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This page provides the details of the four Victoria Cross medals awarded for gallantry in the Korean War 1950-53.
James Power Carne
Lieutenant Colonel (later Colonel) Carne was born on 11 April 1906 in Falmouth, Cornwell. He was the Commanding Officer of the 1st Battalion, The Gloucestershire Regiment.
On 22-23 April 1951 near the Imjin River, Korea, Lieutenant Colonel Carne's battalion was heavily engaged by vastly superior numbers of North Korean troops. Throughout the this time Colonel Carne went among the battalion under very heavy mortar and machine gun fire, inspiring the confidence and the will to resist the repeat enemy attacks. On two separate occasions, armed with a rifle and grenades, he personally led assault parties which drove back the enemy and save important situations. His courage, coolness and leadership was felt through the whole brigade.
The VC awarded to Colonel Carne was published in the London Gazette on 27 October 1953:
On the night 22nd-23rd April, 1951, Lieutenant-Colonel CARNE'S battalion, 1 Glosters, was heavily attacked and the enemy on the Imjin River were repulsed, having suffered heavy casualties. On 23rd, 24th and 25th April, 1951, the Battalion was heavily and incessantly engaged by vastly superior numbers of enemy who repeatedly launched mass attacks, but were stopped at close quarters.
During the 24th and 25th April, 1951, the Battalion was completely cut off from the rest of the Brigade, but remained a fighting entity, in face of almost continual onslaughts from an enemy who were determined at all costs and regardless of casualties, to over-run it. Throughout, Lieutenant-Colonel CARNE'S manner remained coolness itself, and on the wireless, the only communication he still had with Brigade, he repeatedly assured the Brigade Commander that all was well with his Battalion, that they could hold on and that everyone was in good heart.
Throughout the entire engagement Lieutenant-Colonel CARNE, showing a complete disregard for his own safety, moved among the whole Battalion under very heavy mortar and machine gun fire, inspiring the utmost confidence and the will to resist, amongst his troops. On two separate occasions, armed with a rifle and grenades he personally led assault parties which drove back the enemy and saved important situations. Lieutenant-Colonel CARNE'S example of courage, coolness and leadership was felt not only in his own Battalion, but throughout the whole Brigade. He fully realised that his flanks had been turned, but he also knew that the abandonment of his position would clear the way for the enemy to make a major breakthrough and this would have endangered the Corps.
When at last it was apparent that his Battalion would not be relieved and on orders from higher authority, he organised 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.
Colonel Carne died at Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, on 19 April 1986.
The medals awarded to Colonel Carne are on display in the Soldiers of Gloucestershire Museum.
Philip Kenneth Edward Curtis
Lieutenant Curtis was born on 7 July 1926 at Devonport, Devon. He was a member of The Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry, attached to the 1st Battalion, the Gloucestershire Regiment.
On 22-23 April 1951 near the Imjin River, Korea, during a heavy North Korea attack, No. 1 Platoon commanded by Lieutenant Curtis, was ordered to carry out a counter attack which was initially successful, but was eventually held up by heavy fire. The Lieutenant then ordered some of his men to give covering fire while he himself rushed the main position of resistance. In this charge he was severely wounded but he insisted on making a second attempt. During this second attempt, Lieutenant Curtis was killed within a few feet of his objective.
The VC awarded posthumously to Lieutenant Curtis was published in the London Gazette on 1 December 1953:
During the first phase of the Battle of the Imjin River on the night of 22nd/23rd April, 1951, "A" Company, 1 Glosters, was heavily attacked by a large enemy force. By dawn on 23rd April, the enemy had secured a footing on the "Castle Hill" site in very close proximity to No. 2 Platoon's position.
The Company Commander ordered No. 1 Platoon, under the command of Lieutenant CURTIS, to carry out a counter-attack with a view to dislodging the enemy from the position. Under the covering fire of medium machine guns, the counter-attack, gallantly led by Lieutenant CURTIS, gained initial success but was eventually held up by heavy fire and grenades. Enemy from just below the crest of the hill were rushed to reinforce the position and a fierce fire-fight developed, grenades also being freely used by both sides in this close quarter engagement.
