I was there to fight disease

In June 1950 Britain sent over 80,000 men to serve in the Korean War. Sergeant Alan Guy was a hygiene assistant, sent to stop men dying from disease.

I arrived in January, aged 19. I was called a ‘hygiene assistant’: I wasn’t there to fight the Chinese, I was there to fight disease, every bit as deadly a killer.

I went round the lines advising our boys about frostbite, haemorrhagic fever, malaria… we were very conscious that in the preceding world war, more people had died and been hospitalised by disease than by wounds received.

"In the preceding world war, more people had died and been hospitalised by disease than by wounds received."

A lot of front-line problems were caused by rats, which were highly prevalent, climbing over our troops in the middle of the night. Conditions were very bad, especially in the terribly severe winter months: wheels would be stuck to the ground, snow and ice everywhere. Mind you, in summer it was blazing hot – with a monsoon in between making the whole area a quagmire! Trenches were flooded.

I remember having to dive into a shellhole and finding myself up to my waist in muddy water. When a passing American truck was able to tow our vehicle out, I spent the rest of the day feeling the mud drying out inside my uniform, as if I was being sandpapered from the inside.

Soldiers rebuild bunkers during the Korean War

Soldiers rebuild bunkers that had been destroyed by Korea's heavy spring rains

Years later, back home, I joined forces with other veterans who wanted to keep the memory of that conflict alive. We had a plaque on the wall inside St Paul’s Cathedral, but it was dark and hard to access.

Each year on 25 June, the South Korean government arranged a small service there to commemorate the war’s outbreak. About 20 veterans were able to get down there.  But we wanted something the public could share; we wanted our memorial to be more visible.

London was the only capital, of all the Allied countries that had fought the Chinese and North Korean armies, without a Korean War memorial.

"The Korean people... keep thanking us; they can’t stop thanking us."

It was the Koreans themselves who said they wanted that put right. It was their government that drove the idea forward, and raised the significant sum required to bring it to life; they were magnificent. The memorial we have now, outside the Ministry of Defence building on the Thames, was a gift from the Republic of Korea to the British people.

The Korean people I’ve subsequently met have vivid memories to this day of the sacrifices the British armed forces made. They keep thanking us; they can’t stop thanking us.

Sergeant Alan Guy by the Korean War memorial

Sergeant Alan Guy standing in front of the Korean War Memorial in London.

The inscription on the Korean War memorial.

Related Stories