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Korea and the Glorious Glosters
As a child, one of the best memories I have is that of sitting around our hearth on a cold winter's night listening to my Dad tell stories of his time in the Army and some of the things he used to get up to. The kind of things that young boys dream of and hope one day to go and do something similar.
The stories were great but as I got older I realized that soldiers are great story tellers and sometimes in the telling a little 'artistic license' could creep in, but you never could know where it came in and if the story was true or not.
One story he used to love telling us kids didn't happen to him but to some of the men he served with in Egypt, Aden Cyprus.
See, Dad was 'called up' in the early 1950's to go and 'do his bit' and for a man who was called up in 'peacetime' to spend the next eighteen months on "Active service" (literally in three combat zones) was pretty amazing. But the wildest story he used to tell me was of the "Glorious Gloucesters" and their time in Korea.
They say that the truth is stranger than fiction at times and for a long time I've remembered the story but thought that it had to be embellished but after reading a hub recently about Korea and some of the brave heroes that fought there I decided to do a bit of checking and to my amazement I found that it's all true what he told me, not only that but he didn't tell the half of it! It's a story so good that it's worth telling for future generations and it's worth sharing in honor of all those who served in the 'forgotten wars' of the 1950's and 1960's
Two Cap badges
A unique Regiment
take a look at the two badges above. The Cap badge in the British Army is almost always a sign of bravery in the unit. The Gloucesters have two that they wear! That was because the forerunner of the Regiment (the 28th Regiment of foot) once fought a Battle literally back to back against great odds and won the Battle. In Korea the Gloucesters were to do the same!
Actually in researching for this hub I found that the Gloucesters actually have more "Battle Honours" than any other regiment in the British Army (no mean feat when you think of some of the legendary fighting units like the Grenadier Guards, the Parachute regiment and Coldstream Guards) but they do.
Sight of the Battle for the Imjin river
Dad met these men if 1954, not long after they came from Korea, from the fight for freedom that took place. I've gone back and checked a few things out to make sure I got the details right but I can still remember the story he used to tell.
For the first fifty years of the 20th century Korea had been occupied territory. Japan had occupied the whole of the country from around 1895 but since the end of WWII Korea had effectively become two countries, the Soviet backed north and the American backed (and Democratic) south. There was an agreement to keep things that way but in 1950 The North backed by the Soviet Union and China decided to attempt to unify the country by force and launched a full scale invasion on 25th June 1950.
By September 1950 the South Koreans were pushed right back as far as Pusan in the south, the only major center of population left when the UN decided to intervene. "Peacekeepers" were sent (as it was seen as a police action) and one of the unite sent to Korea was the 29th Infantry Brigade of the British Army. Here's what Wikipedia says of the Brigade
The 29th Brigade was back in existence by 1949, and then was re-mustered after the outbreak of the Korean War as 29th Independent Infantry Brigade to reinforce the United Nations war effort. When it arrived in Korea, in December 1950, it comprised the 1st Battalion, Royal Northumberland Fusiliers, 1st Battalion, the Gloucestershire Regiment, 1st Battalion, the Royal Ulster Rifles, 8th King's Royal Irish Hussars, C Squadron, 7th Royal Tank Regiment (specialised armour), 45 Field Regiment RA, 11 LAA Battery RA, and 170 Mortar Battery RA, plus supporting units. It also incorporated elements from non-British forces, including the Belgian United Nations Command.
The brigade saw action during the third Battle for Seoul in late December 1950 and the Chinese Spring Offensive (the Battle of the Imjin River) in April 1951. In July 1951, it was re-organized as 29th British Infantry Brigade and absorbed into the 1st Commonwealth Division, the brigade finished its tour of duty in November 1951.
The Battle in the men's own words
What dad told me
He told me that the Gloucesters were there, taking heavy fire and of the seven hundred men in the battle only a handful walked away. He told me that his troop sergeant was actually captured by the Chinese and spent six months in a Chinese PoW camp, torture was routine and it left them scarred for life.