Lieutenant CURTIS ordered some of his men to give him covering fire while he himself rushed the main position of resistance; in this charge Lieutenant CURTIS was severely wounded by a grenade. Several of his men crawled out and pulled him back under cover but, recovering himself, Lieutenant CURTIS insisted on making a second attempt. Breaking free from the men who wished to restrain him, he made another desperate charge, hurling grenades as he went, but was killed by a burst of fire when within a few yards of his objective.
Although the immediate objective of this counter-attack was not achieved, it had yet a great effect on the subsequent course of the battle; for although the enemy had gained a footing on a position vital to the defence of the whole ompany area, this success had resulted in such furious reaction that they made no further effort to exploit their success in this immediate area; had they done so, the eventual withdrawal of the Company might well have proved impossible.
Lieutenant CURTIS'S conduct was magnificent throughout this bitter battle.
Lieutenant Curtis is buried in the UN Memorial Cemetery: Plot 33, Column 10, Row 9.
The medals are now kept by the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry Museum.
Major Muir was born on 6 March 1912 at Chester. He was a member of the 1st Battalion, The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders (Princess Louise's).
On 23 September 1950 near Songju, Korea, there was difficulty in evacuating the wounded after a position had been captured, until Major Muir arrived with a stretcher party. When the North Koreans started to launch a series of attacks on the captured positions, Major Muir took command and after a direct hit from a fire bomb, causing further casualties, he led a counter attack and the crest of the position was retaken. He was determined to hold it until all the wounded had been evacuated and moved about his small force continually encouraging them, and firing a 2-inch mortar himself until he was killed.
The VC awarded posthumously to Major Muir was published in the London Gazette on 5 January 1951:
On 23rd September, 1950, " B " and " C " Companies of the 1st Battalion, The Argyll and Sutherlands Highlanders, attacked an enemy-held feature, Hill 282, and by 0800 hours had consolidated upon it. Some difficulty was experienced in evacuating the wounded from the position and demands were made for stretcherbearing parties to be sent forward by the Battalion. At this juncture the position came under mortar and shell fire. At approximately 0900 hours a stretcher-bearing party arrived and with it came the Battalion Second-in-Command, Major K. Muir. He proceeded to organise the evacuation of the casualties.
At approximately 0930 hours, small parties of the enemy started to infiltrate on the left flank necessitating the reinforcing of the forward platoon. For the next hour this infiltration increased, as did the shelling and mortaring, causing further casualties within the two companies.
By 1100 hours, casualties were moderately severe and some difficulty was being experienced in holding the enemy. In addition, due to reinforcing the left flank and to providing personnel to assist with the wounded, both companies were so inextricably mixed that it was obvious that they must come under a unified command. Major MUIR, although only visiting the position, automatically took over command and with complete disregard for his own personal safety, started to move around the forward elements, cheering on and encouraging the men to greater efforts despite the fact that ammunition was running low. He was continually under enemy fire, and, despite entreaties from officers and men alike, refused to take cover.
An air-strike against the enemy was arranged and air recognition panels were put out on the ground. At approximately 1215 hours the air-strike came in, but unfortunately the aircraft hit the Companies' position instead of that of the enemy. The main defensive position was hit with fire bombs and machine gun fire, causing more casualties and necessitating the withdrawal of the remaining troops to a position some fifty feet below the crest. There is no doubt that a complete retreat from the hill would have been fully justified at this time. Only some thirty fighting men remained and ammunition was extremely low. Major MUIR, however, realised that the enemy had not taken immediate advantage of the unfortunate incident and that the crest was still unoccupied although under fire.
With the assistance of the three remaining officers, he immediately formed a small force of some thirty all ranks and personally led a counter-attack on the crest. To appreciate fully the implication of this, it is necessary to realise how demoralising the effect of the air-strike had been and it was entirely due to the courage, determination and splendid example of this officer that such a counterattack was possible. All ranks responded magnificently and the crest was re-taken.
