Sam Davies was a hero. His name and memory will be a part of the history of the British Army, particularly that of the “glorious Gloucester’s”.

Col The Rev S Davies, OBE
Col The Rev S Davies, OBE

He was their Chaplain through the long winter of 1950. It was the coldest winter ever recorded in any war. Colder than Napoleon’s retreat in 1812, colder than the German battle and retreat from Stalingrad 1942/3.

The Battle of the Imjin started on 23 April 1951. It was the battle that won the Korean War for the United Nations. The Gloucester’s, commanded by Lt Col Fred Carne VC faced attack from, first a trickle, then a flood and, finally an uncountable mass of Chinese.

They crossed the Imjin River, the line of defence of the South Korean capital city Seoul, some 40 miles to the south. Although they eventually got into Seoul, they were too exhausted to cross the Han River and that was the end of their advance.

The Adjutant of the Gloucester’s, then Captain Anthony Farrar – Hockley, gave a superb account (The Edge of the Sword) of the battle, where he won a DSO, which tells the full story of the heroic stand. At Battalion HQ, and working throughout amongst the widespread hills, the Padre, Sam Davies worked his duty among the wounded and dying. It went on for three terrible days until there was not a round of ammunition left to the Gloucester’s.

In the end, many had lost their lives or were grievously wounded. The remainder were totally surrounded. The great brooding mountain of Kamak San and the only road out to the south were swarming with Chinese. The colonel, wisely and tragically, with nothing left with which to fight, surrendered to the Chinese, so saving many British lives. It was a brave decision. Those that could get out did so, but only four officers and thirty men of the Gloucester’s came out alive. In all, over 1000 men died in the course of those three days.

Sam Davies refused to leave and with the Battalions Doctor went voluntarily into captivity with his flock of 370 personnel. There, some 600 miles later, on the North Korean – Manchurian border, he undertook his courageous ministry against the hate-filled anti-Christian Communists. Cruelly he was not allowed by his captors to take services of any kind to other Ranks and was restricted only to working with captured Officers.

In two years he was only permitted to hold four services of Holy Communion, though every Sunday he held a service without sacraments. He was the only one of four army chaplains to survive. There is a regimental memorial chapel in Gloucester Cathedral, where a small Celtic Cross, carved by Colonel Carne, is now a precious possession. At the time it was smuggled into Sam’s services and placed upon a make-piece alter.

Sam joined the army in 1945 and in 1947 he was granted a short service commission for three years. His service actually lasted until 1989 which time he was Assistant Chaplain General with an MBE and Honorary Chaplain to Her Majesty the Queen.

The Battle of the River Imjin is also a major battle honour of what was then the 8th Kings Royal Irish Hussars. On 23 April ‘C’ Squadron replaced ‘B’ Squadron. The previous day they and ‘A’ Squadron, the Ulster Rifles and the Northumberland Fusiliers had crossed the Imjin as “Lowther Force” commanded by Lt Colonel Sir William (Guy) Lowther.

They reconnoitred far up into No Mans Land – up to 18 miles – saw a few Chinese soldiers, accounted for about 40 and returned to base (Mistletoe Orchard) ‘B’ Squadron was replaced by ‘C’ Squadron the very next day. Captain Peter Ormrod was in charge as, Major Henry Huth, the Squadron leader, was away in Japan. He rushed back to his command on the 24th to find that peter had been engaged in a series of actions in support of the infantry.

Henry immediately led an attempt to get past Kamak San to relieve the Gloucester’s. The Chinese were swarming like ants everywhere and time and again had to be hosed off the back of our tanks with fire from Browning Machine Guns. There were many casualties. Two Gloucester’s, including the Colonel, were awarded VCs; two DSO’s and the US Presidential Citation; Henry Huth received the DSO, Captain Ormrod and Major Murray (seconded from 5DG) and Lt J (Blood) Venner (7H) the MC. Sgt (later Sergeant Major) F Rown and Trooper HL Bamber the MM.

So it is not hard to imagine the huge delight experienced in the regiment (8H) when in 1957 in Lunenburg (Germany) none other than Sam himself appeared in his new role of Chaplain to the 8th Hussars. This happy relationship lasted until his death on the 15th March 2009. He attended the dinners and remained very proud to have been the last Chaplain in the 8th and the first of The Queen’s Royal Irish Hussars on the amalgamation of the 4th and 8th in 1958.

He married his wife Anne on the 21st of May 1955. Their two children, Judith Mary and Nicholas James, were born in 1956 and 1958.

One last memory, for me, is the service at St Paul’s Cathedral, for the consecration of the Korean War Memorial in the Crypt. In the presence of her Majesty the Queen, our Colonel in Chief His Royal Highness Prince Phillip, and Mrs Thatcher, Sam preached the sermon. I am sure it was his greatest ever. Fierce against all evil, he positively thundered. It was a magnificent tour de force and “the ranks of Tuscany could scarce forbear to cheer”.

My last memory of him is quite recent when he attended, I think it was the last but one dinner at the Cavalry Club of the Society for the Protection of the Attached Officers. They, like him, were a splendid addition to our regiment and our high regard and gratitude to them for the outstanding manner in which they enriched our contribution to that now forgotten war is one that we all share.

God bless you, Sam, and thanks for it all.

Related topics

  1. A short history of The 8th Hussars
  2. A short history of The Queen’s Royal Irish Hussars
  3. Korea 1950-51