Death of highly respected military figure who served in Korean War

Colonel Charley croppedColonel William Robert Hunter (Robin) Charley OBE, JP, DL, who died at the age of 95 at the Somme Nursing Home, Belfast, was a well-known and highly respected career army officer with the Royal Ulster Rifles.

 The son of Colonel Harold Richard Charley CBE DL and his wife Phyllis Hunter, he was born in 1924.

His father was a career soldier commissioned into the Royal Irish Rifles in 1895, who saw service in Nepal and India prior to the First World War and was seriously wounded in France during the Great War. He held numerous distinguished positions including being manager of the British Red Cross in Berlin in 1919 and City Commandant of the Ulster Special Constabulary in Belfast, 1924-1952.

The Charley, or Chorley, family were originally from the north of England and came across to Ulster in the 17th century, initially to Belfast. Branches of the family would later be found at Finaghy and Dunmurray.

The Charleys were synonymous with the linen industry in the province and pioneers who were accredited with discovering the process for bleaching linen cloth with chlorine.

One of the branches of the family lived at Finaghy House and granted use of one of their fields in perpetuity on the Twelfth for use of the Belfast Orangemen, the ‘rent’ being that the lesson during the religious service should always be read from the “Charley Bible”.

Finaghy House is now known as Faith House and is a home for senior citizens.

The family of Robin Charley lived at Warren House, Dunmurray, originally known as Warren View, which had been given to his father by his uncle Edward Charley in 1923.

His parents added to the house and enlarged it over the years and their children Robin and June had an idyllic childhood which included frequent raft trips along the river which passed their house, under the railway bridge and to the lake at Seymour Hill.

Robin Charley was educated at Elm Park Prep School in Killylea, County 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.

In the following decade he saw service in the Korean War, between 1950 and 1953. He had heard that the Royal Ulster Rifles were to be sent there in response to the communist threat, but by that time there were no vacancies for his rank of captain so he accepted the lower rank of lieutenant and took a pay cut in order to serve.

During the war he took part in the battle of Happy Valley, which saw 150 RUR soldiers killed or taken prisoner.

At one point during the conflict he found himself surrounded by Chinese insurgents, leading to a sharp engagement.

Colonel Charley later reflected that there had been a contrast between the rather poor calibre of the North Korean soldiers which the Ulster soldiers first had to confront and then the thousands of Chinese volunteers by which they were assailed.

During the war his sense of humour was displayed when he signed off on a trailer with supplies for 100 men from a US supply depot as “Mickey Mouse”.

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.

In the 1960s Colonel Charley was commanding officer of the Queen’s University Officers Training Corps and Colonel of the Army Cadet Corps.

After retiring from the army he continued to maintain an active life supportive of a number of charities, including St. John Ambulance, where he was a Knight of St. John, and Clifton House in Belfast.

He was a board member of the Northern Ireland War Memorial and the Royal Ulster Rifles Museum.

At the time of his death he was also Senior Vice President of the Not Forgotten Association.

He was secretary of the Royal Ulster Rifles Association between 1972 and 1989.

General Steele launch Col Charley
Colonel Robin Charley with the late Rev. W. G. McConkey at the launch of the General Steele Trust Fund in Ballycarry; General Steele was also a Royal Ulster Rifleman

 

He launched an appeal for a memorial and bursary in memory of another Royal Ulster Rifleman, General Sir James Steele, in Ballycarry, County Antrim in the 1990s and also in the early 1990s became a trustee of the newly-constituted Somme Association, established to commemorate the sacrifice of Irish soldiers in the First World War.

His involvement was no surprise, given that his father and uncle had both served on the Somme, and he was an influential figure in the establishment of the Somme Heritage Centre at Conlig outside Newtownards in 1994, a lasting legacy to those who served.

Carol Walker MBE, Director of the Somme Association, said he had played a significant role; “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.”

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.”

A member of the Select Vestry at Christ Church, Carrowdore, his funeral service took place at the Parish Church of Saint Patrick, Drumbeg. Donations in lieu of flowers were encouraged to the Royal Ulster Rifles museum.

A memorial service is to be held in the autumn.

Colonel Charley was predeceased by his beloved wife Janet, and is survived by his daughters Catherine, Elizabeth and Jane and their families, including grandchildren Charley, Rebecca, Dominic and Isabella.

This article originally appeared in the Belfast News Letter, August 1, 2019

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