Friends Service Unit in Korea: 1952-57
In the aftermath of the Korean War (1950-53), The Friends Service Unit (FSU) – a joint arm of the British Friends Service Council (FSC) and the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) – provided humanitarian and medical aid to refugees and others affected by the war.
War between North and South Korea broke out in 1950. By January 1951, six million people (one third of the Korean population) had become refugees. Thirty thousand children were in orphanages and as many again were without shelter. The UN was providing food relief and carrying out mass inoculations against diseases such as smallpox and typhoid. Nevertheless, tuberculosis was rife.
In October 1952, the UN invited civilian organisations, including the Quakers, to help with relief efforts. Jonathan Rhodes from the AFSC and Lewis Waddilove from FSC visited South Korea, and identified Cholla Pukto, where there were two hundred thousand mainly North Korean refugees, and Kunsan, where there were thirty three thousand, as areas where Friends could be of most use.
In July 1953, a ceasefire was signed, and Frank and Patricia Hunt arrived to set up the Friends Service Unit, setting up base in Kunsan. In October, an international team of doctors, nurses and a physiotherapist arrived from England, Ireland, Scotland, Sweden, Norway and the USA. They lived in a Korean house and operated out of the provincial hospital.
Kunsan Hospital had been left unfinished after the Japanese withdrawal from Korea and had then been bombed by the Americans. There was little equipment, no heating, no running water and only intermittent electricity. The AFSC shipped relief supplies of food, medicine and bedding. Social workers from the USA and Norway began to assess welfare needs. Warm clothing and bedding were distributed by local volunteers. Milk stations were set up serving hot milk and vitamins to children and pregnant women.
Over the winter, the priority lay in dealing with malnutrition. However, plans were being drawn up for the rehabilitation of refugees. American Quaker Floyd Schmoe, who had been helping with reconstruction work following the bombing of Hiroshima in Japan, set up Houses For Korea - a building project that provided refugees with the materials and training to construct their own houses. Schools were started in the camps, with Korean teachers paid for by the FSU. Adult literacy classes were started for war widows, and games of volleyball and basketball were organised.
Sewing machines were brought, and the war widows opened tailoring shops, a dry cleaners, and a business making soya bean curd. Goats, bees and seeds for planting allowed the refugees to supply some of their own food.
In cooperation with the UN, Friends ran a training school for Nurse Aides. They restored the Pathology lab at the hospital and trained lab technicians. David Ward, the physiotherapist, helped to fit prosthetics, made by local craftsmen, to those who had lost limbs in the war. A nurse, Ann Sealey, and a doctor, Jean Sullivan, started an antenatal and midwifery service.
The FSU started an outpatients’ service for sick children and opened a children’s ward in the hospital, where the children were looked after by a House Mother. In some cases, children had been abandoned by their families and Friends arranged adoption with families in America.
The Korean authorities had little money to pay hospital staff and locals’ salaries were often paid in part by the FSU. Throughout the time the FSU operated, the AFSC continued to provide vital medical supplies.
The FSU continued to operate until 1957, under the leadership first of Geoff Hemingway (1953-56) and then under Robert Grey.