David first made contact with what is now the Escape Lines Memorial Society (ELMS) in the late 80s, when he met Roger Stanton, now our Director,, when Roger was serving in the army and David was working with the veteran Army Escapers. David was at that time President of the Army POW Escape Club. He was also a member of the US Special Forces Association and the Allied Special Forces Association in England, and he was a Vice -President of the Ashford branch of the Royal British Legion. He was a very active and dynamic person, never missed a reunion and attended many events throughout Europe.
David was actually born David Maurice Povolotsky in Hackney on the 12 January 1928, son of Samuel and Sadie Povolotsky. The family adopted the English name Powell and moved to Birmingham before the Second World War, and when war broke out David acted as a cycle messenger for the local air raid warden’s first aid posts. He experienced both night and daylight bombing in his local area, and witnessed much devastation. His brother was also killed in North Africa during the conflict. In 1945 David enlisted into the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers [RNF]; he completed basic training at Winchester and machine gun training at Chester. On completion of his training in early 1946, he was posted to the Far East and served in what is now Indonesia during that countries overthrow of its Dutch colonial administration. David was then posted to South East Asia Command, as a corporal, to train as a Jungle Warfare instructor. He remained at the Jungle Warfare School based in Kota Tinggi, Johore, until the start of the Malayan Emergency in 1948. He then moved from training to operations and became involved in long-range jungle patrols with the Malay Scouts, the forerunner of the post-war SAS.
After four years in the Far East David returned to England and re-joined his Regiment at the School of Infantry at Warminster in the rank of Sergeant Instructor. In June 1950, at the outbreak of the Korean War, the Battalion was mobilised and joined the 29th Infantry Brigade Group. Due to his intelligence gathering experience in Malaya, David was appointed Battalion Intelligence Sgt and later moved to the Brigade HQ Intelligence cell, once again leaving the RNF. He travelled to Korea with an advanced party to carry out recce and observation duties and then returned to Singapore to brief Brigade HQ on the situation in Korea. When the Bde deployed to Korea, David worked in the Intelligence cell.
At times David was deployed with the US 1st Corps, under the command of the 8th US Army, and he became aware that they were trawling units for men with experience of patrolling and Intelligence gathering techniques behind enemy lines. With his experience in Malaya David applied and was accepted. The unit was a US led organisation together with South Korean Special Forces; very few British (thought to be six) were involved.
Now working with the Tactical Intelligence Liaison Office of the US 1st Corps, and known as part of the United Nations Partisan Forces in Korea Miscellaneous Units, David served on intelligence gathering operations in North Korea from the winter of 1950 until March 1951. In April a request was made from the Commanding Officer of 1 RNF for David to return on a temporary basis to replace their Intelligence Sergeant, who had had to return to the UK on compassionate grounds. Shortly after his return to the Battalion, they were involved in the major battle of the Imjin River. The RNF fought to the right of the Gloucestershire Regiment during their 80 hour battle with the Chinese; on the 25 April 1951 David, fighting a rear-guard action, was wounded and captured trying to fight his way through a Chinese road block. He was left at the road-side, together with several other wounded Fusiliers, for five days without treatment or assistance, when Chinese troops, realising that the wounded men were not a threat, gave them soya beans, water and soya bean cakes. Two days later other Chinese troops arrived and put David and the other wounded into pony wagons and took them across the Imjin River to a POW collection point.
David’s initial interrogation was quite crude and unprofessional; three weeks later the POWs were marched out of camp on a 300 mile ‘death march’, covering up to 15 miles each night to avoid US air strikes. Prisoners who dropped out were not seen again. After four days David escaped from the column but was recaptured by Chinese troops, badly beaten and returned to the march. Eventually the column reached Mun-Hari (nick-named ‘Halfway House’) where David was separated, with others, for interrogation; some of the others included Captain Anthony Farrar-Hockley (later General Farrar-Hockley) and Padre Davis of the Gloucester’s. David refused to cooperate with his captors, so he was bound and placed in a bunker. Periodically taken out for interrogation, David’s defiance irritated his Chinese captors and one afternoon he found himself tied to a tree in front of a firing squad! He was ‘reprieved’ and six weeks later he was removed from the bunker and marched for ten days to Camp 1 at Chong Song.
