Obituary: Colin MacNicol MC, soldier and businessman

Colin MacNicol
Colin MacNicol
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Born: 31 October, 1928, in London. Died: 13 August, 2013, in Sussex, aged 84

Colin MacNicol saw heroic service in the Korean War in April 1951 when serving with the 1st Battalion the Royal Ulster Rifles as a Platoon Commander. He and his platoon were involved in the hard-fought battle of the Imjin river. MacNicol was under rigorous pressure from a much larger Chinese army and, by sheer perseverance and valour, he stemmed the advance. The Chinese army attacked the United Nation positions, attempting to gain a breakthrough that would then allow them to advance on the South Korean capital of Seoul.

MacNicol’s platoon came under severe attack as they were ordered to hold a defensive line south of the Imjin river. Intensive fighting took place throughout the night and MacNicol’s front-line troops came under constant bombardment. Despite ammunition running low, MacNicol inspired his men to one more attack. Over the next few days, they recaptured the strategically valuable ground that had been lost.

The fighting continued for some days and landed up in hand-to-hand combat between the troops – with stray bullets flying perilously close to the troops. The savage battle had certainly blunted the impetus of the Chinese offensive and allowed the UN forces to retreat to prepare vital defensive positions north of Seoul, where the Chinese were halted.

The official account of the battle recounted that: “Had the Chinese achieved a breakthrough in the initial stages of their assault, they would have been able to outflank the UN troops. Such a development would have threatened the stability of the UN line and increased the likelihood of success for a Chinese advance on Seoul.”

The battle raged for three exhausting days and MacNicol continued to display courage under the most exacting circumstances. The enemy fire was unrelenting and he moved among his men, encouraging them and providing moral and mental support. On 29 June, 1951, Lieutenant MacNicol’s courage, coolness under fire and unselfish bravery was recognised by the award of an immediate Military Cross.

Colin MacNicol was the son of a family long connected with the Scotch whisky industry – both his father and grandfather owned and managed their own company.

MacNicol attended Tonbridge School in Kent, where he was an excellent sportsman, particularly cricket, and showed considerable talent as a chorister – making several successful recordings.

In 1948, MacNicol was called up to do his National Service and was commissioned into the Border Regiment. On the completion of his duties, he joined a family-owned timber importing company.

However, as the Korean War escalated into major warfare, MacNicol was called up from Reserves and posted to the 
1st Battalion the Royal Ulster Rifles. The regiment had a long history of service in the British Army – dating back to the Boer War – and had been much involved in the D-Day Landings.

MacNicol and his platoon arrived on the border between the two warring sides in December 1950 and moved forward three months later.

With virtually no cover, and seriously outnumbered, the Rifles came under heavy fire as they withdrew to a blocking position. The fighting was fierce and although the enemy’s offensive came within five miles of Seoul, the capital was saved.

MacNicol was demobbed for the second time and rejoined the timber trade, spending many years in the Belgian Congo. He later joined a firm of solicitors in Sussex.

He remained an active sportsman for many years: playing cricket for local clubs in Sussex and became a keen, and very successful, golfer. In 1952 he beat the South African professional, and then Open champion, Bobby Locke by six strokes.

In 1969, he won the Highwoods Open played at Highwoods Gold Club, near Bexhill on Sea. It is a challenging course and had been laid out by JH Taylor in 1924. The competition was open to scratch golfers from all over the UK, so the competition was intense.

MacNicol remained in contact with many of his army colleagues and attended Korean veteran dinners.

MacNicol’s first marriage to Ann Gillian Caswell in 1959 was dissolved. In 1971, he married Hester Joan Knowd who predeceased him.

He is survived by three sons and a daughter of his first marriage and a daughter from his second marriage.