Trafford Council to unveil Blue Plaque for hero soldier

Trafford Council is unveiling a Blue Plaque to war hero William Speakman VC at Altrincham Transport Interchange on Thursday, 20 June at 2pm.

Private Speakman, who was born in a house near the site of the Interchange in 1927, received the Victoria Cross for an incredible act of bravery during the Korean War on 4th November 1951.

The father-of-six leapt into action when his battalion, the 1st Battalion of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers, were under fire from 6,000 Chinese troops. Filling his pouches and all available pockets with hand grenades, he rose to his feet and pelted the attackers with grenade after grenade, pausing only to return to refill his pockets.
Inspired by his actions, six men then joined him in a concerted drive to clear the ridge of the enemy. At one point he was shot in a leg and again in the shoulder, and was directly ordered to seek medical help, but went back to the fight when the medics were not looking.  He and his friends were finally reduced to throwing stones and ration tins before a final charge cleared the ridge and the remnants of the company could withdraw.

The citation for the Victoria Cross said:

The force and determination of his charges broke up onslaught and resulted in an ever mounting pile of enemy dead. Private Speakman’s heroism under intense fire throughout the operation and when painfully wounded, was beyond praise and is deserving of supreme recognition."

Cllr Jane Baugh, Trafford Council Executive Member for Culture and Leisure, said:

Trafford Council is delighted to be unveiling a Blue Plaque to such an important historical figure from Trafford. Private William Speakman was a hero in every sense of the word and the plaque will be a lasting reminder to his bravery.”

Private Speakman was the last person in Trafford to be awarded a Victoria Cross. He left Wellington Road Secondary School in Timperley aged 14 and held various jobs before volunteering for the Scottish Black Watch regiment at the age of 17 near the end of the Second World War, seeing service in Germany, Italy and Hong Kong. Returning to Germany in 1950, he volunteered for Korea and was detached to the King’s Own Scottish Borderers.

A month after he received his VC, Private Speakman returned to Korea at his own request, to get away from all the adulation. He was demobilised in 1953 but then in 1955 served a short spell with the SAS, re-joining the King’s Own Scottish Borderers when they arrived in Malaya and rising to his final rank of Sergeant.
In 1955 he married Rachel Ann York Snitch in Singapore and together they had six children. he joined the Merchant Navy where he had a successful second career as a Master at Arms with the Union Castle Line. Having married twice more, Speakman moved to South Africa where he took up flying microlights over game reserves and enjoyed teaching paraplegics how to fly. He worked for the government as a security and maintenance manager, later meeting Nelson Mandela, whom he much admired.

Following health issues, he settled back in the UK and in 2013 he was admitted to the Royal Hospital Chelsea as an in-pensioner. He was a regular attendee at Remembrance Day parades past the Cenotaph, where he was pushed along in a wheelchair by Johnson Beharry VC.
In 2015 he returned to South Korea where he was presented the Taeguk Cordon, 1st Class of the National Order of Military Merit, their highest award. Speakman presented a replica set of his VC medal group to the South Korean Government on the same visit. 

He celebrated his 90th birthday in September 2017, though sadly his health was beginning to fail and he passed away on the 20th June 2018, at the Royal Chelsea Hospital surrounded by family.

Posted on Wednesday 12th June 2019
 

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