South Korean town thanks Gloucester war veterans with face masks

Nicola Smith
South Korea has expressed gratitude to foreign war veterans by sending masks - Ahn Young-joon/AP

The coronavirus pandemic has given the South Korean town of Paju the chance to repay a historical war debt, by sending 1,000 sets of personal protective equipment to the town of Gloucester to protect its citizens from the respiratory disease. 

The towns, separated by more than 5,500 miles, have a shared history in the Korean War, and Gloucester officials and serving British Army units had been scheduled to join Seoul and Paju dignitaries to this year to mark the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of the 1950-53 conflict.

The ceremony was postponed due to the pandemic but Paju stepped up to gift protective gear to the cathedral town in Southwest England, to thank it for sending its young soldiers to defend South Korea decades before, said the Asia Times, which first reported the story. 

The Gloster Memorial now stands near Paju to mark where the Gloucestershire regiment and members of the Royal Artillery fought down to their last bullet against Chinese troops during “The Battle of the Imjin River” in April 1951.

Outnumbered 9-1, the Brits were completely surrounded on “Hill 235” but held off the Chinese army which was fighting for North Korea, for three days. Fifty-nine of the Gloucestershire regiment were killed in action and 522 became prisoners of war. 

North and South Korea fought against each other in the 1950s and have remained separated since - Chung Sung-jun/Getty Images

In a video message to Colin Organ, Gloucester’s mayor, from the memorial, Choi Jong-whan, the mayor of Paju, thanked Gloucestershire soldiers for their sacrifice. “You are always on our minds as young heroes,” he said. 

“Since January, Paju has been through challenging times coping with Covid-19…as a token of our commitment to sharing the pains of the novel virus with the people of Gloucester, I am sending you protective clothing filled with the sincerity of the people of Paju,” he added. 

Mr Organ has replied by letter, saying: “I am struggling to find the words that sufficiently express my gratitude,” reported the Asia Times. 

“Heartfelt thanks to the City Council of Paju in South Korea for their unexpected and most generous gift of 1000 sets of PPE to the people of Gloucestershire to mark our friendship on the 69th anniversary of the Regiment's heroic stand on the Imjin River. To friends in need,” tweeted Edward Gillespie, Lord Lieutenant of Gloucestershire. 

Through a combination of quarantine, testing and intense contact-tracing measures, South Korea has kept its Covid-19 caseload down to 11,122 infections and 264 deaths, compared to the UK’s 248,000 cases and 35,704 deaths.

The East Asian nation has donated PPE around the world, including 500,000 to US war veterans earlier this month. 

“These masks symbolize our countries’ alliance and the appreciation of the Korean people who have never forgotten the American veterans’ service and sacrifice,” Park Sam-duck, Minister of Patriots and Veterans Affairs, said in a statement. “We are always grateful for them.”