Colin's Story

24th June 2020

“They allowed the North Koreans to develop their evil empire while the South Koreans developed into a proper country” 

Colin Thackery - Chelsea Pensioner
Colin was 20 years old when he was deployed –the youngest in the observation post Party he served in. He still suffers from the frostbite he got while cut off by the Chinese.

“I was part of 45 Field Regiment on the OP (Observation Post) Party, assistant to the Captain, supporting the Glosters. We went all the way to the border (of China); we were to meet a company commander. They were guarding a load of engineers getting ready to blow a bridge. They said: ‘The Chinese are coming, they’re gonna be here any minute!’ Three days later we were still there, and still no Chinese. 

The officer we met was Capt Farrar-Hockley. We got into quite a number of scrapes actually. I was just a sprog then, literally the youngest. The regiment was full of reservists – all the blokes in the OP Party were years older than me. They had been right through the war. 

“Sitting next to me was a dead Chinese man, frozen solid.”

At one time, we took over some Chinese trenches. The Old Man told me to take first stag (sentry duty), so I did. It was getting dark and I was sitting in this thing with my headset on making my reports and responding on the radio. This big Yorkshireman came in, reached over and said ‘cup of tea’ then ‘who’s your friend?’ I looked round and there, sitting next to me, was a dead Chinese man, frozen solid.

You took your part as an infantryman really when on the OP. I had a revolver, but also a Sten gun. There were occasions when an attack was coming in, you couldn’t just sit there and do nothing. You started to fire back, whether you hit anyone or not. There were thousands of them, shadowy figures wearing these funny, little, quilted shell-suits.

When I got to Korea, we were in battle for a while, then all of a sudden there was going to be peace so we were told to dig in and make ourselves comfortable. The brigadier said to all the officers in the brigade, ‘Get me those young men in the concert party’. My orders were to assemble and go round and entertain.

Colin Thackery - Korean

“Several Chinese armies were preparing for an all-out push to obliterate the line defending Seoul”

In fact, the war wasn’t over at all. Several Chinese armies had managed to creep up to the thinly-stretched UN positions unseen and were preparing for an all-out push to obliterate the line defending Seoul. And of special interest was the section under the command of the British 29 Brigade, protecting the route across the Imjin river, north of what is now the South Korean capital.

I was sent back from concert duty. I got back to my unit and the Old Man said ‘Go and get some batteries, because they (the Glosters) are surrounded’.

I went haring off in a Jeep for the batteries and on the way back the MPs (Military Police) stopped me and said ‘You ain’t going anywhere, mate, they’re surrounded. No good you going up there, you’ll be taken.’ The rest of them were taken prisoner. I missed it by not being able to get back. There was a feeling of wanting to be there with the chaps, but then realising – a bit of self-preservation really. It was a good thing I wasn’t going into the bag. Korea wasn’t a happy place; it was in ruins.

“I never wanted to go back, too many memories…”

Loads of guys out there went back (after the war). I never wanted to, too many memories. It’s just that war’s a filthy business. It’s conflict and you’re in danger all the time. I don’t want to make too much of it. It was awful, war itself, all wars are awful. Life seemed to be so cheap, especially amongst the Chinese.

I think it’s extremely sad that we lost an awful lot of people; it seems to me unnecessary. And what they allowed to happen was this DMZ (demilitarised zone), and the North Koreans to develop their evil empire on the north side when the South Koreans developed themselves into a proper, civilized country. 

Koreans are very nice people, very homely, and I’m sure they didn’t want war really. I find it very, very sad. I find a parallel, too, in Afghanistan. Y’know, you often talk about these things and all those blokes we lost out there.”

Royal Hospital Chelsea Newsletter

Stay up to date with what's going on at The Royal Hospital by signing up for our e‑newsletter.

News

View the archive

Goodbye to Matron Susan Williams
Goodbye to our much-loved Matron, Susan Williams

The Royal Hospital’s Matron and Registered Manager, Susan Williams, has been a key part of our community for 10 years, so both Pensioners and staff are very sad to say goodbye to her.

Pensioner Charmaine Coleman skydiving tandem in Scarlets
This International Day of Charity we’re celebrating fundraisers

To mark the International Day of Charity on 5 September we would like to highlight just how important and valued fundraisers are to the Royal Hospital. We are so grateful to all the kind people who have devoted their time, effort and talent to help us.

Twitter

Follow @RHChelsea