the wounded and succour for the dying. Finally he arranged for evacuation of the wounded.

At this stage he was weak with loss of blood but still refused to have his own wounds dressed until he had arranged for the programme to resume immediately and had satisfied himself that his Troop Leader, a young National Service Officer, was fully in the picture and so able to direct the rest of the programme. His coolness in extinguishing the fire was in itself exemplary.

The subsequent display of self sacrifice and devotion to duty while getting weaker through loss of blood was of a very high order. The standard of leadership and courage shown by this officer during a very difficult and dangerous incident was quite outstanding.

Corporal Leyshon Lowes, RAMC:
On 12th October, 1952, a line party from “D” Troop was ordered out to lay a telephone line to a forward position.

Bombardier Jones, the N.C.O. in charge inadvertently entered a minefield. He set off a mine and was seriously wounded. One of the signallers went back to the Troop position to fetch Corporal LOWES, the Medical N.C.O., to give first aid. Corporal Lowes realised what had happened and although fully appreciating the risk of himself setting off another mine, he, without hesitation, entered the area and traversed a distance of about twenty yards of “live” mines to attend the wounded man. He ordered the signallers not to enter the area and sent them to a nearby Regimental Aid Post to collect a stretcher bearer party and guide it back to the minefield.

Having done all he possibly could for the wounded N.C.O., pending the arrival of the stretcher, he carefully retraced his steps to the minefield boundary to mark a safe route for the party. Once again he had to pass through twenty yards of “live” mines. As a result of this careful direction and leadership the severely wounded N.C.O. was speedily evacuated.

The action of Corporal Lowes in deliberately entering a minefield to succour a wounded comrade was a demonstration of cold, calculated courage of the highest order as he was fully aware of the gravity of his act and realised only too clearly that he may well have suffered a similar, if not worse fate than the man he was attempting to save.

This is not an isolated incident for on the 16th September, 1952, he attended the wounds of a man lying in an exposed position while the “D” Troop area was being shelled, and undoubtedly on that occasion contributed greatly to the speedy removal of a badly wounded man.

Throughout Corporal Lowes’s attachment to the 61 Light Regiment, Royal Regiment of Artillery, he has reflected the greatest credit on himself and the Corps which he so ably represents

Captain Acton Henry Gordon Gibbon, RA
This officer whilst undergoing interrogation by North Korean security personnel at the notorious camp “Parks Death House”, north of Pyongyang, was instrumental in assisting an escape of three other prisoners of war.

As a result of this the North Korean Commander of the camp, Major Pak, subjected Captain Gibbon to ill treatment, tantamount to torture, in an endeavour to obtain the route and the plans of the escape party. Captain Gibbon was hung from a tree by a rope fastened round his wrists which were bound behind his back, and subjected to beating and kickings for many hours. In addition to this he was threatened with a pistol and subjected to various other forms of ill-treatment.

He withstood all this ill treatment, so much so that Major Pak considered that he obviously could not impart the information they required, as he did not know it.

Captain Gibbon’s conduct and courage during this time was an inspiration to all others in the camp.

British and Commonwealth service personnel were eligible for two medals for their service in Korea. One issued by the UK, called the Korea Medal (1950-53) and the UN-issued Korea Medal. The Korea Medal 1950-53 was issued named to the recipient by the UK, or other Commonwealth, Government. The UN Korea Medal was issued by the UN unnamed except those to Canadian recipients.

Korea Medal 1950-1953
The Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force each had different qualification rules for the Korea Medal:

  • Royal Navy personnel had to complete 28 days afloat in the operational areas of the Yellow sea and the Sea of Japan, or one or more days of shore duty.
  • Army personnel had to complete a service period of at least one day on the strength of a unit serving in Korea.
  • Royal Air Force personnel had to complete one operational sortie over Korean land or water, service of one or more days on Korean land or service of 28 days afloat in the same areas as mentioned in the Royal Navy requirements.
  • Personnel were also eligible for the medal if they completed a visit of an official nature lasting a minimum of 30 days.
  • Personnel of any service were eligible for the medal if they were unable to meet their service’s requirements, due to sickness, wounds or being killed.

Those personnel award a MID wore a bronze oak leaf on this medal’s ribbon.

Recipients of the Korea Medal 1950-53 were also awarded the UN Korea Medal, although the reverse situation did not apply.

UN Korea Medal 1950-53
This medal was sanctioned by the United Nations in 1951 and was awarded to all those who served with the UN forces during the Korean War. Various issues were awarded by the appropriate government, the British version being awarded to other Commonwealth service personnel. The basic qualification was one days service in Korea, with a longer period for those on official visits.

The medal was also awarded to those who served in Korea after the armistice was signed in 1953.