Cranleigh students were treated to a first-hand account of military action in the Korean War by OC Lt John Bowler last Wednesday evening in the annual Knoller Society lecture. John, who was in West House from 1945-1949, went on to serve in the Welch Regiment after leaving Cranleigh. Almost immediately he was shipped off to fight with UN forces on the Korean peninsula, following the invasion of South Korea by communist North Korean forces in 1950. By 1951, the UN forces were in a stalemate against Chinese troops on the 38th Parallel between North and South Korea.
John proceeded to tell Cranleigh historians a gripping story of one of his most memorable patrols that he commanded in 1951, known as “The Diggings”. He was to lead a group of men out of the British positions, across no-man’s land and the high ground occupied by the enemy, to ‘wake up’ the Chinese troops and force them into a counter attack. The audience hung on John’s every words as he went through the planning and discipline needed in order to achieve their objective, before going through the difficulties his patrol encountered, including a dramatic radio failure at a vital moment when support was needed. After engaging the Chinese, John’s patrol had to reassemble and fight their way back across no-man’s land to their position, before calling in a huge artillery and airstrike onto the approaching enemy troops. This extraordinary tale was made all the better by the fact that through exceptional leadership and discipline, all of John’s patrol made it out alive having achieved their objective.
John has also been instrumental in lobbying the British government to erect a Korean War memorial in London. The UK had previously been the only country involved in the Korean War not to have a memorial to the men that lost their lives. He also played a major role in the wording on the memorial which reads: “ In this fierce and brutal conflict those who fought included many Second World War veterans reinforced by reservists and young national servicemen. The land battle was fought against numerically superior communist forces, the terrain was mountainous and the weather extreme. 81,084 British servicemen served in the theatre of operations. 1,106 were killed in action, thousands were wounded and 1,060 suffered as prisoners of war”.
This was a remarkable lecture and was at a perfect time for both AS and GCSE history students who will be answering questions on the conflict in their upcoming exams.