Anything can happen in the heat of battle, and sometimes, nothing can cool it down like bottles of beer.
Just look at William Speakman, a private with the British Army’s King’s Own Scottish Borderers during the Korean War. He’s one of the only living people to earn the Victoria Cross, the British Army’s most notable combat award. But he’s better known as the “Beer Bottle VC,” and the only thing more badass than that nickname is how he got it.
In October of 1951, Speakman and his unit were sent with United Nations forces to fight the Chinese People’s Liberation Army. The target was behind a pock-marked mount called Hill 317. Speakman and his unit charged up the hill at the break of dawn and took Hill 317. Then they had to hold their position, which was made nearly impossible, given that they were far outnumbered by a force of 6,000 Chinese fighters.
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By the time the Chinese reached Speakman and his unit, they were dug into their position. On Nov. 3, 1951, the location was lit up with Chinese artillery. The trenches, bunkers, and the hill itself were torn to shreds. Only 400 British soldiers remained after the attack.
But the Chinese forces weren’t done yet. Next came the infantry charge. At the time, Speakman was preparing grenades and bringing them to the soldiers on the front line. The location couldn’t be held, however. The men around Speakman were quickly overrun. Never one to shy away, Speakman grabbed some grenades and ran out the door, ignoring his commander’s orders to stay, and faced the Chinese forces. He chucked grenades, shot his rifle, and punched everyone near him — for four hours.
Eventually, there was nothing left for Speakman to fight with. The grenades were gone and the ammo empty. So Speakman grabbed what was closest: beer bottles and rocks. Beer bottles — the weapon of choice in parking lots and grungy pool bars — were pretty much all that stood between Speakman, his fellow soldiers, and death.
Finally, the order came to retreat. Speakman led an attack against the Chinese that gave the British troops just enough time to escape. Speakman limped away, injured but alive. He went on to be one of the highest-decorated living soldiers in Britain’s history. Next time you doubt the power of a bottle of beer, just remember William Speakman, Mr. Beer Bottle VC himself.
Speakman passed away in 2018, and was buried at a UN cemetery in South Korea.