The Daily Telegraph

Major David Sharp

Officer who was held prisoner during the Korean War but never let his captors break his spirit


MAJOR DAVID SHARP, who has died aged 88, was one of a small number of Allied soldiers who escaped from PoW camps during the Korean War and was awarded the British Empire Medal in recognitio­n of his fortitude while in captivity.

In April 1951, Sharp was serving in Korea with 1st Bn The Royal Northumber­land Fusiliers (1RNF) as the Intelligen­ce Sergeant. On April 25, during a major Chinese attack on the 29th Independen­t Infantry Brigade Group south of the Imjin River, Sharp volunteere­d to form one of a small rearguard party to cover the withdrawal of elements of his battalion.

In a fierce engagement, he was wounded and captured while riding on the back of a tank which was trapped by a Chinese ambush. Left at the roadside with other wounded Fusiliers, he spent several days without food or treatment. He and his comrades were eventually loaded into pony carts and taken across the Imjin River to a PoW collection point.

His initial interrogat­ion was crude and unprofessi­onal. He had destroyed his paybook which gave details of his service in Intelligen­ce. His uniform showed his rank, his regiment and his brigade. He refused to provide any more informatio­n.

After several weeks, he and his comrades left the camp and set out on an exhausting journey. For almost a month, they marched 15 miles across country during the night to avoid American air strikes. They could not wash or shave. Many of them suffered from dysentery. Prisoners who dropped out were never seen again.

After four days, Sharp escaped by jumping into a ditch, only emerging when the column had passed. He moved at night, heading south and navigating by the stars. During the day, he hid and subsisted on rice and apples.

After two days, he was picked up by a Chinese patrol and returned to the column. After reaching Mun Hari (nicknamed “Halfway House”) he and other “difficult” prisoners, including Captain (later General Sir Anthony) Farrar-Hockley, were selected for intensive interrogat­ion.

When he refused to cooperate, he was bound with telephone wire, handcuffed and put in an undergroun­d bunker. The wire ran from a noose around his neck to his wrists which were tied behind his back. If he struggled, it would strangle him.

He said afterwards that his captors knew that he had a record in Intelligen­ce. Either he had been betrayed by a fellow prisoner or they had captured documents showing details of his service. Periodical­ly he was taken out and questioned again. His defiance infuriated his Chinese captors. One afternoon, he was tied to a tree. His interrogat­or drew a pistol and threatened to shoot him. After an hour, he was crammed into a small bunker with six others.

In July, he took part in a forced march for 10 days to Camp 1 at Chong-Song. There, for the first time for three months, he was allowed to wash. He was made to chop wood for several hours. The rest of the day was spent in political indoctrina­tion. The PoWs were told that they were not prisoners but “Students of the Truth” and monitors reported regularly on their progress – or lack of it.

Sharp was placed in solitary confinemen­t and interrogat­ed several times a day for a week. When winter came, he was put in a room with an Allied pilot who had been taken prisoner after he was shot down and who had been “broken” by the Chinese. The man asked Sharp to tell him about his service with the Special Forces.

Accused of being an intelligen­ce agent who had worked for the Americans, in February 1952 he was handed over to the Korean Security Police and incarcerat­ed in a Korean jail. There he was kept in isolation, beaten and forced to stand outside, barefooted and at attention for long periods. In temperatur­es which fell to minus 50 degrees Fahrenheit, cold water was thrown on his feet.

After being transferre­d to another interrogat­ion centre, he was joined by one of his officers, Lieutenant Leo Adams-Acton, who had been captured in December 1950. Although both men were in solitary confinemen­t, they managed to communicat­e, and escaped together. After being on the run for several weeks, they were captured by a Chinese patrol and taken back to Chong-Song.

There they were crammed into long, coffin-like wooden boxes and taken out intermitte­ntly to undergo brutal interrogat­ions. Sharp, Adams-Acton and an American marine escaped but they may have been betrayed by another prisoner for, this time, the Chinese were waiting for them. Sharp was shackled before being returned to his box and was kept in solitary confinemen­t until December 1952. Adams-Acton was subsequent­ly shot while trying to escape.

Sharp was subsequent­ly transferre­d to Camp 5, Pyoktong. Methods of interrogat­ion included long periods of standing to attention without shoes in the snow, beatings, denial of sleep, washing facilities, medical treatment and the stopping of food for up to three days. He was burned with cigarettes while hanging from a bar by his fingers or forced to hold a heavy rock over his head for long periods while kneeling. Another method was to sit him in a chair, cover his face with a cloth, tip the chair backwards and pour water onto the cloth until he blacked out.

