b. 07/07/1926 Plymouth, Devon. d. 23/04/1951 Gloucester Hill, Korea.
Philip Kenneth Edward Curtis (1926-1951) was born on 7th July 1926 in Plymouth, Devon. He was the son of Edward Curtis and his wife, Ethel (nee Richards). On the outbreak of World War II, Curtis was still a teenager, and during the Blitz on Plymouth he volunteered as a messenger for ARP Wardens. Desperately keen to enlist before the end of the war, he tried the RAF, but was rejected due to age. In 1944, having turned 18, he was accepted into the Army but was not posted overseas to an operational theatre. In May 1946, he was given a Regular Army Emergency Commission in the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry, although he never actually served with any battalion of that Regiment. After service, attached to the RASC, at HQ Middle East he was demobbed in 1948, and placed on the Reserve of Officers, with the honorary rank of Captain.
While still a soldier, he married a local Devonport girl, Joan Haynes, and they had a daughter, Philippa Susan. After leaving the Army he secured a job with Roneo, the duplicator firm, but found life dull after the excitement of the previous four years. Then, just after he had settled into family life, tragedy struck. His young wife died suddenly in 1949, leaving him with a young child to bring up. Not long after this, the Korean War broke out, and the need for officers and soldiers to fill the depleted ranks of the infantry was high. When Curtis got his recall papers, he was in a quandary. As a young widower with responsibility for a young daughter there is no doubt he could have got an exemption. When his wife’s mother, Mrs Beatrice Haynes, undertook the role of Susan’s guardianship, he was persuaded to take up the recall papers. He rejoined the Army, made his desire to go to Korea known, and sailed on 17th October 1950.
On arrival in Japan, there were delays and he pestered the Americans to get him into Korea. The UN counter offensive was under way and there was a chance it would be all over before he got involved. He eventually joined A Company, the Gloucestershire Regiment on 3rd March 1951. 1 Platoon were very impressed with their new officer.
On 22nd/23rd April 1951 near the Imjin River, Korea, during a heavy enemy attack, No. 1 platoon under the command of Lieutenant Curtis, was ordered to carry out a counter-attack which was initially successful, but was eventually held up by heavy fire and grenades. The lieutenant then ordered some of his men to give covering fire while he himself rushed the main position of resistance. In this charge he was severely wounded but he insisted on making a second attempt. While making another desperate charge he was killed when within a few yards of his objective after throwing a grenade which destroyed the enemy position immediately after.
He was buried in the UN Memorial Cemetery, Busan, South Korea. It was not until 6th July 1954 that an investiture took place at Buckingham Palace, where Queen Elizabeth II presented the VC to his mother, Florence, daughter Susan and mother in law Beatrice. Over 20 years later, at a Sotheby’s auction, Curtis’ VC was sold by the now Mrs Susan Griffin for £7,200 to a medal dealer, John Hayward, who had outbid the representative of the DCLI Museum, who had hoped the £5,200 they had raised would be enough. The medals were sold for Susan to put the money into a trust fund for her then 15-month-old son, named Philip, in honour of his grandfather. She had hoped the Regiment would have got the medals, but it wasn’t to be. However, John Hayward generously agreed to re-sell the medals to the Regiment for £6,200, thus in effect giving £1,000 towards it himself, providing other donations of £1,000 could be raised. This was quickly achieved thanks to the help of a Canadian and British businessman, and English China Clays of St Austell, Cornwall. Within a few days the medals were in the DCLI Museum at Bodmin.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: SOLDIERS OF GLOUCESTERSHIRE MUSEUM, GLOUCESTER.
BURIAL PLACE: UN MEMORIAL CEMETERY, BUSAN, SOUTH KOREA.
Thomas Stewart – Images of Cheltenham War Memorial and the Korean War Memorial, Bathgate.