DERRICK G. TURNER

Colonel | Royal Corps of Transport

In the few years following the end of the Second World War, the responsibilities of the Queen’s Royal Regiment entailed ceremony and parading.  When Lieutenant Turner joined the 1st Battalion in Singapore, he was promptly pulled into the show for perhaps the most notable ceremony of the period on July 10, 1947 when the battalion exchanged their old colors.  The beautiful pieces were one hundred years old to the day when they were marched for the last time.  Turner led the No.6 Guard in the parade that took place on the Padang, an attractive field of short-mown grass flanked at each end by Cricket Club buildings and backed by the grand architecture of the Municipal Buildings of Singapore.

 

Activities of grandeur such as these were broken by two-week periods of training on a rubber plantation in the northwest corner of the island where soldiers who had spent many months on ceremonial duties were reminded of how exactly to be a soldier.  Toting a rifle in full kit to play the game of an infantryman was a welcome break from rigid march formations, especially if it meant getting dirty.

 

Lieutenant Turner had hardly more than a year’s service with the regiment when the great reduction of units began.  The Queen’s 1st Battalion was to amalgamate with the 2d and on September 11, 1947 the battalion began the transition, shrinking each month until the last days of December when it was represented by only a few men of the cadre.  Many of the former members of the battalion accepted postings within FARELF or to the Buffs in Hong Kong, including Turner who was among the last of the Queen’s members to leave.  He bid farewell to the cadre of 1st Battalion as they departed for home to conclude twenty-one years of unbroken service overseas.  Though his term with the Queen’s was short lived, he continued his early years in the Far East with enough distinction to add an oak leaf to his General Service ribbon.

A transfer from the Queen’s to the Royal Army Service Corps began the rest of Derrick’s career.  His home was not in an infantry regiment nor was it to be filled with drill and ceremonial duties, but in the essential field of transportation.  He joined 57 Company bound for Korea, destined to be the only Service Corps load carrying company between both 27 and 29 Brigades.  They landed in December 1950 and traveled as far as Sinanju before turning back for Taejon. 

 

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The winter climate alone posed its own problems with excruciating temperatures that congealed motor oil if an engine was not kept running continuously.  February was the most demanding month for the company as they supplied ammunition to the guns over the Han River.  Throughout March, the waters swelled and washed bridges away after terrible rain through the period and thick mud turned the roadways to a soupy disaster that threatened to stall movement for hours.  Where the earth was flat and roads existed, they were extremely primitive and so narrow they were nearly impassible in both directions at once.  Some seemed hardly more than pathways or thin dikes through rice paddies.  When dry weather prevailed, vehicles churned up a choking dust that enveloped moving columns for miles.  These conditions worsened in the hot summer months.  Considering all aspects of the country, the company found it to be entirely ill suited for vehicles.

 

In the early stages of their campaign, the British units found that the first contingents of the United Nations forces had cleared the main roads, but left the mountains largely to the enemy who became a constant threat to the lines of communication.  The American and Commonwealth forces eventually adopted tactics of sweeping divisions across entire mountain ranges, but this posed the problem of supply and how the Service Corps would manage to keep up with such a rapid assault over steep mountain passes.

The advance and retreat into 1951 set up for the Imjin River Battle in late April which became the finest operation of 57 Company’s time in Korea.  For four days, the company supported the infantry fighting to hold back the Chinese spring offensive.  The section of the line was primarily the two British Brigades and though small in number, they held back the Chinese hordes with ferocity that captured the attention of the world.  Their thin line was all that stood to ensure the salvation of Seoul.

On the last night of the four-day battle, Lieutenant Turner began assembling vehicles to travel as far forward as possible to take beleaguered infantry battalions off the line.  Troops of the Belgian Battalion, the Glosters, Northumberland Fusiliers, and Ulsters had been fending off the endless attacks without rest.  The Chinese had cut deeply between them, swarming around the hills and infiltrating closer to the positions of supporting arms and rear echelon areas.  In the early morning hours of April 25th, Turner led his column of 38 vehicles to the front where they loaded fatigued men in a frenzy.  From the frontline positions, they hurtled back to safety while their artillery guns fired over open sights to cover their withdrawal.  Turner lost only two vehicles and two drivers wounded in the daring evacuation.  The action earned him a mention and likely influenced his subsequent promotion to captain in May.

RASC Officers School Permanent Staff Officers 1961

The battle at the Imjin River became a glorious beacon of the British contribution to the war.  Though their casualties were high, they had defended Seoul successfully and discouraged the Chinese during their recent charge.  Activity following the battle was anticlimactic after the nearly defeated Chinese withdrew and 57 Company joined the other service corps units of the Commonwealth in ‘less glamorous’ Divisional duties.  As the excitement dwindled and the brigades restructured, it was decided that rather than functioning as a cohesive company in support of a single brigade, 57 Company split into detachments across the Divisional area of operations.  While dull in comparison to their first few months, the work was consistent and reasonable.  By the time the war into static trench warfare over numbered hills and ridges, Turner’s tour concluded and he was back to the United Kingdom.

 

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Over the next thirty years, Turner remained devoted to the Royal Army Service Corps until it’s division and Derrick embraced the new Royal Corps of Transport.  A period of staff service and postings near home ended when he moved to Tripolitania for a constant sprint of training and exercises with 38 Company.  His ultimate assignment before retirement took him to Baghdad in the early years of the Iran-Iraq War.  As Defence Attaché, he managed to form connections within the Ministry of Defence not ordinary for foreigners who were typically viewed with suspicion.  Saddam had already imprisoned a number of British businessmen for what he suspected to be espionage, but he was the leader that Western policy supported as the ‘lesser of two evils.’  Turner was able to relay vital information about the progression of the war as well as making vital decisions to protect the British community, particularly in Basrah when the town was attacked.  What the British were especially pleased with was Turner’s ability to increase defense sales to Iraq to the sum of £250 million with potential for more.  One of the biggest concerns for Britain during the war was maintaining trade with the Middle Eastern country they had such deep ties to.  His performance over nearly two years in Iraq was officially recognized when he was made Commander of the Order of the British Empire.

Sources: 

Royal Army Service Corps Journal, 1949-1960

Royal Corps of Transport Journal, 1967-1984

"A Commonwealth CRASC."  Royal Army Service Corps Review, I, no.5, 1952, pp. 12-17

"Korea - Part 2 - Commonwealth Column."  Royal Army Service Corps Review, I, no.6, 1953, pp. 29-47