The exceptional and rare Korean War Battle of Imjin River April 1951 Prisoner of War’s British Empire Medal group awarded to Private D.C. Stockting, 1st Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment, late Dorsetshire Regiment, an inveterate trouble maker, who spent large period in military prison and gave his gaolers hell, not least as a prisoner of the Chinese, when he ‘escaped from his Prisoner of War Camp and was at large for six days during which time he travelled seventy miles in an attempt to reach the Allied lines’ being ‘a constant source of trouble to his captors’.
British Empire Medal, Eliz II, Military Division; (14468948 PTE. DONALD C. STOCKTING. GLOSTERS.), with original Royal Mint fitted presentation case; Korea Medal 1950-1953, 1st type obverse; (14468948 PTE. D.C. STOCKTING. GLOSTERS.); United Nations Medal for Korea, British issue. Mounted court style for display / wear.
Donald Clarges Stockting was born on 22nd January 1928 in Swanage, Dorsetshire, and having worked as a mess boy, then attested for service with the British Army at Southampton on 30th July 1945, joining as a Private (No.14468948) the General Service Corps, being transferred to the Class W Royal Army Reserve on 6th September 1945. Posted to the Dorsetshire Regiment on 18th October 1945, he then attended No.2 Infantry Training Centre where he went absent without leave, being then placed in close arrest and awarded 168 hours detention on 26th November 1945. Posted to the 1st Battalion, Dorsetshire Regiment, he was posted out to Germany on 25th May 1946, and was awarded 14 days detention for ‘misconduct’ on 4th July 1946, and this then followed a regular pattern throughout his time in Germany, and when he was posted to Austria on 12th February 1948, things continued as normal, with regular periods of close arrest. This culminated on 15th September 1948 when he was sentenced by Field General Court Martial to seven months detention in close arrest for ‘striking his superior officer’. Released from military prison on 17th February 1949, he was once again tried by Field General Court Martial on 8th November 1949, this time for being absent without leave and his return, having been placed in close arrest, he ‘willfully and maliciously injured a cell door thereby occasioning damage to the amount of £3 and 2 shillings’. And then having been told by a Private Fripp of the Regimental Police who was in charge of the Stockting ‘to stand to attention, improperly threatened the said Pte Fripp by raising his fists and saying “I am not standing to attention”. He then proceeded to brandish a stick at one Sergeant Elbrow ‘at the same time saying “I will get you for this Elbrow see”’. Found guilty on some of the further charges, but interestingly not those made by Fripp and Elbrow, he was sentenced to a further six months in a military prison, and a stoppage of pay to clear the damages to the ‘willfully and maliciously injured cell door’! Two months of his detention were subsequently remitted. Whilst in prison, Stockting sustained ‘accidental injuries’ of a moderate severity on 20th May 1950, and was then released from prison in Austria on 20th July 1950.
With the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950, Stockting then found himself posted to Japan where he arrived on 10th December 1950, and was then posted to join the 1st Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment in Korea on 17th February 1951. As such Stockting found himself manning a defensive position along the 38th Parallel during the Chinese Spring Offensive of April 1951, being present during the Glosters epic stand at Hill 235 during what became known as he Battle of Imjin River which lasted from 22nd to 25th April 1951. The battle opened on the night of 22 April 1951. A Chinese patrol on the north bank of the river moved around the Belgians on Hill 194 and continued to advance east towards the two bridges on which the Belgians depended. Elements of the 29th Brigade’s reserve, the 1st RUR, were deployed forward at about 10pm to secure the crossing but were soon engaged by Chinese forces trying to cross the river. The Royal Ulster Rifles were unable to secure the bridges.
