Sergeant Bill Speakman, 90, passed away peacefully on 20th June at the Royal Hospital Chelsea with his family around him.
Bill was the first soldier to receive a Victoria Cross, the highest award for gallantry that a British and Commonwealth serviceman can achieve, from Queen Elizabeth II.
His career in the British Army started in the Black Watch in 1945 where he went on to serve in Germany, Italy and Hong Kong. He then volunteered for Korea with the King’s Own Scottish Borderers in 1951.
In that regiment, Bill was awarded the prestigious Victoria Cross, at just 24 years old. He held off waves of attackers from Chinese and North Korean soldiers. Bill broke up several enemy attacks, causing heavy casualties and, despite receiving a shrapnel wound in his leg, continued to lead charge after charge. He kept the enemy at bay long enough to enable his company to withdraw safely.
In 2015, he donated his medal to the people of South Korea, saying:
“Because it originated in South Korea, I thought it had to come back to South Korea. They [the people of the country] can have my medals so future generations can look and see what it was all about.”
The Soldiers’ Charity was honoured to be able to interview Bill for our bi-annual FrontLine magazine in 2012 where he shared with us his memory of first finding out about his Victoria Cross:
“I remember I was in a camp in Japan during the Korean War, and I was sent for by the Camp Commandant and I thought, ‘gosh, what have I done now’ because I was always getting into mischief. He gave me the ribbon and I looked at it and said ‘well what is it Sir?’ because I didn’t know, I honestly didn’t know.”
From everyone at ABF The Soldiers’ Charity, we would like to thank Sergeant Bill Speakman for his bravery and dedication to the British Army.