Korean War Legacy Project

Geoffrey Grimley


Geoff Grimley was born in Wolverhampton, England. His father was in the Navy during World War I, and after his service, his father bought a pub which is also where they lived. He does not recall learning about Korea growing up even though he earned a school certificate in geography. After he received his “call up” papers for the Army, he was sent to Catterick in early 1950 to train as a signalman. He recalls his first impressions of Korea as he passed through Seoul, witnessing downed telegraph wires and burning T-34 tanks. He spent seven months in Korea in the signals office and was involved in the Battle of Kapyong.

Video Clips

Recollections of Korea

Geoff Grimley remembers seeing Korea for the first time and observing telegraph lines down and burning T-34 tanks. He speaks about having to sleep in a field and waking up with frost on his things, but he says it was better than school because he would get a beating every day. He briefly recalls the Battle of Kapyong.

Tags: Chinese,Cold winters,Front lines,Impressions of Korea,Living conditions

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Video Transcript

[Beginning of Recorded Material]


Geoff Grimley: My name’s Geoffrey Gr–Grimley. My rank was signalman.  I was an operator while enlisted on line B3 with the Royal Signals.

Interviewer: Okay tell me Geoff a bit before we get to Korea, just where are you from and–and what was life for you sort of pre-Korea pre-war.

G:        Well, pre-war I was–I was born in Wolverhampton.  My father had been in the Navy in the First World War and because he couldn’t get work, he was out of work


during the Depression. We had–we had a pub. He took with his–the money he got from the five years in the navy he bought a –a–a license for a pub. And we lived in a pub. And the first pub I really remember was in Wednesdbury. You know, I’d be about 5 years old. Walk to school, everything. Nobody took to you school in those days, you would be a siss if you did.


I:          Yeah.

G:        And I also remember getting your hair cut that’s a remem–a memorable thing. I used to hate it it was–it was nearly as bad as the dentist, yeah. Yeah.

I:          Why didn’t you like the hair cut?

G:        Yeah. Yeah.

I:          Why?

G:        well, shaving up and they–they always you always had to wait while all the–the old people were served first with their open razor. They shaved with open razors. And they


it–it was, you know, an experience.  The–the clippers always cut–stuck and they were horrible that’s all I can remember. But the–the war came and living in a pub, we were a lot better off than other people, really. We used to go down the cellar. Instead of having an air raid shelter, an Anderson shelter or a Morrison shelter and we saw very


little of the war. Although there was a–a factory nearby which made tanks. And I saw Matilda’s and Valentines and Churchill tanks and common tanks and all the other thanks that turned out during the war. So, I’m well into that knowing about them.  We left there in about 1940 to go into the country.  And I lived near Cosford aerodrome.  And used to see


the–the first thing that happened was that they had a lot of check pilots and they used to come into our pub, the Horns of Boningale it was called. It was quite a–a notable pub and they used to spend their evenings in there, the pilots from Cosford aerodrome. And they’d obviously they’d had a few, but the next day, on at least


two occasions we had a flight of spitfires come over, burst the tim–chimney parts and fly off back to the… And it was a–it was a mixed aerodrome there were also Whitley bombers there towing gliders. And when I used to go along the road to Shifnal on my bike, you’d find a glider crash through the hedge and landed.  So, I realized at that stage it wasn’t a very safe


job being a–a glider pilot.

I:          Wow, so you were very much surrounded by the military.

G:        Yeah.

I:          you know, it was–it was part of your life.

G:        Yeah, it was.  We had black Americans, there was the Polish camp and they–the Dutch camp we had at–at one time there was a Dutch camp just a couple of miles down the road.  I used to cycle to school about five miles. And I was a day boarder. I went to a school


Where you had–you stayed in the afternoon and you had a–a rest period in which you played games and then you had your tea there at school.  Then you did your prep and then you came home, and then you came back home at night. So, it would be dark when I–when– very often in the winter when I came back from there on the bike.

I:          Just thinking about your education, do you–you know do you, as a day boarder, do you ever remember, you know,


studying the Far East and hearing about the place that obviously would have a big impact on your life?

G:        Well, I got a school certificate in geography, but at that time Japan would have been the major one.  So I don’t think Korea was ever mentioned as being–just being the Korean peninsula. I think I knew about the Korean peninsula, but I didn’t realize it was a separate nation, it was part of Japan. And oh Ch–China was involved, you know all the…


I had an uncle who had been on sailing ships to Korea–to China and I always wanted to go to China. And when I went to register, when they–we went to the Gaumont Cinema in Wolverhampton and we had to register there and they asked me if I’d got any preference and I said oh yes, I’d love to go to China, you know, Hong–the Far East. You know it seemed very, romantic for


part of a better word, you know, yeah. Yeah.

