Imperial War Museum Centurion tanks and men of the Gloucestershire Regiment advancing to attack Hill 327 in Korea. © IWM (KOR 649)
History

Glorious Glosters: Memories Of The Brutal Korean War

More than 700 Glosters fought in the brutal and bloody Battle of Imjin. A third were killed or wounded and hundreds were taken prisoner.

Imperial War Museum Centurion tanks and men of the Gloucestershire Regiment advancing to attack Hill 327 in Korea. © IWM (KOR 649)

During the brutal and bloody Korean War, veteran Sam Mercer lost his sight in one eye, fought Chinese soldiers, became a prisoner of war, was wounded so badly that his leg was amputated but says that he would not change a thing because he met the love of his life.

"When I say she was a lovely lady that's an underestimate. I can't be grateful enough to her for what she did. I'm a very lucky man."

The former Company Infantryman with 1st Battalion The Gloucestershire Regiment, known as the “Glorious Glosters”, joined Hal Stewart on Forces Radio BFBS to mark the 67th anniversary of the Korean War to tell his incredible story including memories of Lt Philip Curtis who was posthumously awarded a Victoria Cross for his actions during the attempt to retake Castle Hill.

"There was a sleeping bag on the hill, we gently pushed his body into it, we said a prayer and left him. There's never time in those circumstances to bury your dead, you can't."

Sam Mercer MBE Korean War Veteran With Hal Stewart Forces Radio BFBS

The Glorious Glosters, whose motto was “by our deeds we are known”, were forced into a far-off conflict, which arose from a division of Korea in 1950 between the Communist North and the democratic state of South Korea.

The North was assisted by China and, as they were then known, the Soviet Union. While the South had a United Nations Force lead by the United States behind them.

More than 700 Glosters fought in the brutal and bloody Battle of Imjin. A third were killed or wounded and hundreds were taken prisoner.

Sam, who was made a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, begins by describing that time in his life.

"We were told that we were for active service in the far east. We found out that it was Korea and people said 'Korea? Where the hell's that?'. We were just going from pillar to post."

Picture: C and D Companies of the 1st Battalion, The Gloucestershire Regiment, having captured Hill 327, waiting for the next phase of the attack. © IWM (BF 378)

In the clip below Sam describes to Hal the devastating events that took place between 22 and 25 April 1951 during which 750 men from Sam’s regiment were outnumbered and eventually surrounded by Chinese forces on Hill 235, an area of land that became known as Gloster Hill. In the heat of the battle, Sam was defending a strategic route to Seoul.

"I think the Chinese had expected to just simply carve a way straight through us. They hadn't expected us to resist... as long as we did. Yes, we upset their timetable."

Picture: An officer of 1st Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment indicates to a military observer the area on Hill 235 in Korea where the battalion fought against Chinese Communist Forces in April 1951. © IWM (BF 10280)

Sam had resisted capture as long as he could manage but eventually, the Chinese overpowered the Glosters with mortar rounds.

"It took the sight out of my eye straight away, the shrapnel in my leg. That obviously was the end of my part in the battle. I rapidly became tail-end Charlie, couldn't keep up."

After two and a half years in captivity, Sam finally returned to the UK following a period of treatment from the American allies.

"The day I was released they took us in an ambulance down to an airstrip, into a helicopter, never been so frightened in all my life, I'd never seen one before. After all I'd been through I thought I was going to have my head cut off by a rotor."

Korea has been dubbed the forgotten war because it fell between the Second World War and Vietnam War. Theirs is a sacrifice which is sadly often overlooked.

In the clip below Hal asks Sam about the incredible love story that started on D Ward at Queen Mary's Hospital in Roehampton with his wife Audrey who sadly died from liver cancer a few years ago.

"She smiled at me over her face mask and I was smitten, I was done for. As soon as I was established on my first limb I went courting and the following year we were married."

Picture: Centurion tanks and men of the Gloucestershire Regiment advancing to attack Hill 327 in Korea. © IWM (KOR 649)

The Korean War lasted three years, and it was intense and bloody. Hal asked Sam about his reflections on the conflict.

"My feelings are it was a job that had to be done... Alright we upset the Russians, we probably upset the Chinese too but we had a job to do and we did it. And I think personally that we did it rather well."

Picture: A Centurion tank of the 8th King's Royal Irish Hussars, firing on Chinese positions on Hill 327, in preparation for the assault by 1st Battalion, The Gloucestershire Regiment on 16 February 1951. © IWM (BF 385)

On Remembrance Day Forces Radio BFBS will remember many from conflicts across the world and across the ages thanks to people like Sam who keep the memories alive.

Visit our interactive memory map, commemorating our British Armed Forces in worldwide wars and conflicts (both combat and peacekeeping) since the First World War > http://bit.ly/2h4sV8N

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