St Chad’s Church, Haggerston, helps verger and Korean War veteran Ron Miller tell his story at last
- Credit: Catherine Davison
Ron Miller, 85, fought in the Korean War aged just 18, and has been ‘living bravely with his war wounds’ ever since. Emma Bartholomew recounts his story of the ‘forgotten war’.
“I didn’t feel happy about the whole thing, but there was nothing I could do about it, so I thought I’d better get on with it.”
Ron Miller was called up for National Service in 1951 aged just 18, and sent to fight in the Korean War, which broke out in 1950 when North Korea invaded South Korea.
China had come to the aid of the North assisted by the Soviet Union, while the United Nations, with the United States as the main force, backed the South.
Because of cutbacks and difficulties recruiting regular troops so soon after the Second World War, many of those sent out to fight from the UK were National Service conscripts – just like Ron.
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The war was not well reported even at the time, and veterans refer to it as the “forgotten war”.
Ron, who lives in Fellows Court, Weymouth Terrace, set out to overcome this by recording his memoirs, with the help of his comrades at Combat Stress – a charity that has helped him with the post-traumatic stress disorder he returned with after being captured as a prisoner of war.
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His friend, Father James Westcott, from St Chad’s Church in Dunloe Street, Haggerston, where Ron is a verger, said: “He did it all off his own back. I went to visit him one afternoon and he was making a recording.
“Someone from Combat Stress came along and they put together his story, not to make a drama out of war, but to let people know there are still veterans around who commemorate it and what they’ve been through.”
Ron does not dwell on the harsh conditions he lived through as a prisoner of war in his book.
But he lost three stone because of malnutrition in the camp where they had to drink water out of a pool.
Father Westcott said: “Ron was taken out to be shot at one point for some misdemeanour like not cooking the food correctly. The damage that was done to his legs, he’s never been able to walk since. He’s been a real victim.”
Ron’s poor mother was told at one point he had been killed in action, and apparently his old school friends the Krays came around and offered to help her claim his life insurance money.
She didn’t collect the money, however, saying she just felt he was alive.
On his return in 1953 the Gazette reported how he had “come back from the dead”.
Father Westcott said: “He went for so many jobs when he returned but he couldn’t ever settle.
“It was obviously the biggest thing in his life. If he hadn’t gone out there he would have been a market porter. That’s a marvellous trade, and it’s all he wanted to do with his life. To work at Spitalfields or Smithfields. [The war] opened his eyes in a very unexpected way. Not only to see the world but to see it in a sad light.
“The thing is he was very living around here in the 1940s and 1950s and it could be an insular society, but that experience made him aware of things all over the world.
“It was an experience he didn’t expect to have. Some people did national service and worked in farming or mending fences. This war came out of the blue and it changed his life.
“When he talks, other than his ailments, all he talks about is Korea.
“People encourage him to talk about it because it’s so fascinating.
“I don’t think he does regret it now – at the time he did, obviously. But he has marvellous memories of the comradeship and the people that keep in touch even now, from all over the world.”
Ron attends ceremonies at the Tower of London four times a year for his regiment the Royal Fusiliers.
He returned to Korea several years ago where he met old comrades – and people who fought on the opposing side, too.
“He absolutely adored going back,” said Father Westcott.
“What he found most incredible was the transformation of a devastated landscape. The picture I get of what he saw was almost like a barren landscape and fighting, so he was flabbergasted to see a big modern city like Seoul.”
Ron ends his book describing how he was nominated by the church in 2012 to meet the Queen in York, as part of the Royal Maundy Money service.
“It was quite an honour to receive this and I felt very proud.
“I had a photo of myself with the Queen in the local paper: such a great day. Not a bad life.”
Copies of the book cost £4 and are available from St. Chad’s Church, with proceeds donated to the charity Combat Stress.