Sculptor Philip Jackson’s latest memorial, costing £1m, was unveiled in central London on 3rd December 2014, commemorating what many call the ‘forgotten war’. Of the 16 members of the United Nations fighting for South Korea against the North during the Korean War (1950-53), London is the last capital city to erect a memorial. Jackson’s sculpture, commissioned by the Lady R Foundation and funded by the Republic of Korea, has at last brought an end to the British veterans’ ongoing campaign to achieve the recognition they felt the war deserved.
Jackson is often the first point of call for high-profile public monuments, having been commissioned to execute the Falklands War Sculpture (1992), Queen Elizabeth Memorial (2009), and most recently the Bomber Command Memorial (2012), for which he was awarded the 2013 Marsh Award for Excellence in Public Sculpture by the PMSA.
But why is it only now, 60 years after the Korean Armistice Agreement was signed bringing an end to the Korean War, that the memorial has been erected? After all, 90,000 British soldiers were deployed to South Korea, 1,000 were taken as prisoners of war, and 1,106 lost their lives. One significant reason for the delay seems to have been the lack of space in central London. The monument is positioned in front of the Grade 1 listed Ministry of Defence building in Victoria Embankment Gardens, defined by Westminster Council in their planning document Statues and Monuments in Westminster as a ‘Monument Saturation Zone’. Speaking to 3rd Dimension last year, Councillor Robert Davis explained: ‘We are under pressure because everybody wants to commemorate something in the central part of Westminster.’ New memorials, he said, were only allowed ‘in exceptional circumstances’, but there had been a ‘great amount of pressure about the Korean War Memorial’ because ‘the Korean War is the only major war which hasn’t been commemorated’ and so it was accepted. more
Cast in bronze, Jackson’s unique statue of a British soldier will be a permanent feature in the landscape, readily seen and never forgotten. The soldier, who is life and a half size, stands in front of an inscribed and carved 6-metre tall obelisk of Portland stone on a base of Welsh slate. The carvings on the obelisk include an image of the Korean Peninsula, the flag of the Republic of Korea, and behind the soldier, a depiction of Korea’s mountainous landscape. Jackson began work on the sculpture in March 2014 and it was cast at the Morris Singer Art Foundry at Alton, Hampshire later that year.
Jackson described his concept for the sculpture to 3rd Dimension explaining that it is designed to commemorate ‘all those who died in the Korean War from 1950-1953. The British soldier is portrayed in winter kit, poncho, padded parker and trousers, standing looking down at a battlefield grave. He is bowing his head, saying farewell to a comrade who’s been killed. In a last gesture of respect, the soldier has removed the helmet that is now held in his arm. This is to evoke a feeling sadness and pathos.’ He added that the soldier ‘represents all regiments, all British soldiers who lost their lives’ in this conflict.
The commemorative ceremony was led by HRH the Duke of Gloucester and attended by 500 guests, including 320 veterans, the Defence Secretary, The Rt. Hon. Michael Fallon MP, Foreign Office Minister, The Right Hon. Hugo Swire MP and the Republic of Korea’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Yun Byung-se. Addressing the ceremony, Michael Fallon said: ‘We must never allow the notion of a “forgotten war” to take hold. Where Britain’s armed forces put their lives on the line for their country, this must be commemorated, and in the right way.’ Hugo Swire endorsed this adding: ‘It is absolutely right that veterans of the Korean War now, finally, have a permanent memorial in our capital city, and I am proud to be able to honour their memory.’
The memory of Britain’s involvement in the Korean War has at last been immortalised in physical form. The remaining members of the British Korean Veterans Association, now mostly in their 80s have achieved their goal and will be disbanding. Their battle won, they can rest assured that they, and their fellow comrades, will never be forgotten.
Main image: Detail from the Korean War Memorial, 2014, Victoria Embankment Gardens, London WC2