Altrincham war hero Bill Speakman returns to South Korea to give his Victoria Cross “to the people”

By David Prior at

Altrincham-born Bill Speakman, the only living Victoria Cross holder from the Korean War, has returned to South Korea to give his medal “to the people”.

The 87-year-old (pictured above during the ceremony today), who grew up on Moss Lane and was educated at Wellington Boys’ School in Timperley, was just 24 in 1951 when he fought off a wave of attacks from 600 Chinese and North Korean solders for more than four hours.

The only living Victoria Cross holder from the Korean War, wheelchair-bound Speakman travelled to Seoul to present his medal to the Korean people today – and even asked for his ashes to be scattered in the country.

“I decided before I died I would do something with this VC,” said Speakman.

“Because it originated in South Korea, I thought it had to come back to South Korea.”

Speakman handed his VC – Britain’s highest military decoration for valour – and nine other medals to Park Sung-choon, South Korea’s Minister of Patriots’ and Veterans’ Affairs. They will be displayed at the National War Memorial in central Seoul.

He added: “I’m not looking for glory. It’s just a sensible thing to do.”

Below: Watch Bill Speakman talk about the day he won the Victoria Cross

Speakman was the first man to receive a Victoria Cross from Queen Elizabeth II, and is one of only a handful of living holders of the award.

He was a private in what was then The Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) when his section, seriously depleted by casualties, was over-run by the enemy on November 4th 1951.

Speakman, who was 6ft 6in, collected six men and a number of grenades and led a series of charges. He 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.

Below: Bill Speakman as a soldier, and now (picture: ABF The Soldiers’ Charity)


“It was hand-to-hand; there was no time to pull back the bolt of the rifle,” he recalled. “It was November, the ground was hard, so grenades bounced and did damage.”

Press reports of the time reported that Private Speakman began throwing bottles at the enemy after running out of grenades. The bottles were in fact beer bottles sent to the line for consumption by the platoon.