I:          And it was in the Gaumont Cinema where you signed up as conscription then?

G:        Yeah, they–they took you in there and they did all the medicals, you know, cough [laugh] and–and that was it, you’re A-1, you’re okay.

I:          If you can cough properly, all you’re well–you’re A-1.

G:        Yeah, yeah, yeah.

I:          Yeah, that’s funny how that’s changed. Okay, how–how quickly did you know that you wanted to become a signalman


or were you just assigned?

G:        I didn’t want–I didn’t specify anything except that I didn’t want to go into the Air Force. I’d see enough of the Air Force in the pub and so, I was just drafted into the signals at Catterick.  I just got call up pap–papers to report to Catterick on the 5thof Jan–I think it was the 5thof January 1950.

I:          Just tell me a little bit about the–


what–what you’re working on–your work as a signalman. What do you, the kit you’re being trained on, is that the same kit you worked on in Korea?

G:        No, I never saw a 19 set until I got out to Hong Kong. I had six months training at Catterick to be a wireless operator. And we had a thing called the [vimy] voice code.  And it started off [singing dida] able. And it was all in a


Canadian accent.  And you progress through until you got to 14 words a minute.  And I mean compared to the Navy and the RAF telegraphists they–they did 26 words a minute. So, mind you, we only operated on 19 sets when we got out there to Hong Kong and any static or anything, you know– it was better to go slow than


operate in Morse k–key. You know, at higher speeds. I’m digressing really, because I didn’t have that much time on the 19 sets at–in Hong Kong, but I–I wasn’t act–I better tell you first about how I got out there. I only spent seven months in Korea and the reason was, that you had 6 months at Catterick to learn Morse code


and that was virtually all. No field craft or anything. I mean, we had one excursion to the firing range in the snow, which wasn’t a very happy experience at Cattrick. And then, we were shipped out to the Far East. We didn’t know where we were going to.  And I didn’t know I was in the–I was only National Serviceman at that time for 18 months.  But, of course,


We were on the boat in August 1950 and the Korean War had started in June, I think, now I may be wrong with these dates, but we got on–we were on the boat and we heard that we were now gonna do two years. And it took us six weeks to get to Singapore on the Devonshire, a bibby line boat, it was an ex-German Reparations ship. And


we then, we stayed in Singapore. I don’t know–I don’t know whether it was three weeks or six weeks, but it was some time. And then we got another boat, one of the better boats, empire, one of the empire line and went to Hong Kong.  And– where I was there for about seven months, six, seven months in Hong Kong.  So, I spent that bad–very bad winter in Hong Kong. Which was a bad winter in


Sing–in Korea, not in–not in Hong Kong. And we heard there about–it was after Christmas before we heard because I kept–I started a diary at Christmas and we certainly heard that we were going to–to Korea. And–

I:          And even in Hong Kong you haven’t’ heard about Korea?

G:        I’d heard about Korea but I hadn’t heard the 28 brigade was going to Korea. It wasn’t until after Christmas that I heard the 28 brigade


was going to Korea. And we left–it would be about the 21stof April we left.  Because we landed at Incheon on the–on the 23rdSt. George’s Day. And on the way over, I remember leaving Hong Kong, I say Hong Kong all the time, but in actual fact I never went to Hong Kong. Hong Kong is the island. And I spent my


entire term in the new territories. And we left Kowloon Harbor with the Royal Ulster Rifles Pipe Band playing.  And I always remember that and the sun going down and the golden kilts, they looked golden to me, at that time. But it was lovely and moving to–to sail out. And then we sailed on the–a–a U.S. Navy ship the SS– USN Montrose.  And it had


landing craft.  And we–we sailed. It took about three or four days to get there but we landed on the 23rd, definitely because I got in my diary that I kept, I didn’t keep it very long. And we–we were most impressed with the–.  One day we heard this announcement will the first lieutenant please report to the ice cream parlor.


