Serving in the Dukes was a real family affair for proud Robins
Sidney Robins didn't want his son to join the army, but when he learned that Walter was to be part of the Duke of Wellington's Regiment, his apprehension was quelled.
“His response was to say ‘you’d better make a good job of it, then’ says Walter. “I hope I did.”
Walter served until the age of 55, and gained promotion through the ranks to regimental sergeant major and eventually lieutenant colonel.
Like so many Dukes members, Walter followed in his father’s footsteps by joining the regiment Sidney served for seven years just after the First World War.
After passing his exams and a rigorous selection course, Walter was a sergeant by the age of 20 at Sandhurst as a drill and weapon training instructor. Two years later, on rejoining the first battalion of the Dukes, Walter and his fellow soldiers were part of 61 Lorried Infantry Brigade of 6th Armoured Division, a grand sounding title meaning they were to travel to war in the back of a three-ton truck.
In December 1951, the division was moved to Germany as part of the BAOR and the Dukes went to Minden. Shortly afterwards, the Dukes were warned for active service in Korea in late 1952 and preparations for this new role began almost immediately.
Walter was told he was to take over as the Platoon Sergeant of the Battalion Signals Platoon. This meant learning new skills in a hurry, including a three month course in the UK. The Dukes were met in Pusan in October 1952 by an American army band playing jazz before for the long and slow train journey north towards Seoul.
“When the Dukes arrived, the war had become fairly static, and both sides were well dug in on a line close to the old border between the north and south along the 38th parallel,” recalls Walter, whose brother Jack also served in the Dukes, rising to corporal.
“In the Commonwealth Division, we were part of 29 Brigade and the other two battalions were the Black Watch and the King’s Liverpool Regiment.
“In mid-November the Dukes occupied a position towards the left of the Commonwealth divisional front known as ‘Yong Dong’. On our left was a position known as ‘the hook’, a key hill feature, occupied by the Black Watch. In mid-December the brigade was moved towards the centre of the divisional front and occupied a position known as Naechon.
“There was periodic shelling and mortar fire, and any movement by day on the forward slope would attract mortar or sniper fire.
In January, a daylight raid was carried out by the Dukes to destroy tunnels and defences, and also to capture a prisoner.
“Unfortunately, very shortly after moving onto this position, the Signals Officer, a Captain and the most experienced member of the platoon was wounded and evacuated by helicopter, never to return,” says Walter, who lives in Hipperholme.
“This left the Signal Subaltern and myself to run the platoon and provide communication within the battalion.”
After eight weeks on the Naechon position, the Commonwealth Division was withdrawn into a reserve location. The Battalion celebrated Christmas in late February.
In April, the Division returned to its old location in the line with 29 Brigade on the left flank, the ‘Black Watch’ again on ‘the Hook’ with one company of the Dukes and the remainder of the Battalion just to their rear in reserve.
“It was apparent a further major attack on the hook was being planned,” says Walter, “and as the Black Watch had already suffered a number of casualties, they were relieved on the night of May 12-13 by the Dukes with a company of the Kings in support.
“There was intense shelling and mortaring. Heavy guns caused serious damage and a drain of casualties. The first wave of the assault came on the hook position just before last light on May 28. It was proceeded by an artillery and mortar concentration of unprecedented weight.
“Chinese assault troops following behind managed to get into the position of the forward platoon of the company. During hand-to-hand fighting, the platoon Commander and a number of his soldiers were killed and the survivors forced back into the tunnels. When they refused to surrender the entrances were blown in. During the next four to five hours, four further Chinese assaults, supported by artillery fire, were mounted on the Dukes companies on the left and right of the hook position. All were beaten off by pre-planned mortar and artillery defensive fire tasks, machine gun and arms fire.”
An assault group of the Dukes set out shortly after midnight to recover the position of the forward platoon of the hook company. By 4.30am the area was clear of the enemy and work began to dig out the defenders still entombed in the tunnels.