This development meant that the Belgian battalion on the north bank of the river was in danger of being isolated from the rest of the 29th Brigade. Chinese forces following the initial patrol either attacked the Belgian positions on Hill 194 or continued their advance towards the bridges. Those who were able to cross the Imjin attacked the Fusiliers' right rear company, Z Company, on Hill 257, a position close to the river and almost directly south of the crossings. Further downstream, Chinese forces managed to ford the Imjin and attacked the Fusiliers' left forward company, X Company, on Hill 152. The retreat of X Company from Hill 152 had serious consequences for Y Company, which occupied the right forward position of what can be described as a squarish fusilier position marked out by four widely spaced company perimeters at the corners. Although Y Company was not attacked directly, Chinese forces threatened its flanks by forcing Z and X Companies from their positions. After unsuccessful British attempts to regain those lost positions on Hill 257 and 194, Y Company’s position was abandoned, the retreat being covered by C Squadron, 8th Hussars. On the left of the brigade's line, a forward deployed patrol of 16 men repelled four attempts by a battalion of the 559th Regiment, 187th Division to cross the river, but was eventually forced to fall back when their ammunition reserves ran low after inflicting 70 casualties without suffering any loss. During the rest of the night, the Glosters' right and left forward companies, A and D Companies, engaged Chinese units trying to cross the Imjin. By morning, A and D Companies had suffered severe casualties; only one officer in A Company remained in action. Casualties included A Company’s commander, Major Pat Angier, who was killed during the night.
On 23 April, attempts to regain control of areas lost during the night by the Fusiliers and American forces from the 3rd Infantry Division's reserve failed. A US attack by the 1st Battalion, 7th Infantry, on Communist forces near Hill 257 was ordered to support the Belgian withdrawal from the north bank of the Imjin River. Despite losing seven vehicles, the Belgian battalion successfully executed its withdrawal, which was coordinated with the beginning of the American attack on Hill 257. The Belgians escaped to the east and took up new positions south of the Glosters and the Fusiliers before moving to the vicinity of the 29th Brigade's command post. At around 8.30pm on 23 April, the forward companies of the Glosters, A and D companies, were withdrawn from their positions after suffering heavy casualties. C Company, under Major Paul Mitchell, retreated as well, but it was impossible for B Company, under Major Denis Harding, to disengage and join the battalion's remaining elements on and near Hill 235, a position between the Imjin and the Seolmacheon stream that became known as Gloster Hill. The men of B Company were able to drive off seven Chinese assaults on their position before they, too, managed to withdraw to Hill 235 the next morning. Only 17 men of B Company remained in action after reaching the remainder of the battalion.
During the night, as the Glosters’ B Company faced numerous attacks, the Chinese 188th Division crossed the Imjin and attacked the Fusiliers and the Royal Ulster Rifles on the right of the brigade’s line. The 187th Division also engaged the brigade’s battalions on the right, while the 189th Division kept up the pressure on the left. Most dangerous for the unity of the 29th Brigade was the Chinese deep penetration of the line between the Gloucestershire Regiment and the Northumberland Fusiliers, cutting off the Glosters. To counter the Chinese attack and protect the Glosters from being completely surrounded, the Philippine 10th Battalion Combat Team (BCT) was temporarily attached to the 29th Brigade. A combined force of M-24 tanks of the 10th BCT and Centurions of the 8th Hussars supported by infantry reached a point 2,000 yards (1,800 m) from Hill 235 on 24 April. However, the column failed to make contact as the lead tank was hit by Chinese fire and knocked out, blocking the route and making any further advance against heavy resistance impossible. At this point, according to an official American narrative of operations, the brigade commander considered it unwise to continue the effort to relieve the Gloucester Battalion and withdrew the relief force .Continued Chinese pressure on the UN forces along the Imjin prevented a planned US attack by the Puerto Ricans of the 1st and 3rd Battalions, 65th Infantry, to relieve the Glosters. When two further attempts by a tank troop to link up with the Glosters failed, Brigadier Brodie left the decision to Lieutenant-Colonel Carne whether to attempt a break-out or surrender.
