Lt-General John Raymond Dutton was a young lieutenant in the South African Defence Force when North Korea invaded South Korea in June 1950. In company with four other South African officers, he was sent in what he regarded as an important career opportunity to join the Commonwealth contingent of the United Nations force opposing the invasion. His main lecture of the evening detailed some of his impressions and experiences of the country, the war, and his part in it.
Korea had been part of the empire of the Japanese before their defeat in 1945, after which it was divided along the 38th parallel of latitude between the Soviet-occupied North and the US-occupied South. When the occupying powers withdrew, the heavily-armed, Soviet-sponsored North invaded the South and within a few weeks had occupied the entire country with the exception of a small area surrounding the southern port city of Pusan.
The tide of the invasion was turned when a US amphibious force under General Douglas MacArthur landed in occupied territory west of the South Korean capital of Seoul. This effectively outflanked the North Korean forces fighting in the south, which then hastily withdrew. The UN contingent then invaded North Korea, but was halted just south of the Yalu River, which marked the border with Manchuria, by a massive counter-attack by Chinese "volunteer" forces. The UN front was pushed southward, but recovered to stabilise on a line running east-west across the neck of the Korean peninsular just north of the 38th parallel. There it remained until a truce ended the fighting in July 1953.
Lieutenant Dutton was attached to the 1st Royal Tank Regiment of the British Army contingent, and was deployed along that part of the front north of Seoul facing the Chinese forces. He commanded a troop of British-built Centurion tanks, and among the many personal experiences he mentioned were the discomforts presented by the severity of the Korean climate with its intensely hot summers and bitterly cold winters, and the problem of keeping water out of the tanks in torrential rain. His troop was normally deployed close to the enemy, and in the course of the fighting his particular tank sustained two direct hits from Chinese mortars, although without sustaining damage.
When not in action, the job of a tank troop commander was to ensure that his machines were maintained in a state of complete fighting readiness, and this filled what would otherwise have been empty days. It also continued well into the post-war period when the two armies maintained a cease-fire but continued to facing one another across a demilitarised zone. Rest and recreation helped break the routine at infrequent intervals.
Judged in the context of all that has happened since WW2, the Korean conflict gives the impression of being a minor war. But it was important in that it foiled Soviet ambitions in north-east Asia and established Communist China as a military power to be reckoned with. It also showed what the UN could achieve when its members acted in unison to counter aggression.
Committee member Marjorie Dean is anxious to gather all possible information concerning any activities planned in connection with the centenary of the Anglo-Boer War. The intention is to put all available information on the society's web site as a help to anybody interested, especially the many overseas enthusiasts planning to visit South Africa for the centenary.
Members are reminded that the Friends of the Museum have fixed their next evening event for Wednesday 24th June. The subject will be South African Artillery Past and Present. As usual, the meeting will be held in the Museum Auditorium. The bar will open at 19h00 and proceedings will start at 20h00.
Members are invited to a talk by David Erskine Hill, Spinks Medal Specialist on "Famous Galantry Awards" at Military Museum Saxonwold on Sunday 21st June 18h00. Invitations from Mrs Hedley 486 0967.
George Barrell (Chairman/Scribe) (011) 791-2581