For many, the name Dr. John Cornes will be unknown. However, he and his wife, Jean, journeyed to South Korea in the 1950s and returned with some extraordinary and valuable tales to tell. Dr. Cornes, who sadly passed away in 2012, was honoured at the Embassy of the Republic of Korea in the UK last Friday. Jean Cornes, on behalf of her late husband, was joined by her family to receive the Order of Diplomatic Service Merit and Heung-In Medal in commemoration of Dr. Cornes’ work in Korea between 1953 and 1956 after the war. The Heung-In Medal is given to a person for their “meritorious service to the extension of national prestige overseas and to the promotion of friendship with other nations”.
There is certainly no doubt that Dr. Cornes did much to promote friendship between our country and South Korea. As Quakers, Dr. Cornes and his wife volunteered to travel over to South Korea in 1954 with the Friends Service Unit and were attached to the UN Korean Reconstruction Agency. The UN Korean Reconstruction Agency (UNKRA) was an economic-rehabilitation program in the 1950s which was set up to help aid South Korea in recovering from the 1945 partition and war. Not only was Dr. Cornes a hugely valuable asset on the medical front, but Jean was also a midwife who trained other nurses, passing down her knowledge. Together, they worked in a hospital in Gunsan, where they mainly treated refugees.
A very unique factor about Dr. John Cornes was that during his time in South Korea, he took many pictures on coloured slides. These slides detailed his time working in the hospital as well as his travels around Gunsan and its neighbouring islands. In these slides he captured and documented the scenery and people of South Korea during the 1950s. In the past, Dr. Cornes has displayed these slides at the KCC UK, regaling everyone with his tales and showing audiences snippets of how different life was during the 1950s in South Korea. Some of Dr. Cornes amazing slides can be seen here, from when he gave a lecture at the KCC UK, and more information about his life can be found here.
In honour of Dr. Cornes amazing work as a doctor and contributions as part of the UNKRA, the Embassy of the Republic of Korea in the UK posthumously awarded him with the Diplomatic Service Merit and Heung-In Medal, which his wife Jean accepted in his place. His Excellency Ambassador Suk Hwan Park lead the day’s ceremony by thanking Jean and her late husband for all the hard work they contributed and talked about the period of South Korean history they experienced. Jean was presented with the Award and Medal in the presence of her family and commemorate photos were taken. It was amazing to see so many family and friends join her for this special event; they all looked very proud and happy to be able to honour the amazing contributions this couple made to South Korea and to celebrate the memory of Dr. Cornes.
Afterwards, the Embassy and media interviewed Jean along with her and Dr. Cornes’ son. These interviews gave us a chance to learn about her extraordinary life in Gunsan, giving us a little insight into what life was like during this era. For instance, she told us how soon after their marriage Dr. Cornes asked if she’d be willing to go to South Korea. She readily accepted even though her family disapproved and worried about this move. She also talked about how she worked and taught alongside a translator, who soon became a trusted and valuable friend. She mentioned that some of the overwhelming memories she had of her time in South Korea were of how friendly and warm the people were, something which has never changed when she visited again years later. The landscape may have changed, but the generosity of the people have not and the day’s ceremony certainly reflected this. Jean was thankful so many friends and family, as well as the Embassy, had gathered to pay tribute to her husband, and was sure in some way, he was watching too.
We hope Jean Cornes had a thoroughly enjoyable day, it certainly seemed like she did! Dr. John Cornes was an amazing man, who is truly missed. Although he couldn’t receive the Diplomatic Service Merit and Heung-In Medal in his lifetime, his memory and contribution to South Korea is one that will continue to be honoured.