Private Speakman in Korea
|Born||21 September 1927|
Altrincham, Cheshire, England
|Died||20 June 2018 (aged 90)|
|Years of service||1945–1967|
King's Own Scottish Borderers (att'h)
Special Air Service
|Battles/wars||Second World War|
Taegeuk Cordon of the Order of Military Merit (South Korea)
William Speakman-Pitt, VC (21 September 1927 – 20 June 2018), known as Bill Speakman, was a British Army soldier and a recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces. He was the first person to receive an honour from Queen Elizabeth II.
He was born and brought up in Altrincham, Cheshire, and educated at Wellington School. He was 24 years old and a private in the Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment), British Army, attached to the 1st Battalion, King's Own Scottish Borderers during the Korean War when the following deed took place at United Hill, for which he was awarded the VC.
On 4 November 1951 in Korea, when the section holding the left shoulder of the company's position had been seriously depleted by casualties and was being overrun by the enemy, Speakman, on his own initiative, filled his pockets with grenades going forward and pelting the Chinese with the grenades. Having thrown all of the grenades he had taken, he returned for more. Inspired by his actions six men joined him in collecting and a pile of grenades and followed him in a series of charges. He broke up several enemy attacks, causing heavy casualties and in spite of being wounded in the leg and the shoulder continued to lead charge after charge. Such was the ferocity of the fighting that they ran low on ammunition, resorting to throwing stones, ration tins and beer bottles. The enemy was kept at bay long enough to enable his company to withdraw safely. The Press of the time nicknamed him the 'beerbottle' VC, something he disliked for fear that it suggested he and his colleagues drank beer while on duty, in fact the beer was used to cool gun barrels.
Although his award was made by King George VI, Speakman was the first VC invested by Queen Elizabeth II. He later achieved the rank of sergeant and served in Malaya (with the Special Air Service), Borneo and Radfan.
Due to financial hardship, Speakman sold his original VC, using the money to put a new roof on his cottage, but later got a genuine replacement. His Victoria Cross is displayed in the National War Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh Castle. He was interviewed for the 2006 television docudrama Victoria Cross Heroes, which also included archive footage and dramatisations of his actions.
In a ceremony held in Seoul on 21 April 2015 for visiting veterans of the Korean War, Speakman gave a replica of his Victoria Cross and other medals to the people and government of South Korea. Speakman became a uniformed in-pensioner of the Royal Hospital Chelsea. Speakman died on 20 June 2018. He was buried in the United Nations Memorial Cemetery, South Korea on 19 February 2019.
- "William "Bill" Speakman VC". The Comprehensive Guide to the Victoria and George Cross. Retrieved 23 July 2016.
- Our Queen at Ninety. ITV, 28 March 2016
- "No. 39418". The London Gazette (Supplement). 25 December 1951. p. 6731.
- Ministry of Defence Archived 1 April 2011 at the Wayback Machine
- "Korean War Hero From U.K. Donates Medals, Asks South Korea to 'Remember Me'". 22 April 2015. Retrieved 22 April 2015.
- "Interviews". Victoria Cross Heroes. Retrieved 6 July 2008.[permanent dead link]
- Salmon, Andrew (21 April 2015). "The Telegraph". Retrieved 22 April 2015.
- "Bill Speakman, Altrincham's great war hero and the first person to receive a Victoria Cross from Queen Elizabeth, dies aged 90". Altrincham Today. 21 June 2018. Archived from the original on 21 June 2018. Retrieved 21 June 2018.
- Reynolds, Mark (29 March 2019). "Hero Bill Speakman buried with his Korea Comrades". Express Newspapers. Retrieved 15 September 2019.
- The Last Eleven? (Mark Adkin, 1991)
- Monuments to Courage (David Harvey, 1999)
- The Register of the Victoria Cross (This England, 1997)
- Symbol of Courage:A History of the Victoria Cross (Max Arthur, 2004)
- Beyond the Legend: Bill Speakman VC (Derek Hunt & John Mulholland, The History Press, 2013)