A further move took him to Ogye Dong Penal Camp, a camp for “difficult prisoners” suspected of being involved in intelligen­ce work and he remained there until June 1953. He had the doubtful honour of being one of the very last PoWs to be handed over by the Chinese and it was September before he was released. Throughout his imprisonme­nt, the Chinese and North Koreans had denied him Red Cross parcels or letters from home.

After a debriefing in Japan, he returned to Britain for hospital treatment and a spell of leave. Before returning to the RNF depot, Newcastle, he helped with the compiling of an Army manual entitled Conduct Under Capture Training.

In December 1950, in recognitio­n of his service with the American-led UN Partisan Forces in Korea, he had been awarded the US Army Commendati­on for Valour. The citation read: “As the Chinese Communist Forces drove south, Sergeant Sharp, on numerous occasions, led reconnaiss­ance patrols northwards into enemy held territory, often spending days behind enemy lines and having to fight through enemy lines to return to UN forces.”

In November 1953, he was awarded The British Empire Medal (Military Division). The citation stated that “for much of his captivity he was suffering from severe dysentery and periodic attacks of malaria. Neverthele­ss, in the face of a determined attempt by his captors to break his spirit, his courage, his powers of resistance, and his high morale were quite outstandin­g and were an inspiratio­n to all who came into contact with him.”

David Maurice Povolotsky, the son of a master baker, was born at Hackney, East London, on January 12 1928. The family adopted the name Powell and moved to Birmingham before the war and he was educated locally.

When war began, there was daylight and night bombing in his area and young David acted as a cycle messenger for the local air raid warden’s first aid posts. His mother remarried and, in 1947, he changed his name by deed poll and took his stepfather’s name.

After a year at Loughborou­gh College, he joined up, signing on for seven years. He completed his basic training with the Rifle Brigade at Winchester and machine gun training at Chester. In 1946, he joined the Royal Northumber­land Fusiliers (RNF) and was posted to the Far East.

He served in Java and Sumatra where the Allies tried to restore order during the power vacuum resulting from the Japanese surrender. After serving in Japan, he moved to the Jungle Warfare School, Kota Tinggi, Johore, to train as an instructor. In 1948, after the beginning of the Malayan Emergency, he became involved in long-range jungle patrols with the Malay Scouts, the forerunner of the post-war SAS.

He subsequent­ly returned to England and rejoined his Regiment at the School of Infantry, Warminster, as a Sergeant Instructor. In June 1950, at the outbreak of the Korean War, 1st Bn RNF was mobilised and joined 29 Infantry Brigade Group.

Sharp worked with the Tactical Intelligen­ce Liaison Office of the US 1st Corps and served on intelligen­ce gathering operations in North Korea from the winter of 1950 until March 1951. He rejoined 1 RNF in April, just before the Battle of the Imjin River.

After retiring from the Regular Army in March 1954, Sharp was commission­ed and served with the Royal Army Medical Corps Parachute Field Ambulance Unit, TA. He later transferre­d to 16th Lincoln (Pathfinder) Company, The Parachute Regiment TA.

In civilian life, he became a teacher and lecturer and subsequent­ly worked for the New Towns Commission in designing the leisure facilities for Milton Keynes. After working in London, dealing with problems caused by inner city deprivatio­n in the Borough of Lambeth, he moved to Ashford, Kent, where he helped to improve recreation­al facilities in the borough. He later became a consultant for government security training teams.

His experience­s during the Korean War left a permanent mark on him but he coped with the memories by keeping busy. Aged 88, he was still working and he made regular visits to Florida for meetings with Korean War veterans from the American Special Forces.

He was president of the WW2 Escape Lines Memorial Society and past president of the Army PoW Escape Club. He was also a member of the US Special Forces Associatio­n, the Allied Special Forces Associatio­n in England, and a vice-president of the Royal British Legion, Ashford, Kent.

On November 11, Armistice Day, shortly before his death, he laid a wreath at a Remembranc­e Parade at St Mawgan, Cornwall. Major David Sharp, born January 12 1928, died November 13 2016

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 ??  ?? Sharp (right) and, below, with his medals: he endured beatings and was crammed into a coffin-like wooden box
Sharp (right) and, below, with his medals: he endured beatings and was crammed into a coffin-like wooden box

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