Belfast Telegraph

Robin Charley's daughter pays warm tribute to 'inspirational' Korean War hero who died aged 95

Colonel Robin Charley
Colonel Robin Charley
Colonel Robin Charley with his daughter Catherine in Korea
Alf McCreary

By Alf McCreary

Colonel Robin Charley, who has died at 95, was a well-known career Army officer with the Royal Ulster Rifles who served with the British forces in the Korean War.

He was a well-liked figure among all ranks and members of other regiments, and he made an important contribution to the Somme Association and museum, and as secretary of the Royal Ulster Rifles Association from 1972 until 1989.

William Robert Hunter Charley was born in Dunmurry in 1924 and educated at Elm Park school in Co Armagh, Cheltenham College, and Queen's University Belfast.

After enlisting in the Royal Ulster Rifles in 1943 he served in Europe and later in Palestine, Egypt and Hong Kong.

During the Korean War he took part in the so-called Battle of Happy Valley, where 150 RUR soldiers were killed or taken prisoner. He later said that his first impression of Korea was one of "desolation" and also recalled that the calibre of the North Korean soldiers was "quite ropey", but that "it was a shock when confronted by thousands of Chinese volunteers".

He also had a keen sense of humour, and once when he "borrowed" a trailer with supplies for 100 men from a US supply dump, he signed the invoice "Mickey Mouse".

There is a war memorial commemorating the dead and injured from the Korean War in the grounds of Belfast City Hall.

Back in Northern Ireland, Colonel Charley was the commanding officer of the Queen's University Officers Training Corps in the mid-Sixties, and he was also Colonel of the Army Cadet Corps.

In his retirement from the Army he was greatly supportive of a number of charities including the St John Ambulance, where he was a Knight of St John. He was chairman of the board of Clifton House, a member of the board of the Northern Ireland War Memorial, and he took up a role in the RUR Museum. He was also a member of the select vestry at Christ Church, Carrowdore.

In the early 1990s he became a trustee and honorary treasurer of the newly constituted Somme Association, which had been established to commemorate the sacrifice of Irish soldiers in the First World War, and particularly at the Somme.

Both his father and an uncle had served at the Somme. Robin Charley was influential in helping to establish the Somme Heritage Centre, which opened in 1994 and later became known as the Somme Museum.

Carol Walker, director of the Somme Association, said: "As chair, Colonel Charley was responsible for overseeing the centre into the fully accredited independent museum that it is today. In 2012 he encouraged the Somme Association to start work on a project to see that soldiers who had served with the Royal Ulster Rifles could return to Korea for the 60th anniversary, and to see a memorial established in 2013."

In 2011 Colonel Charley returned to Korea with 268 Commonwealth veterans of the 1950-53 conflict, and he attended a dinner held by the South Korean government in their honour.

Paying tribute, Carol Walker said: "Colonel Charley will be remembered by all in the Somme Association and the Somme Museum as a truly remarkable gentleman who was full of life, and a man of integrity. He was inspirational, and his enthusiasm was infectious. He had a fun-loving nature and could captivate people with his stories. He will always be remembered as always having the loudest-expressed 'Yo' when the regimental march Killaloe was being played."

Colonel Charley's eldest daughter Catherine Champion said that she was deeply impressed by the range of tributes being paid to her father.

"So many people have described him as a unique man, as one of a kind, as a person for whom the glass was always half full, never half empty.

"He was a supportive, inspirational figure in the family, and also a mentor to many other people. My abiding memory of him was his sense of humour around the house and his support.

"He will be sadly missed by everyone."

Colonel Charley is survived by two other daughters, Lizzie and Jane, and four grandchildren. He was predeceased by his wife Jane and his sister June. The family will announce a memorial service for Colonel Charley at a later date.

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