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19 January 2017

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RAF Shawbury Presents Korean Ambassador for Peace Medal to Local Royal Engineer Veteran


AT a recent honours and awards ceremony, RAF Shawbury was delighted to host Shrewsbury War Veteran Mr Dave Tipton, his wife Eileen and family. During the ceremony, Air Marshal Sean Reynolds CBE DFC RAF, Deputy Commander Capability and Air Member for Personnel and Capability formally presented Mr Tipton with the Korean Ambassador for Peace Medal.

It seems many years ago since that day in 1952 when 17 year old Dave was a member of a local Shrewsbury Under -18 football team; seeing that his team numbers had depleted due to the call up for National Service of a number of his fellow players, Dave decided to volunteer to follow them. Being a carpenter, he enlisted on a 3-year contract with the Royal Engineers and was drafted to his unit in Dortmund, Germany. The move from Germany to Korea came as a surprise to Dave when, returning from an exercise on Sennelager Training Area, one of his colleagues told him that notice that the unit was to move to Korea had been promulgated in Part 1 orders.

So there he was, a fresh-faced 18 year old Sapper standing on Liverpool Docks with his full kit bidding farewell to family and friends before boarding Troopship Lancashire, along with 1000 other personnel, for their long journey to Korea in 1953.

This truly was a voyage of surprises for Dave and his colleagues. Their first taste of far foreign lands was the first stop-off at the Egyptian city, Port Said, located at the northern end of the Suez Canal. After taking on fresh rations and water, the ship quickly entered the Suez Canal for their journey to the far-east. Half-way along the Suez, they had to give way to allow a large French troop ship to sail past; this ship was full of members of the French Foreign Legion returning from French Indochina (now Vietnam) and allegedly the guards were there to prevent troops from jumping ship as they did not wish to return to their Garrison in Algiers.

Dave had two more memorable visits to port en-route; the first was Aden where they were granted 4 hours shore leave. Having been cramped on-board for weeks they quickly disembarked and headed to the beach to cool down as the heat was in the low 40’s. Not having any experience of how hot a beach is in those temperatures, Dave had to make a 100 yard dash into the sea to cool off his burnt toes; on entering the water they found they were encircled by a large fishing net and were shocked to learn that this was to stop sharks from snacking on almost 1000 troops splashing in the sea. His other memory was visiting Ceylon (Now Sri Lanka) and seeing a 30-foot long Buddha in a temple glistening from head to toe in gold; on entering the temple visitors paid a sum to buy a small sheet of gold leaf and Dave joined the long list of visitors in adding his sheet to the effigy.

After further stops in Singapore and Hong Kong (where Dave was charged for returning to ship late) they eventually arrived in Japan to start their work-up before deploying to Korea. A few of their number were required to depart for Korea immediately but the vast majority of them were sent to a Battle Training Camp in Hiro. It was here that Dave became a casualty when a shell exploded as it left the mortar that he and his colleagues were firing. Dave was thrown 25 yards away from the mortar pit, suffering a number of injuries to his chest, almost losing part of his left hand and was burnt black by the explosive charge. He counts himself lucky as the other two in the firing pit received even worse injuries than Dave but, like him, they survived their ordeal. Dave spent almost 2 months being put back together in a field hospital before he was sent to MiyaJima, an idyllic island just south of the city of Hiroshima where one of the two atom bombs were dropped. Here he spent a further 3 months being treated and recuperating from his injuries before he was declared fit for fighting duties.

Dave and one other Royal Engineer colleague were kitted up and sent on a train to try to find their unit on their own. The train journey was another adventure as all of the smashed windows had been replaced by wire- mesh as the children threw rocks at the train if the troops refused to give them their rations. After some time, they eventually tracked down their unit, 64 Field Park Squadron, 28 Field Engineer Regiment, 1st Commonwealth Division in South Korea about 6 miles away from the frontline. Dave and his colleague were quickly set to work building numerous wooden structures. He built the first toilets (planks with holes in them suspended over a pit) where troops sat side-by-side without any dividing screens.

Whenever they won a battle for a piece of land (usually a hill on the high ground) a 25-pounder gun would be placed on top and Dave and his colleagues would then construct a jeep track to the top to allow re-supply of food and ammunition. After just over 3 months, Dave and his colleagues were thrilled to hear of the ceasefire and end to hostilities. After a large ceremonial ceasefire parade, their work effort turned to making the war-zone habitable again. As well as maintaining and building new roads they constructed churches, living accommodation and proper sanitary facilities with showers and non-shared WC’s. Dave was even tasked to build an Officers’ Mess and used the same ply-wood sheets that the toilets were constructed from to craft a side-board. This looked a bit bland so using their initiative they confiscated all of the brown boot polish from the Red Cross parcels and according to Dave: “It buffed up really well”.

Having spent 2 years in Korea, Dave returned on to Liverpool on another troopship to be welcomed home by his family and his girlfriend Eileen. Having decided he wanted to leave the Army, he was sent to Woking in Surrey for discharge processing and was issued his de-mob kit. When he returned back home, Eileen didn’t even recognise him in his suit, trilby hat and mac. Eileen and Dave are shortly due to celebrate their Diamond Wedding Anniversary and she said: “When he arrived back home he looked more like Al Capone than my Dave in that outfit”.

Dave has spent the rest of his working life as a carpenter and coach builder with bus and coach firms such as Midlands Red; rather than the modern metal framed coaches the old ones were made of wood similar to the framework on a Morris Traveller. Now retired, he is a very keen gardener and always volunteers to sell poppies for Remembrance Day and you may well see him on the stand in the Tesco supermarket.

When asked about his experiences in Korea Dave said: “Conditions were extremely poor over there during the war which slowly improved as the country got back to some sort of normality. I count myself lucky to have survived the hostilities and attribute this to spending over 5 months in hospital following the explosion on the training camp; I missed the fiercest fighting whereas some were not so fortunate”.

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