Blue Plaque unveiled to mark incredible bravery of Korean War hero

Trafford Council has unveiled a Blue Plaque to Altrincham-born Korean war hero William Speakman VC.
 
Private Speakman’s friends and family along with council officials and councillors paid tribute to him during the unveiling at Altrincham Interchange.
 
Private Speakman received the Victoria Cross for an incredible act of bravery on 4th November 1951. The father-of-six leapt into action when his battalion 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 the 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.
 
Three of Private Speakman’s seven children - Casper, Colin and Susie - gathered for the ceremony on Thursday afternoon. During the unveiling of the plaque, Susie said:

As a family, we feel that this tribute is every bit as special and important as that great VC honour bestowed on him by his Majesty, King George 6th.  We are extremely proud to be celebrating the formative years that influenced him as a child growing up in Moss Lane, Altrincham.

We thank those involved for making this dedication possible and for all your kind hospitality. "

The Mayor of Trafford, Councillor Robert Chilton, said:

I'm delighted that members of Bill Speakman’s family are here. By unveiling this Blue Plaque, we are ensuring that Trafford and future generations never forget Bill’s 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 Monday 24th June 2019
 

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