b. 11/04/1906 Falmouth, Cornwall. d. 19/04/1986 Cheltenham, Gloucestershire.
James Power “Fred” Carne (1906-1986) was born in Falmouth, Cornwall on 11th April 1906 the son of George Newby Carne and Annie Emily Le Poar Carne (née Power). His father was a brewer and wine merchant. A career officer, he attended the Imperial Service College in Windsor and later passed out from the Royal Military College, Sandhurst and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Gloucestershire Regiment on 3rd September 1925. He was promoted to Lieutenant on 3rd September 1927 and to Captain on 1st October 1935. Seeing service in the Second World War, he was promoted to Major on 3rd September 1942. He was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel on 7th February 1949.
On the outbreak of the Korean War, Lieutenant Colonel Carne was given command of the 1st Battalion, The Gloucestershire Regiment. During the attack on Hill 327, the skilful leadership of Carne, saw the objective secured, and he was awarded the DSO on 13th July 1951. On 22nd/23rd April 1951 near the Imjin River, Korea, Lieutenant Colonel Carne’s battalion was heavily and incessantly engaged by vastly superior numbers of the enemy. Throughout this time Colonel Carne moved among the whole battalion under very heavy mortar and machine-gun fire, inspiring the utmost confidence and the will to resist among his troops. On two separate occasions, armed with rifle and grenades, he personally led assault parties which drove back the enemy and saved important situations. His courage, coolness and leadership was felt not only in his own battalion but throughout the whole brigade.
Carne fell into Chinese captivity after his 700-man battalion’s astonishing resistance against an estimated 11,000 attackers was finally overcome. As the senior British officer among hundreds of prisoners kept in appalling conditions in camps in communist-held Korea, he was singled out for special treatment. While the other ranks were “re-educated” by the communist commissars at their camps, Carne was kept in solitary confinement.
According to documents held at the National Archives in Kew and not made public until 2006, when Carne was released in September 1953 he told Sir Esler Dening, the British ambassador in Tokyo, “an extraordinary story” of brainwashing. “He says that between January 1952 and August this year he was kept in solitary confinement by Chinese communists and subjected to a softening-up process including the use of drugs, [the] result of which was, as he put it, to make his brain like a sponge, capable of receiving any kind of information put into it,” Sir Esler told the Foreign Office in a “top secret” category telegram.
The note, which was sent straight to Sir Winston Churchill, in his second term as Prime Minister, went on: “In March of this year, (i.e. about the time when the communists displayed a new interest in concluding an armistice) various thoughts were put in to his mind, and he remains convinced that he was meant to retain these and pass them on to Her Majesty’s Government.” The thoughts comprised a peace deal not just to end the war in Korea, but to reach a settlement covering the whole Pacific region. Sir Esler opined: “The whole thing might be pure fantasy except for the fact that Colonel Carne could hardly have invented it and does not strike one as that sort of person.” The Foreign Office was sceptical about the plot, but suggested that perhaps its aim was to split Britain from its American ally.
Carne was not released from captivity until late August 1953, having lost 3 stone in weight, and suffering from poor eyesight. On arrival at the Commonwealth reception centre in Japan, the Gloster soldiers seated their CO in an armchair, lifted him into the air and carried him to the officers’ mess. The day following his return to England his award of the VC was announced. It was 2 and a half years exactly following the struggle on Gloster Hill. The investiture followed four days late, on 27th October 1953. He received both the VC and DSO, and in replying to the Queen’s question about prison conditions, he said “They were not too bad, ma’am. The worst part was the boredom.” He then received the DSC from the Americans.
More honours followed. He was awarded the Freedom of Falmouth in January 1954, was promoted to Colonel in April 1954, and after retirement, was appointed Deputy Lieutenant of Gloucestershire in 1960. He chose to retire to the small village of Cranham, Gloucestershire. For 18 years, he attended the village church where he was churchwarden. His last few years were dogged by ill health and disability due to his war wounds. Just after his 80th birthday, he suffered a fall and taken to hospital. Within two days, his health failed and he died on 19th April 1986.
“Fred” Carne was cremated at Cheltenham Crematorium, and in accordance with his wishes, his ashes were interred in the churchyard at St James the Great in Cranham. A simple plaque marks the spot as he didn’t want a large headstone. In 1988, Jean, his widow, presented his medals to the Soldiers of Gloucestershire Regimental Museum, Gloucester.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: GLOUCESTERSHIRE REGIMENT MUSEUM, GLOUCESTER.
BURIAL PLACE: CHELTENHAM CREMATORIUM, GLOUCESTERSHIRE. ASHES INTERRED IN CRANHAM CHURCHYARD, GLOUCS.
Thomas Stewart – RMA Sandhurst VC Board
Paul Deeprose – Haileybury College Memorial.