But he also told me that at the Imjin river they fought back to back in the most ferocious battle of any forces of the Korean war.
Three Victoria Crosses were won in that Battle. One was Posthumous. But the other was by far the wildest story I've ever heard and it's the part I had the hardest time believing, however in researching this hub I discovered that they are true. Here's both stories.
The site of the Battle
The Victoria Cross
The highest award for bravery that the British Commonwealth can award. Queen Victoria saw the bravery of some of the lower ranks of the forces in the Empire and decided that there should be an award for outstanding bravery above and beyond the normal call of duty.
The first Victoria Crosses were awarded in the Crimean war and tradition has it that they were made from the metal of the Russian Guns captured in the charge of the Light brigade at the Battle of Balaclava.
Tradition has it that the VC can only be awarded in wartime, but the situation in Korea and at the Battle of the Imjim was so unique that two Victoria Crosses were awarded in the Battle, one of them posthumous.
Another VC was won in Korea and Dad loved to tell me about this one. I don't think he ever came into contact with him but the story is so wild that it just has to be true
- Lieutenant Colonel James Power Carne DSO. During the fight he was seen everywhere around the Battalion's position. surrounded and outnumbered he led from the front without hope of relief below is a part of the write up in the London Gazette.When at last it was apparent that his Battalion would not be relieved and on orders from higher authority, he organized his Battalion into small, officer-led parties, who then broke out, whilst he himself in charge of a small party fought his way out, but was captured within 24 hours.
Lieutenant-Colonel Carne showed powers of leadership which can seldom have been surpassed in the history of our Army.
He inspired his officers and men to fight beyond the normal limits of human endurance, in spite of overwhelming odds and ever-increasing casualties, shortage of ammunition and of water.—London Gazette, 27th October, 1953
- Lieutenant Philip Curtis. Was with the Duke of Cornwall's light infantry but attached to the Gloucesters. On the 25th April 1951 his company were attcked and driven out of their positions on the hill. Lieutenant Curtis was given the order to retake the position as the Battalion couldn't hold if it wasn't taken. Leading his men he was badly wounded but refused to be treated until the position was taken. Leading his men (actually they couldn't stop him and they tried to!) he led from the front and charged the position.
He was killed in the attack that did fail but the Chinese woke up to the fact that their advance had caused such a ferocious response they were reluctant to try any further gains, this was one of the biggest influences on the Battle.
Private Bill Speakman
Private Speakman of the infamous Black Watch in November 1951 was on operational duty when the Battalion came under heavy fire. The fighting started at 0400 hours (4am) and went on all day. By 17.45 hours (5.45pm) the flank had been seriously depleted and virtually no NCO's or Offiers were left. Private Speakman was defending a position virtually on his own. With very little ammunition and no one else to help he turned to the only thing he had to hand Empty Beer Bottles!!!
Forty beer bottles were the only defence the Battalion had! The Chinese, thinking that the bottles were Molotov Cocktails ran away from the Battle and won the day!
Some will never forget
A strange fact
Korea may be thought of as a "police action" but more British soldiers gave their lives in that conflict than in the Falklands war, Iraq (both conflicts) and Afghanistan combined!
The Gloucester Regiment is the only British unit allowed to wear the US Presidential Unit Citation award.
The Regiment was amalgamated with two other regiments in 1994 but the traditions of the Regiment were carried on, then again you'd want those traditions to continue as a tribute to an amazing unit.
Truth stranger than fiction? probably, but the amazing thing is that as I've looked into this I realized that Dad may have been a good storyteller but he only knew half the story!
Not a normal hub
I thought that this would be a good hub to write, but to be honest as I was watching the video of the Battle I actually had tears in my eyes, the idea that men would endure incredible circumstances and fight so courageously for a people they didn't even know!
Part of the reason the for hub is to remind us that there are those who went that extra mile not just for their own country but so that others who couldn't protect themselves could live in safety. The UN can call it what they like but let's not forget those courageous men and women who have gone that extra mile to protect and serve not only their own nation but the defenseless.
To all of them we salute you.