March 19, 2010
Two Comrades Returning to Korea
The inaugural Veterans Revisit program for the 2010 Korean War Commemoration Year will take place in mid-April, when some 200 veteran warriors from Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom travel to Korea to take part in ceremonies and to pay respect and homage to Fallen Comrades who are buried in the United Nations Memorial Cemetery in Busan. Shown above are a special twosome and Veterans will see them often throughout the one-week revisit, and always together.
Familiar to Veterans throughout the United Kingdom and some of the other Commonwealth nations are the renowned Sergeant William Speakman, Victoria Cross (right) and his neighbour and friend, Sergeant Frank Fallows. Frank is on an absence from the British Korean Veterans Association where he is extremely well known and highly respected for his many years of service as an executive officer and revisit coordinator.
The two veterans are traveling together as Sergeant Speakman suffers from severe knee problems and other ailments and Frank is accompanying him as his caregiver and also his personal conductor. This will be Sergeant Speakman’s first return to Korea since he left the country for England in January, 1952, after being recommended for the Victoria Cross, the highest decoration for bravery in the Commonwealth. The award had been approved by His Majesty King George VI, but the singularly high decoration for valour was presented to Mister Speakman by Her Majesty Elizabeth II, following the death of her father.
Sergeant Speakman’s military career did not end with the award of the Victoria Cross, nor did he drift from demanding front line roles. To the contrary, he had transferred from the Black Watch (The Royal Highland Regiment) to the King’s Own Scottish Borderers while in the Commonwealth military hospital in Kure, Japan, recovering from the wounds he received on Hill 217. He previously had been a member of the Black Watch but on strength with the KOSB while in Korea.
Later he transferred to the crack Special Air Service and served with it against insurgent forces in Malaya. He also went on to serve in Borneo and in the Radfan region of what today is Yemen. Sergeant Speakman took his release from the British Army after 20 years of service and spent many years as a resident of South Africa.
“Do You Have Bill Speakman With You?”
This gallant soldier was famous throughout all of the Commonwealth units during the last two years of the Korean War, and assuredly throughout the United Kingdom.
There were a few moments when his name came up among Canadians who were under considerable fire in Korea. The Canadian company had been seconded to the Black Watch, which had been Bill’s own regiment, although he had been attached to the King’s Own Scottish Borderers.
The few men had helped the Black Watch counterattack on the Hook and were holding the position. There was a lot of shellfire still at mid-morning. One of them was securing part of the hill his fire team would defend that evening.
The Royal Engineers had returned to work, despite the heavy fire and the many casualties still on the hill. They were digging a deep tunnel at the fire team’s position. It was to enable the troops to take shelter in the event a barrage was called onto the hill, if it were overrun by the enemy.
“What was it like when they attacked last night?” the young Canadian soldier in charge asked one of the engineers. The sapper was not that old, but talked like he was. They were at the face of the tunnel where he was chipping shale by candlelight. He fixed the young Canadians in the eye one by one and said in eerie tones, “It was terribly dark, you see. They had been shelling us for three days. Then it got very quiet. We knew they were going to come. Suddenly they started howling at us in a very horrifying way, “Hey, there, British soldier, do you have Bill Speakman with you this time?”
The Canadian leader knew it was strange spoof being incredibly handed out on a position still under much fire. A mortar bomb hit smack above. The concussion blew out the candles – and most of their breath. There were four Canadians and they instantly lit four pocket lighters. One was a British Rolls and the others were American Zippos. They all came on at once and the candles were relit.
The engineer who had been ragging them about the enemy asking for Bill Speakman was pallid and not as talkative. The leader of the Canadian team suggested that maybe the enemy might come back again that night and would the engineer still be there with them and be so bold?
In England some of the reporters had exaggerated Mr. Speakman's exploits, which were out and out singularly brave and outstanding and needed no tinny embellishment. Yet they thought so and concocted yarns about Bill and his gallant six comrades running out of grenades and so using empty Asahi beer bottles to chuck at the enemy; beer bottles and rocks. And some of them labelled him the “beer bottle hero,” or the “beer bottle VC,” which was outrageous license.
We are told that Mr. Speakman liked none of it, and did not take comfortably to the term hero - greatly less to the fanciful tales about fighting an armed enemy with stones and bottles. He pointed out how stupid the notion was, for it was pitch black and they were under fire and moving about very rapidly, so how could anyone muss about on the ground to find bottles and stones and so forth.
Bill also always reminded others that he never did anything alone. There were always his six with him, until they dwindled. They were all as brave, they all fought as hard and their objective was the same – to keep the enemy from occupying their hill. In the end it was to hold the enemy off long enough for the rest of the company to withdraw. He has told news reporters that he thinks of those men virtually every day.
Veterans from the Commonwealth nations are coming back to Korea this April in a force that will be
two infantry companies in strength, and yes, they indeed will have Bill Speakman with them!
At our request Sergeant Speakman graciously produced the medals he will wear in Korea. He recently had them court mounted for that purpose. Veterans should note and take heart that while the gallant soldier wears the Commonwealth’s highest decoration for valour, the Victoria Cross, at the lead of his medals, at the other end he wears the Korean War Service Medal that was issued to all United Nations service personnel on authority of the Republic of Korea’s first president, Syngman Rhee. This should help decide for Commonwealth Veterans around the world the question of whether or not they should wear on their left chest with their other official entitlements that coveted medal that was awarded to servicemen from 21 nations who served together in allied cause during the Korean War. Very, very well done, Sergeant William Speakman, Victoria Cross!
The following is the wording of the citation for the Victoria Cross that was published in the London Gazette on December 28, 1951.
14471590 Private William Speakman Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment), attached to the 1st Battalion The King's Own Scottish Borderers
From 0400 hrs., 4th November, 1951, the defensive positions held by 1st Battalion
The King's Own Scottish Borderers were continuously subjected to heavy and accurate
enemy shell and mortar fire. At 1545 hrs., this fire became intense and continued
thus for the next two hours, considerably damaging the defences and wounding a
number of men.
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Above article provided courtesy of the Korean War Veteran, firstname.lastname@example.org