Afghanistan veteran with medals and child
17 June 2013

Veteran looks back on the Korean War

On the 60th anniversary of the Korean War, SSAFA caseworker Peter West looks back.

Veteran looks back on the Korean War

Next month marks the 60th anniversary of the end of the Korean War which saw some 100,000 British troops serving in the region, many of whom were part of the last generation of National Servicemen.

A service is to be held at Westminster Abbey in July to mark the Armistice and give thanks to both the veterans and those who died fighting in the campaign. With many people's thoughts turning to the Korean War over the next few weeks, SSAFA volunteer caseworker Peter West reflects on his time in Korea and what led him to become a volunteer for SSAFA.

Peter comes from a long line of Servicemen and in 1947 was possibly the very last ‘boy soldier’ to be able to enlist at the age of 14. Initially he joined the Royal Signals whilst training and completing his education and later transferred to the Royal Army Educational Corps.

In 1952, the Korean conflict had already been underway for two years when the then 19 year old Peter headed to Korea for the final nine months of the conflict. It was unusual for the Educational Corps to be included in a war zone but Peter’s specific role as part of the British Army News Unit was to help to keep the troops informed of news from back home with a daily newsletter.

He says: “We could have been on Mars for all the news we got. It took three weeks for the chap I shared a tent with to learn that his mother had died. The work I did in spreading news of back home was vital for morale – the most important bit was getting the football scores right!”

After the Armistice Peter stayed on in Korea where he had a role in interviewing returning Prisoners of War. He recalls, “Many of the POWs had spent two and half years in the most appalling conditions that would deeply affect them, in some cases for the rest of their lives.”

Several years later, in the mid 1970s, Peter was instrumental in setting up the British Korean Veterans’ Association with which he was closely associated for many years.

Since 2000 Peter has been volunteering for SSAFA as case worker helping ex-Service men and women and their families with essential everyday things such as stair-lifts or hoists or arranging financial assistance where needed.

Peter, now 80, says: “I was still deeply in touch with the military part of my life and having had a successful career as a teacher and a businessman I decided I just wanted to do something useful. I tremendously enjoy helping where I can – and sometimes it is important just to be available to talk to people who are lonely and in need of a visitor.”

“I have discovered that there is infinitely more satisfaction in giving than in taking. Such success that I’ve had in life is almost entirely due to what I learned in the military about getting on with people, and getting on with the job that needs to be done. I hope I have been able to bring some of that to SSAFA to help make a difference to people’s lives.”

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