Here, officers and SNCOs were separated from the other ranks. After five weeks David was placed in solitary confinement and subjected to further interrogation. He was accused of being an Intelligence agent and handed over to the Korean Security Police who moved him to a Korean Jail, where he was subjected to a regime of brutal torture which included extended periods in isolation; regular beatings; fbeing orced to stand outside, bare-footed and at attention for long periods in below freezing temperatures with cold water thrown over his feet. David was then moved to another interrogation centre where he was joined by one of his officers, Lt Leo Adams-Acton, who had also been part of the US led UN Partisan Forces and had been captured in December 1950. Although both men were in solitary confinement they managed to communicate, and escaped. Having been on the run for four and a half weeks they were eventually captured by a Chinese patrol and taken back to Chong Song. There they were placed in long wooden boxes (closely resembling a coffin!), and taken out intermittently to undergo brutal interrogations. David, Leo Adams Acton and a US marine made a further escape attempt, but this time the Chinese were waiting for them. They had been betrayed, it is thought, by another POW. Shackled, David was returned to his box in solitary confinement, but following his recapture Adams-Acton was later shot. David remained in Chong Song until December 1952 when he was transferred to Camp 5 at Pyoktong for further interrogation. The brutal torture continued, including the use of what is now termed ‘water boarding’ which usually causes the victim to black out.
David was subsequently moved to Camp 2 at Ogye Dong, a camp for ‘difficult prisoners’, those whom the Chinese suspected of being involved in Intelligence work. He remained there until June 1953 when he was finally repatriated; having the dubious honour of being the last POW handed over by the Chinese. Throughout his imprisonment, the Chinese and North Koreans had denied him access to Red Cross parcels or letters from home. After being debriefed in Japan, David returned to the UK for hospitalisation and then leave. Following his return to the UK David received formal recognition for his service during the Korean War. The USA awarded him the US Army Commendation with ‘V’ for Valor on the ribbon in recognition of his time serving with the US led UN Partisan Forces in Korea, The citation read; ‘As the Chinese Communist Forces drove south, Sgt 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 reach UN forces’. On the 28th November 1953, David was awarded The British Empire Medal (Military Division) for setting the ‘highest examples of integrity, loyalty and courage’. His conduct under capture exceeded the normal call of duty demanded. South Korea awarded him The Korean Medal of Honour, and he also received the United Nations Korean Medal. When he returned to duty David was posted to Al-9, where he assisted with the compilation of the army manual ‘Conduct Under Capture Training’. On completion of that task, he returned once again to the RNF depot in Newcastle. The RNF were, at this point, involved with the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya. David did not deploy to Kenya and he left the Regular Army in March 1954 in the rank of Sergeant.
After the Regular Army David joined the Territorial Army, was commissioned and served with the RAMC Parachute Field Ambulance Unit, later transferring to the 16th (Independent) Lincoln Company of the Parachute Regiment [TA]. This unit provided the Pathfinder unit to the 16th Airborne Division (TA). David took on various jobs with the Company ranging from Platoon Commander to Air Adjutant.
As a civilian David embarked upon a degree course in Physical Education at Loughborough College and later became a teacher, lecturer and then head of a department of Teacher Training. David was a man of many talents and he subsequently put these to good use when he was recruited by the Department of the Environment as a member of the New Towns Commission. He became involved with the planning and organisation of all the leisure facilities for Milton Keynes and then moved to London, to the borough of Lambeth where amongst other things he had to grapple with the problems of inner city deprivation. This was followed by a similar appointment in Kent. His skill as programme developer and trainer allowed him to follow a number of different interests and he subsequently became a security consultant and adviser for Government Security Training Teams which involved frequent travel to all parts of the world.
David’s experiences during the Korean War never left him; he overcame his demons through work, and in later life he suffered frequent bouts of pneumonia as a result of his ill treatment during captivity in North Korea, but he was always busy, still working in far flung places at the age of 88, and regularly travelling to Florida for meetings with US Special Forces veterans from Korea War Days. When the Army Escapers POW association closed David became a member of ELMS, and more recently it’s President.
On 11 November 2016, Armistice Day, David was again together with military friends and laid a wreath at a Remembrance Parade at St Mawgan in Cornwall. It had been his intention to attend the Remembrance Sunday Parade in Newquay on Sunday 13th November but sadly he died suddenly on Sunday morning, aged 88. David was a man of many talents; an excellent soldier; an outstanding organiser and trainer, and a man of integrity. He will be sadly missed by his many friends and colleagues.