Obituary: Major David Sharp

Heroic intelligence officer who resisted torture during the Korean War


A hero of the Korean War who endured torture and interrogation at the hands of the Chinese, Major David Sharp was one of the few Allied soldiers who escaped from Korean PoW camps. Symbolically, Sharp, who has died aged 88, and had survived two years of imprisonment in the 1950s, died on Remembrance Sunday. But despite having spent the last 60 years fundraising for Help for Heroes and the Royal British Legion, he would have had a pauper’s funeral but for the generosity of strangers, who crowd-funded the costs.

Serving in Korea as the Intelligence Sergeant with the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers in 1951, he was ambushed by the Chinese and abandoned with comrades by the roadside without food or medical treatment. Taken across the Imjin River to a PoW collection point, he was interrogated but revealed nothing other than his rank, regiment and brigade on his uniform. Weeks later he and his comrades were force-marched 15 miles for nearly a month at night to avoid American air strikes. Sharp jumped into a ditch until the column had passed. Navigating by the stars he hid during the day, surviving on rice and apples. But the Chinese found him and sent him back to the column. His captors knew he was an intelligence officer and he regularly faced interrogation and torture, even a mock execution, but remained silent throughout.

After a ten day march to Chong-Song his life alternated between political indoctrination and interrogation, and in February, 1952 he was handed to the Korean Security Police and jailed. He was beaten, kept in isolation and forced to stand barefoot in the cold. He managed to escape with one of his officers, but they were both recaptured by the Chinese and endured further interrogation and torture, which included sleep deprivation, starvation, and being confined in a coffin-like crate.

Finally Sharp was sent to a penal camp for suspected intelligence operatives and in June, 1953 was one of the last PoWs to be released by the Chinese. Throughout his ordeal he had been denied letters from home or Red Cross parcels, and was suffering from dysentery and periodic malaria attacks. He eventually returned to the RNF depot in Newcastle. In December, 1950 he was awarded the US Army Commendation for Valour. Three years later he received the British Empire Medal (Military Division). The citation pays tribute to Sharp’s outstanding courage and high morale, in the face of his captors’ determined attempts to break his spirit.

Ajex archivist Martin Sugarman adds: “He was also recommended for the George Cross, the highest award for bravery alongside the VC. But he turned it down so that another comrade could receive it! He was, like all true heroes, a very modest and cheerful bloke.”

Born David Maurice Povolotsky in Hackney, the son of a master baker, he was very proud of his Jewish roots. His parents moved to Birmingham but at the outbreak of the Second World War, he became a cycle messenger for the local air raid warden’s first aid posts. He was barmitzvah at Singers Hill Synagogue in Birmingham.

In 1947 his mother remarried and he took on his stepfather’s name, Sharp, by deed poll. He enlisted after a year at Loughborough College, joined the RNF and was posted to the Far East. He trained as an instructor in jungle warfare, patrolling with the Malay Scouts. Between 1950-51 he was an intelligence operative for the US 1st Corps in North Korea. On retirement Sharp worked in civic renewal in Milton Keynes and Ashford in Kent, and challenged inner city deprivation in Lambeth. While inevitably scarred by his experiences, Sharp maintained contact with Korean War veterans and was president of the WW2 Escape Lines Memorial Society. He remained single and has no survivors.

Gloria Tessler


Major David Sharp: born January 12, 1928. Died November 13, 2016




Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive