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Catterick Garrison block named after VC winner
ONE of the last surviving British Victoria Cross holders – dubbed the “Beer Bottle VC” – attended a ceremony yesterday to open a soldiers’ accommodation block in his name.
Sergeant William Speakman, 85, from Altrincham, Cheshire, is a veteran of the Korean War where he served with the King’s Own Scottish Borderers (KOSB) and received his medal in 1951.
The multi-million-pound accommodation block at the Infantry Training Centre, at Vimy Barracks, Catterick Garrison, North Yorkshire, was officially opened by Sgt Speakman and a plaque was unveiled by Lieutenant General Andrew Graham, Colonel of the Royal Regiment of Scotland.
Sgt Speakman began his Army career in 1945 with Black Watch (Royal Highlanders) attached to KOSB, and one of his first duties was to guard prisoners of war from Austria and Italy.
After serving in Germany, Hong Kong, Italy and Austria, he volunteered to serve in Korea in 1950. It was during a raid by Chinese forces in 1951 that he led a series of charges to defend the British position at United Hill, despite being severely wounded – allowing his company to withdraw safely.
“We were constantly getting shelled by Chinese troops, but as we were getting ready for a big push it seemed to be more than usual – it felt like something was going to happen,” he said. “We just did what we had to do – keep fighting to hold our ground, that’s all there was to it.”
He took six men and a pile of grenades and led a series of charges which broke up several enemy attacks, and continued in spite of being wounded in the leg.
When Sgt Speakman ran out of grenades, he said he and the men threw anything they could get their hands on including rocks and fallen weapons.
He revealed that despite being known as the “Beer Bottle VC” he was mystified where that legend came from.
“It’s true we did run out of ammunition and we were in darkness, so you pick up what you can get your hands on,” he said. “But where would you get bottles of beer from? Whoever started the story, it seems to have caught on.”
He said it was a fantastic honour to have the block named after him.