in this interview, Les Hughes recalls serving in the Korean War. Hughes was an artillery gunner in 161 Battery of the Royal New Zealand Artillery. He was involved in the Battle of Kapyong, where UN troops withstood a massive Chinese attack, helping to prevent the capture of Seoul, the South Korean capital. Then aged 86, Hughes reminisces about that battle and his training back in New Zealand, the Kiwi troop’s lack of equipment, and the journey home at war's end. Some 31 Kiwi soldiers were killed in action in Korea. Hughes himself passed away on 19 February 2016.
John Barry Fenton was just 15 when he joined the New Zealand Navy in 1949. When the Korean War broke out the next year, Fenton was part of the crew aboard the frigate HMNZS Pukaki, as it headed north for patrol duties. He describes the monotony of shipboard life in a war mostly fought on land. Returning to New Zealand, Fenton undertook further training before returning to Korea for a second tour of duty, this time aboard HMNZS Hawea. The ship mainly patrolled the area around the mouth of the Han River, to stop enemy ships entering or leaving. Fenton died on 17 April 2019.
It’s sometimes called the forgotten war, but Korea lives bright in the mind of Maurice Gasson. Volunteering at 21, Gasson found himself on the freezing battlefields of Korea as part of an artillery battery. Poorly equipped, the Kiwi soldiers swapped bottles of whisky with their American counterparts for sleeping bags and blankets. Conditions improved, but the fighting intensified. Gasson took part in the three-day Battle of Kapyong, a key episode of the conflict. His stories are chilling and some of his experiences are reflected through his poetry.
Daniel Herlihy’s naval career spanned 44 years, making him the longest continuous serving member of the New Zealand Navy. He joined in 1949, at the age of 14. Even before seeing active service in Korea he’d been involved in keeping New Zealand ports running, during the infamous 1951 waterfront dispute. Following significant action off Korea’s coasts, Daniel was later involved in the Suez Crisis and the Malayan Emergency. Later, while commanding a coastal patrol vessel, he took part in action against illegal Taiwanese fishing boats. At 82, Daniel recalls many details.
After a long flight in a C-130 Hercules, Dez Harrison arrived in Vietnam on the fifth of May 1967. As he puts it, when you’re young and green it’s all an adventure. Serving in 161 Field battery, Harrison says he was blessed with good leadership from non-commissioned officers who were mainly veterans of Korea and Malaya. As the memories rattle off, he has plenty of praise for the Americans in Vietnam, but less so for his Australian comrades. Stories of leave in Saigon and Singapore provide fond memories, but the reception back in New Zealand at the end of his service is less happy.
In this Memories of Service interview, veteran Kenneth Johnstone shares his stories of being in the Navy during the Korean War. He talks briefly about his time spent chasing Russian submarines around the Mediterranean before heading to the war. There he was shot at by North Korean forces and knew numerous casualties. In total he spent eight years in the Navy, working as a stoker in the engine room. He shares his medals from the war and talks about life after it ended, particularly about being hailed as a hero by South Korean visitors.