And there was a big cheer went up.  And that was–that was an amusing one.  But the other one was that we were taking the KOSB with us, the Kings Own Scottish Boarders. And they had organized boxing matches. There were te–either 10 or 12 rounds and the KOSB won 9 out of the 10 rounds. And they–the only one they lost


was to a–a professional Filipino professional. So, they did quite well.  And the Capitan’s comments well, I guess we’re leaving you gu–we’re leaving Korea–Korea in good hands and that’s–that’s how it went. [Laughing] We landed at Korea and they tried to get us off in the landing craft, but I think they had problems and eventually we went off. We walked down the gang plank,


thank God.

I:          Do you remember seeing Korea for the first time?

G:        The first time I saw Korea, my–my only recollections of it was passing through Seoul. And the telegraph wires were all down. There were burning–there was burning T-34 tanks there, which I couldn’t understand because it had been some time since the invasion. I’m sure there was some sort of fighting going on been–recently. It may have been that there were guerillas


still in the–in the buildings. But we were all put into three ton American trucks, six wheeler, you know, open backs, benches down each side at the back and we sat facing each other. And we drove on and we stayed one night. We were–we were transferred, the KOSB and our signals unit was transferred to the central front.


And we–we were in these three ton trucks that the Americans were driving in convoy with the KOSB and everybody else. And our particular driver was fond of when we stopped driving into the truck in front and hitting that and stopping. [laughing] but I remember that we got off one night and we spent time in the Korean huts that we found. And we had a


Lance corporal there that lost his pack and he was a big fella, Tomley his name and he played for Liverpool or the reserves–the reserve team. And he went off into the night looking for his pack and he came back.  Of course I also reckon he did a bit of boxing on his [laughing]. He was a real toughy, him. Anyway we–at least we discouraged into a


Field somewhere and there was frost the next day–night. It took us two days to get to the front–central front. I mean Korea to me is only 50 miles wide and it seemed to take an age to get there.  It must be only about 50 miles wide. I don’t know if you know what the actual thing is. But, we were disgorged into this field and we all slept that night in the field. And when we woke up in the morning, we were all white with frost.


And you know, you just took it. I never remember feeling uncomfortable or anything. I –I was 18 or–you know out there and.

I:          You have to be 19.

G:        19 I was 19, sorry, then.  And you just–I just–wafted over me. It was better than school anyway, because I used to get a beating every–every–every term so [laughing]


And anyway, while we were–while we were getting shaved and dressed and washed and looking after ourselves, this party of South Koreans came through.  And they got this miserable little man with them and they marched him up and over the hill and out of sight. And we heard a shot and they came back, and they marched back and they hadn’t got this little miserable man anymore and even then I didn’t–


I’ve–its only sense that I thought, well, they must’ve shot him. And I–I knew that the–I’ve since learned how brutal the Koreans were, reading, but I’d never realized it. I was just in the–I think–I think you’re always a bit naive until you’ve got some experience of life.  And so, I didn’t. But then we set up –we set up cam–


we–we arrived at the battle of Kapyong. It was the Kap–when the Australians and the Canadians had their battle. The Argyll and Sutherl–and Sutherland Highlanders had come into–into reserve. They were in by brigade HQ and the–the KOSB were taking over from them.


The Middlesex I think had already left.  They–not–not–yeah it was the Middlesex that were there with 28 brigade to start off with and they had already left.

I:          Yeah, it was 27 then 28.  And then–

G:        Yeah they were with 27, and then they left.

I:          Yeah.

G:        But we took over and we got signalman who’d been with there were a couple signals there that the Lance Corporal, Lance Corporal Brody and


another signalman Aen–[Aenon] they’d been with the cent–27thbrigade, I’m not sure how long, but they’d been with them. And we–I was allocated to the signals office. Where–I didn’t go on a wireless set, I spent the–the time while I was in Korea in the–and that was another seven months, and I was very fortunate, because I missed the winters. I didn’t see a winter, which mo–most of them experienced.


Although it was cold enough. When I came back in November of that year, I remember the Jerry Cans that were filled with water drinking water, were frozen over. You couldn’t get anything out of them. And then at–at dinner time it was–you could sunbathe and take your shirt off.

I:          Yeah.

G:        So, it was extremes that a–in both, you know–both ends of the year and.

I:          The Battle of Kapyong


what do you remember of that? What were you doing?

G:        We were in sort of a wooded section and there were–it was all misty–it was very misty and there was lots going on.  And we were eventually pulled out from there after we’d spent a–a day or so there in–in at that battle.  And we were trying to bug out–we’d already learned the language


And we couldn’t–there were these self-propels also retreating and we couldn’t get into line. We couldn’t–we couldn’t get onto the road. I’m sorry, I don’t feel well.

[End of Recorded Material]