From this moment on, Major MUIR'S actions were beyond all possible praise. He was determined that the wounded would have adequate time to be taken out and he was just as determined that the enemy would not take the crest. Grossly outnumbered and under heavy automatic fire, Major MUIR moved about his small force re-distributing fast diminishing ammunition and when the ammunition for his own weapon was spent, he took over a 2 inch mortar which he used with very great effect against the enemy. While firing the mortar, he was still shouting encouragements and advice to his men and for a further five minutes the enemy were held.
Finally, Major MUIR was hit with two bursts of automatic fire which mortally wounded him, but even then he retained consciousness and was still as determined to fight on. His last words were: "The Gooks will never drive the Argylls off this hill".
The effect of his splendid leadership on the men was nothing short of amazing and it was entirely due to his magnificent courage and example and the spirit which he imbued in those about him that all wounded were evacuated from the hill, and, as was subsequently discovered, very heavy casualties inflicted on the enemy in the defence of the crest.
Major Muir is buried in the UN Memorial Cemetery at Busan, Korea: Plot 34, Column 8, Row 6.
Major Muir's Victoria Cross is now displayed at the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Museum.
Private (later Sergeant) Speakman was born on 21 September 1927 at Altrincham, Cheshire. He was a member of The Black Watch (Royal Highlanders), attached to the 1st Battalion, The King's Own Scottish Borderers.
On 4 November 1951 in Korea, when the section holding the left shoulder of the company's position had suffered serious casualties and was being overrun by North Korean troops, Private Speakman, on his own initiative, collected six men and a pile of grenades and led a series of charges. He broke up several enemy attacks, causing heavy casualties and in spite of being wounded continued to lead the charge after charge. He kept the North Korean troops at bay long enough to enable the company to withdraw safely.
The VC awarded to Private Speakman was published in the London Gazette on 28 December 1951:
From 0400 hours, 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 hours, this fire became intense and continued for the next two hours, considerably damaging the defences and wounding a number of men.
At 1645 hours, the enemy in their hundreds advanced in wave upon wave against the King's Own Scottish Borderers' positions, and by 1745 hours, fierce hand to hand fighting was taking place on every position.
Private Speakman, a member of B Company, Headquarters, learning that the section holding the left shoulder of the Company's position had been seriously depleted by casualties, had had its N.C.Os. wounded and was being overrun, decided on his own initiative to drive the enemy off the position and keep them off it. To effect this he collected quickly a large pile of grenades and a party of six men. Then displaying complete disregard for his own personal safety he led his party in a series of grenade charges against the enemy; and continued doing so as each successive wave of enemy reached the crest of the hill. The force and determination of his charges broke up each successive enemy onslaught and resulted in an ever mounting pile of enemy dead.
Having led some ten charges, through withering enemy machine gun and mortar fire, Private Speakman was eventually severely wounded in the leg. Undaunted by his wounds, he continued to lead charge after charge against the enemy and it was only after a direct order from his superior officer that he agreed to pause for a first field dressing to be applied to his wounds. Having had his wounds bandaged, Private Speakman immediately rejoined his comrades and led them again and again forward in a series of grenade charges, up to the time of the withdrawal of his Company at 2100 hours.
At the critical moment of the withdrawal, amidst an inferno of enemy machine gun and mortar fire, as well as grenades, Private Speakman led a final charge to clear the crest of the hill and hold it, whilst the remainder of his Company withdrew. Encouraging his gallant, but by now sadly depleted party, he assailed the enemy with showers of grenades and kept them at bay sufficiently long for his Company to effect its withdrawal.
Under the stress and strain of this battle, Private Speakman's outstanding powers of leadership were revealed and he so dominated the situation, that he inspired his comrades to stand firm and fight the enemy to a standstill. His great gallantry and utter contempt for his own personal safety were an inspiration to all his comrades. He was, by his heroic actions, personally responsible for causing enormous losses to the enemy, assisting his Company to maintain their position for some four hours and saving the lives of many of his comrades when they were forced to withdraw from their position.
Private Speakman's heroism under intense fire throughout the operation and when painfully wounded was beyond praise and is deserving of supreme recognition.
Private Speakman's Victoria Cross is on display at the National War Museum of Scotland.
William Speakman died on 20 June 2018, aged 90, in London.