No further attempts to relieve the Glosters were undertaken because, at 8 am on 25 April, I Corps issued the order to execute Plan Golden A, which called for a withdrawal of all forces to a new defensive position further south. In accordance with orders issued by I Corps, the 1st Battalion, the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers, the 1st Battalion, the Royal Ulster Rifles, and the Belgian battalion tried to reach the safety of the next UN position, supported by C Squadron, 8th Hussars, and 55 Squadron, Royal Engineers. The Belgians occupied blocking positions west and southwest of the 29th Brigade's command post in order to allow the other units of the brigade to fall back through the battalion’s positions. The withdrawal under intense enemy pressure was made even more difficult by the fact that Chinese forces dominated parts of the high ground along the line of retreat and were thus able not only to observe any movements by the 29th Brigade, but also to inflict heavy casualties on the retreating units. Among those killed was the CO of the Fusiliers, Lieutenant-Colonel Foster, who died when his jeep was hit by Chinese mortar fire. In the words of Major Henry Huth of the 8th Hussars, the retreat was one long bloody ambush . When B Company of the Ulsters, which had acted as rear guard during the retreat, reached the safety of the next UN line, all elements of the 29th Brigade except for the Glosters had completed the withdrawal.
The Glosters' situation on Hill 235 made it impossible for them to join the rest of the 29th Brigade after it had received the order to retreat. Even before the failed attempts to relieve the battalion on 24 April, B and C Companies had already suffered such heavy casualties that they were merged to form one company. Attempts to supply the battalion by air drop were unsuccessful. Despite their difficult situation, the Glosters held their positions on Hill 235 throughout 24 April and the night of 24/25 April. In the morning of 25 April, 45 Field Regiment could no longer provide artillery support. Since Brigadier Brodie had left the final decision to Lieutenant-Colonel Carne, the Glosters' CO gave the order to his company commanders to make for the British lines as best as they could on the morning of 25 April. Only the remains of D Company under the command of Major Mike Harvey escaped successfully from Gloster Hill and reached the safety of friendly lines after several days. The rest of the battalion was taken prisoner, including Lieutenant-Colonel Carne.
Had the Chinese achieved a breakthrough in the initial stages of their assault, they would have been able to outflank the 1st ROK Division to the west and the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division to the east of the 29th Brigade. Such a development would have threatened the stability of the UN line and increased the likelihood of success for a Chinese advance on Seoul. Although the Chinese benefited from the brigade's scattered deployment and lack of defensive preparations, they were nevertheless unable to take the positions before UN forces could check further advances. In three days of fighting, the determined resistance of the 29th Brigade severely disrupted the Chinese offensive, causing it to lose momentum, and allowed UN forces in the area to withdraw to the No-Name Line, a defensible position north of Seoul, where the Chinese were halted. Stockting was one of those taken prisoner at the fall of Gloster Hill on 25th April 1951, and would spend the next 28 months as a prisoner of war of the Chinese and North Koreans, a period of intense brutality and hardship, something which in this case, Stockting, no alien to imprisonment and to giving his captors hell, appeared to excel in, the award of his British Empire Medal exemplifying this.
The recommendation for his British Empire Medal reads as follows: ‘This soldier behaved in an exemplary manner whilst a Prisoner of War and was a constant source of trouble to his captors. With two other soldiers he made an escape from his Prisoner of War Camp and was at large for six days during which time he travelled seventy miles in an attempt to reach the Allied lines. Unfortunately, and through bad luck, this soldier was eventually recaptured by the enemy. He was fully aware before making his escape that, should he be recaptured he would suffer considerable hardship. This knowledge did not, however, deter him. His conduct whilst a Prisoner of War was far beyond the requirement of duty.’ Stocking who was only confirmed as being a prisoner of war on 20th December 1951, he having been previously posted missing in action, was eventually released from captivity on 13th August 1953, and arrived home on 14th October 1953, his award of the British Empire Medal being published in the London Gazette for 18th June 1954. It is amusing to note that in just over ten days after his release, Stockting was once again in trouble with the military authorities, he being noted as absent without leave for 6 days 11 hours and 36 minutes on 25th August 1953, for which he was deprived ten days pay. Sent on leave from 25th November 1953 to 6th February 1954, he was then transferred to the Army Reserve on that latter date, and fully discharged on 30th July 1957. Stockting went on to work as a chef, and died in Bournemouth on 13th July 1998.