At noon on July 27, 1953, the guns fell silent, and Corporal Peter Southwick and his comrades knew their ordeal was over.

They had just survived the last major battle of the Korean war, an encounter which had left many of them dead and wounded.

Like most young men of his age Mr Southwick, from Marston Green, was called up for national service, in his case aged 21, having just finished an apprenticeship as an electrician.

He said: “I had no idea at all when I was called up that I could end up fighting for my life in a war.”

Mr Southwick, now 81, initially tried to join the navy – but only wanted to serve for two years – and the senior service wouldn’t accept anyone for less than three. He then tried the RAF only to find the same thing.

He ended up signing up for the York and Lancaster regiment because he mistakenly thought his brother was a member. While he was with the Yorks and Lancs he was kitted up to go out to fight the insurgency in Malaya.

At the time he was friendly with a soldier in the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment and applied for a transfer.

It was approved but he arrived only to find his new battalion was to ship out to Korea – and his friend had been left behind due to medical problems. In fact Mr Southwick had taken his friend’s place.

The trip out to Korea in the Empire Fowey ship didn’t give the young soldiers much warning about the baptism of fire they were about to receive.

Mr Southwick said: “It was quite luxurious on the trip out to Korea. Firstly we went to Hong Kong and for example it was the first time I’d ever had a cocktail. It was like a cruise – and in fact it used to be a German cruise ship which was seized by the allies.”

Three months training in Hong Kong, followed by live ammunition exercises in Japan.

Mr Southwick was a corporal in D company, 1st Battalion of the ‘Dukes’ and arrived in Korea in January 1953.

In the line, he initially took part in the risky process of patrolling – terrifying and potentially deadly for those concerned.

Mr Southwick said: “When we got there it was a static war. Earlier it had been a war of movement but by then it had settled down to trenches very like World War I.

“We would go out on patrols at night into no man’s land to man listening positions to give advance warning of Chinese attacks.

“We would have to get ‘blacked up’ and try and make no sounds whatsoever. One time on patrol was one of my most dangerous moments in Korea. We were out during the ‘morning calm’. There was a blanket of mist and you couldn’t see anything, although we could hear movement. We called to the headquarters and asked to come back but they refused. Our sergeant moved us back towards our lines when suddenly the sun came up and the mist disappeared within five minutes. We were completely exposed and very lucky to get back.”

In May they were posted to a feature known as ‘The Hook’ just south of the 38th Parallel – the pre war boundary between North and South Korea.

Everyone knew that a truce was on the cards, but the Dukes had hardly arrived when they were subject to a ferocious attack by Chinese forces.

In what turned out to be the last major battle of the Korean War, Mr Southwick and his comrades were left fighting for their lives as thousands of fanatical soldiers stormed their position. Mr Southwick said: “They were ‘human wave’ attacks with terrible screaming as they charged towards us. We were shouting and screaming too and it was almost like a football match where the two sets of fans try to outdo each other.

“I was firing my rifle, trying to pick them off, and the machine guns were firing non-stop. Behind us the artillery was firing over our heads at them with phosphorous shells which keep burning when they hit people.

“They suffered terrible casualties.”

Attack after attack was launched but the Dukes managed to fight them off. During the battle the Chinese fired more than 20,000 shells into the Hook position, and in the assaults suffered an estimated 2,000 casualties, including 1,050 killed.

The Dukes lost 20 men dead, 86 wounded, and 20 missing. For their heroic defence the 1st Battalion Duke of Wellington’s Regiment was awarded the Battle Honour “The Hook”.

On July 27 the armistice with North Korea was signed and the ceasefire was set for noon that day.

The Dukes were in a rest area just behind the lines at the time. Mr Southwick said: “We were actually in a beer tent and were watching the flashes from the front line. They were still firing at 11.50am.

“Gradually the noise died down and at about 11.55am it was completely silent. I then could hear some people sobbing. We could not believe it was over.

“It was about 12.05pm when someone began to cheer and everybody joined in. It was finally the end of the fighting.”

Mr Southwick added: “It really was the forgotten war. I arrived back in Birmingham and people were asking ‘where have you been?’ ‘Where is Korea?’. The Duke of Wellington’s Regiment is a northern unit, and I didn’t have anyone to talk to who would understand what I had gone through.

“It was a terrible civil war. On the last day I heard a South Korean soldier sobbing. I found out he’d just been told his uncle and other family members had been killed in a UN bombing raid. Families were fighting each other.

“The only people who really remember are the South Koreans, but they are so grateful to us. If can get the flight over there you can’t pay for anything, and it is wonderful.

“But even now over here people don’t know anything about what the soldiers went through.”

*A memorial garden for the Korean War is being opened in Cannon Hill Park, Edgbaston, at 2pm on July 18. It includes 23 trees of Korean origin.


The war began in 1950 when North Korea, backed by the Soviet Union and China invaded South Korea.

The USA backed South Korea, supplying hundreds of thousands of troops and the United Nations also offered support.

An allied force of countries including Great Britain, Australia, Turkey, New Zealand, Greece, Thailand battled the Communist armies.

80,000 of the 100,000 British troops who served in the Korean War were national servicemen.

The armistice agreement was signed on July 27, 1953.

An estimated 4 million soldiers and civilians lost their lives.