Wolverhampton veteran's memories of fighting Forgotten War

As a young National Serviceman on the front line during the Korean War, Alan Causer discovered the advantages and disadvantages of having a Centurion tank as a neighbour.

Young National Serviceman Alan outside his "residential bunker" in Korea.
Young National Serviceman Alan outside his "residential bunker" in Korea.

The good thing about it was that it had a mighty 20-pounder gun. And the bad thing about it was... that it had a mighty (and very loud) 20-pounder gun which might open up at any moment without warning.

Ninety-year-old Alan, from Tettenhall, Wolverhampton, got in touch after reading our recent feature about the Centurion tank, which was a successful British design with a turret which was cast in one piece by the F H Lloyd steelworks at Wednesbury.

Alan, who grew up in Darlaston, said: "It reminded me of my two experiences of that fighting vehicle.

"I grew up a few hundred yards from F H Lloyd's foundry which, as your article mentioned, was responsible for casting the tank turrets.

"From time time the factory held open days when the public was invited to tour the factory and on one of these days I was able to watch the eight-ton turret being cast, the operation being the star attraction of the event. I wonder whether health and safety regulations would allow such a demonstration now.

Alan took this picture of a Centurion tank near his position during the Korean War.

"My other, more lengthy, association with the Centurion was as a National Serviceman in the Korean War. I found myself posted there as a Royal Artillery surveyor engaged in locating enemy artillery.

"In order to carry out this task we were stationed with the infantry, in my case on Hill 159 – the hills took their names from their height in metres above sea level.

"The very hilly terrain of Korea was not suitable for mobile tank operations so in the static war which prevailed in the later stages of the conflict Centurions were dug in, hull down, on the front line summits to act as support for the infantry. I took the attached photograph of the Centurion sited 10 yards from our own artillery Observation Post which frequently jangled our nerves when, without any warning, it opened up with its 20-pounder gun at any target it spotted.

"I can testify to the accuracy of this gun when the tank crew discovered a Chinese OP on the forward slope of the hill opposite, some 800 yards away. Its third round went straight into the almost invisible observation slit, after which the tank commander reported laconically to his HQ: 'Have just engaged enemy-occupied OP. The OP is now unoccupied.'

"Unfortunately a few days later the Chinese brought up a high velocity gun which scored a direct hit on the turret, destroying its machine gun but without harming any of the tank occupants – a testimony to F H Lloyd's quality engineering. Henceforth it was thought more prudent to deploy the tanks only during the hours of darkness

"The other photo is of a very youthful self outside our 'residential' bunker. The article has given me an opportunity to reminisce."

This Centurion is on display at the National Cold War Exhibition, part of the RAF Museum at Cosford.

Alan added: "I, like most of us there, while willing to do my duty, wasn’t all that keen on putting my life in mortal danger for a country I had hardly ever previously heard of.

"The Korean War is often referred to as The Forgotten War – except by those who served there and remember it only too well. It ended in stalemate but did succeed in halting communist expansion in the Far East and is still the only war backed by the UN.

"Even now, 68 years after it ended, it is still officially a ceasefire as a peace treaty has never been signed. Some three million people are estimated to have died during the conflict and the British casualties exceeded those in the Falklands, Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined."

Alan also recalls that the British sense of humour was alive and well on the front line.

"When things became a little fraught the plaintive cry would go up 'If blood’s brown, I’m wounded'."

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