John Snare

John Snare, KIA 1952

John Snare is in the front row, second from the left.

John Maurice Snare was a six year old boy when the Second World War broke out, and was twelve when it ended.  In 1952 he found himself in Korea with the Royal Fusiliers and, as part of ‘Operation Pimlico’, was part of an operation tasked with going on a “prisoner snatch”, basically a patrol probing the enemy lines in order to bring back one or more of the enemy for interrogation.  It was down to the 40 or so men of ‘D’ Company to undertake this mission and 19 year old John was one of them.  The mission called for the utmost secrecy under cover of darkness, and silence was paramount in order that the enemy would not be tipped off.  Each man had a machine gun and grenades, and they were to grab the prisoner and withdraw with him under covering-fire from their flanks.  Alerting the enemy before the objective was achieved would jeopardise the mission and put the men’s lives at more danger than was already anticipated, but if it did get sticky then the men could call in assistance from heavy artillery, tanks and mortars … hopefully they would not be needed.

On the evening of November 22nd 1952 the men assembled, ready to go, only to be told the operation had been postponed for 48 hours.  Two days past and, on November 24th, they assembled again at just after 6pm and set off from their HQ toward a forward position overlooking the enemy base.  Only an hour in, and not yet at the forward position, they heard movement to their left and thought if this was the enemy then it would be an easily achieved objective and they could take a prisoner now.  The men crept toward the noise and were surprised to see an enemy Chinese soldier step out in front of them.  A sergeant pointed his Sten gun at the man but the Chinese man reached for his weapon, and this resulted in him being shot by the sergeant.  The man stumbled into some bushes and laid dying and was of no further use for interrogation.  Suddenly another Chinese soldier appeared and managed to run away before he could be stopped.  Was the element of surprise gone?  John and the Fusiliers now walked on to the forward position without knowing if the enemy had been tipped off.  They reached this at around 8pm and looking down into the valley below them they counted more than 100 enemy soldiers and called in artillery to fire on the valley.


At 1am in the morning John and his comrades moved out from their forward position and the operation was under way for real now.  The enemy HAD been tipped off and was waiting!  At least 60 Chinese, in two lines, opened up their machines guns on them, and the British replied with their Sten guns, but by now some had already fallen.  A full blown melee ensued with machine guns rattling and grenades being tossed from all quarters and battle lines becoming confused with opposing men amongst each other.  The Chinese were the first to re-organise and split into smaller groups in an attempt to get round ‘D’ Company who by now had had their wireless equipment knocked out.  The commander gave the order to withdraw but it was too late because the Chinese had now surrounded them and it would be a huge fight to get out.  Those men who eventually broke out did so in groups of twos and threes and they retreated back through the countryside.

The battle had alerted many more Chinese down in the valley and they too began to head on up to take on the British flank, although initially a platoon of Fusiliers on the flank held them off they too incurred many casualties and an hour or so later that position was over run too.  One notable act of heroism came from Fusilier Hodkinson who was the company’s Wireless Operator.  He stayed on top of the mound and continued to relay instructions back to the HQ, despite being wounded, and with all the NCOs killed or wounded he took control of the battle and helped bring down artillery upon the enemy.  It was desperate.  Fusilier Hodkinson told his HQ that there was now no way the men could withdraw because they were all too badly wounded.  A relief party was assembled back at HQ to get to the wounded men … but it was too late.  At 4.22am a vicious attack swamped the position and in Fusilier Hodkinson’s last transmission he was heard to say, “This is it.  They are coming again in strength.  We shall be over-run this time.  Nothing can stop them now.  They are coming up the slope, we are being overrun, we are being overrun ……”.  His transmission ended.

John’s unit setting off for the ill-fated mission.

4.22am a vicious attack swamped the position and in Fusilier Hodkinson’s last transmission he was heard to say, “This is it.  They are coming again in strength.  We shall be over-run this time.  Nothing can stop them now.  They are coming up the slope, we are being overrun, we are being overrun ……”.  His transmission ended.

After the battle, many Fusiliers volunteered to go to the scene of the battle to recover their dead but so did the Chinese and the Fusiliers suffered six more casualties through this action.  The cost to ‘D’ Company was 22 killed or missing, and 21 wounded.  No man escaped unscathed.  Fusilier Hodkinson had been taken prisoner and was repatriated five months later.  He was one of the lucky ones, and this gave hope to the families of those other men who were missing.  Hodkinson went on to receive the Distinguished Conduct Medal.


John was one of those missing.  Any hope for his return was dashed with the almost inevitable confirmation that he was killed in action.  Fusilier John Maurice Snare is remembered at the Commonwealth Memorial, at the United Nations Memorial Cemetery, in Busan (Pusan), South Korea and following a protracted effort by his relatives against the local authorities, his name was eventually, and decades later, included on Brandon’s War Memorial.

The fight to get John’s name on Brandon’s war memorial.

John Snare is remembered on the Commonwealth Memorial, at the United Nations Memorial Cemetery, in Busan, South Korea. It was four decades before he was remembered on Brandon’s war memorial.  This lengthy delay was not through a lack of trying, but adding his name to the memorial seemed controversial. It seemed, despite being schooled in Brandon, because he was born in Santon Downham town councillors felt he should be remembered in Santon Downham and not Brandon.  All this despite some of the First World War names on the town’s memorial never being born in the area, let alone Brandon.  The council would not make an exception for poor John.  Mind you, not all councillors agreed with the decision to ban John’s name on the memorial.  In 1994, Councillor Eric Ashley, a Korean War veteran himself, stormed out of a town council meeting in protest at the council’s refusal to add just one more name to Brandon’s war memorial. John died in 1952 and in June 1995, the council finally voted in favour (7-4) to add his name to Brandon’s war memorial.

Newspaper clipping, showing incorrect year for John’s death.

At the forefront of getting local recognition for John was his family and Bob Farthing.  Bob corresponded with John’s former comrades, the Royal Fusilier Regimental Association and the British Koreans Veterans Association to help arrange a memorial service in Santon Downham church. Bob was even sent a photo of John Snare’s company as they prepared to set off for that fateful mission.
Bob’s dedication to his boy hood best friend never died, and lasted a lifetime. Anyone who attended a Remembrance Parade, over the years at Brandon, would have seen Bob standing opposite John’s name to lay a wreath in honour of his friend.  Every year he made a point of doing this.  Even more than sixty years after his friend’s death, it was obvious Bob was still emotional thinking about this friend.  Sadly, that long tradition of remembering the bond between two best friends was broke a year ago when Bob passed away.
I was so touched by their endearing friendship that in March 2021 I approached the Brandon Town Council to ask if they would install a brass plaque on a seat overlooking Brandon’s war memorial.  The location was poignant, it overlooks John Snare’s name on the war memorial and is not far from where Bob would stand every year for his act of remembrance. Thankfully, the councillors acted more swiftly than those who procrastinated a few decades ago. Within two weeks of the plaque being proposed at the town council, it was installed.  Well done all concerned.  A lovely dedication to a lifelong friendship.