“A vast amount of ammunition was fired in our support by our own artillery and mortars during the action, causing serious casualties to the Chinese,” says Walter. “It was estimated that Chinese losses were about 250 killed and up to 800 wounded.
“The Dukes losses were 24 killed, 105 wounded and 20 missing, of whom 16 were later confirmed as prisoners.
“I was on duty in the Batallion command post during the initial Chinese barrage and we lost all contact with the company there, with their aerials and telephone lines damaged. However, the Artillery Battery Commander, who operated from our command post, was still in touch at that point with his OP on the hook, and he immediately fired all the pre-planned defensive fire tasks.
“The Battery Commander and the gunners were brilliant that night - we could not have held the hook without their massive support.”
The next morning, the Battalion prepared in case the Chinese should attack again, but in view of their losses, they were relieved by the Royal Fusiliers from 28 Brigade.
“Shortly afterwards, as the sun was coming up,” recalls Walter, “I looked back down the valley to our rear from Battalion headquarters, and saw lines of soldiers from the fusiliers spread out in single file on either side of the road. It was just like a film scene, but without the music.
“When we were relieved, we moved back in to brigade reserve behind ‘the Hook’ and later, one of our companies moved back into ‘the Hook’ position in support of ‘the Kings’ who had taken over from the Royal Fusiliers.”
A couple of weeks later, 29 Brigade was moved to the centre of the Commonwealth divisional area and the Dukes again took over the Naechon position, where they remained until the armistice was signed at Panmunjom on July 27.
“The commanding officers, company commanders and company sergeant majors had second world war experience, which provided a high degree of confidence and stability.
“Almost all the soldiers and a good proportion of the junior NCO’s were national servicemen and I cannot speak too highly of their performance in harsh, difficult and dangerous conditions. They took on all tasks with determination, fortitude and good humour for a pittance in pay and very few of life’s creature comforts. The time in Korea was a formative period of my life. I saw all levels of the battalion at work and gained experience working under pressure and in difficult conditions. When the periodic list of honours and awards for Korea was published, I was greatly honoured to find my name among those as Mentioned in Dispatches for distinguished service.”
After their time in Korea, the Dukes then went to Gibraltar to complete their standard three years overseas tour
Walter also took part in two operational tours of Cyprus, three operational tours in Northern Ireland, spent two-and-a-half years in Hong Kong and four years in Germany during his army career, rising to battalion Quartermaster and receiving an MBE in 1971 for 25 years continuous service with the battalion. After leaving the battalion, he joined the staff of Headquarters 44 Parachute Brigade (TAVR) in London and was later appointed staff quartermaster at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, where he spent a “busy and highly challenging” six years.
Walter received an OBE in 1984 before becoming secretary at the regimental headquarters in Halifax for the next 10 years.
A good job of it by anyone’s standards.
Walter is appealing to the public to support the fundraising campaign for the monument to the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment that is due to be unveiled at Woolshops in Halifax town centre in May.
“I am delighted that the regiment, with the full support of Calderdale Council, have decided the memorial to the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment should be located in Halifax,” he said.
“We are indebted to the council for the prime position it has been allocated.
“The 33rd Regiment has recruited in the West Riding since its formation in 1702. The Regimental depot was opened in Halifax in 1877 and the memorial chapel in the then Halifax Parish Church was dedicated in 1951.
“To provide a fitting monument to honour the memory and dedicated service of the many thousands of men from the West Riding and elsewhere who have served in the regiment in any form since its formation, a considerable sum of money has to be raised.
“I appeal to individuals or organisations who wish to be associated with this worthwhile project but have not yet made a donation to do so now.
“All donations are to be recorded in a leather bound book which will be housed in Bankfield Museum and available to view by the public.” For more information on the memorial appeal, call 01980 611211, email [email protected] or visit www.memorial.dwr.org.uk. To donate, visit www.justgiving.com/dukeofwellingtonsregiment.