The Queen's first Victoria Cross

Your company is depleted. You're outnumbered. And you’re under attack. What do you do? For Korean War Veteran Bill Speakman, surrender was not an option.

On 4 November 1951, rounding up six of his comrades, Bill gathered a pile of grenades and led a series of charges against North Korean and Chinese soldiers. Despite injuries to his shoulder and leg, he thwarted their attacks time after time. At one point, when he’d run out of grenades, he threw empty beer bottles in a desperate attempt to protect his regiment. It worked. He kept the enemy soldiers at bay long enough for his comrades to withdraw safely.

“You just do what you’re trained to do as a soldier. We fought that night and held our ground. We did what we had to.” Bill Speakman

Bill's story

Extensive military career

Bill Speakman VC is a father of seven from Altrincham, Manchester. He served from 1945 to 1970 in The Black Watch, The Argyll and Southern Highlanders and The King’s Own Scottish Borderers (KOSB). During his military career Bill was posted in Italy, Greece, Malaya, Borneo and Korea. In 1951 he was awarded a Victoria Cross (VC) – the first to be invested by Queen Elizabeth II – for protecting his comrades in battle during the Korean War.

Bill, a private, and his Sergeant Major were wounded in the action and taken to a hospital in Koori, Japan. It was in Koori that he was informed of being awarded the Victoria Cross – the highest military decoration awarded for valour "in the face of the enemy" to members of the British Armed Forces.

“The ceremony took place inside the palace. It was a wonderful moment. I think she was nervous and I was very nervous.” Bill Speakman

Ongoing care and support

The Legion continues to offer Bill care and support. Bill now lives in sheltered accommodation and the Legion has helped raise funds from his regiments to pay for a mobility scooter to enable him to be as mobile and active as possible. We arranged a holiday break for Bill at one of our break centres. We helped him to relocate his home after doctors recommended a move to help with his osteoarthritis. And we'll continue to be there for him for as long as he needs us.

“I'm always very grateful for everything the Legion does. I would recommend anyone in the Armed Forces to contact them if they need help.” Bill Speakman

Support the Royal British Legion

Bill appeared across the UK in newspapers and magazines as well as on posters and billboards as an Ambassador in our 2013 Poppy Appeal campaign. Share his and our other stories to show people how The Royal British Legion's poppy is both a symbol of Remembrance and one of hope for our recent veterans and serving men, women and their families.

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