70th Anniversary of the Korean War
On the 70th anniversary of the Korean War we remember those New Zealanders who fought for democracy in the first conflict of the Cold War.
On 25 June 1950 the first major clash of the Cold War erupted as North Korea invaded the democratic South. The United Nations Security Council put out a call for combative assistance, New Zealand was one of the first to respond. On the 3rd of July New Zealand despatched two navy frigates HMNZS Tutira and Pukaki. This commitment was followed by Kayforce, an army force centred on the 16th Field Regiment, Royal New Zealand Artillery, which embarked on the SS Ormonde on 10 December. More than 6,000 New Zealanders, including a large number of Māori service personnel, served in Korea on both land and sea, all were volunteers. While an armistice was signed on the 27th July 1953, Kayforce did not leave Korea until 27 July 1957.
The Korean War was significant for New Zealand, as it was the first major conflict of the Cold War, and demonstrated New Zealand’s commitment to the newly formed United Nations. However, it was also often overlooked and overshadowed by the later conflict in Vietnam. Therefore, on its 70th anniversary we want to acknowledge the service personnel who served in Korea and show Online Cenotaph's commitment to sharing their stories.
The New Zealand experience on Korean soil was defined by the fire of artillery and the icy, frigid conditions of active duty. Fighting back from the tenuous foothold around Pusan (now Busan), UN forces dug in on the infamous 38th parallel. Outnumbered in hard, hilly terrain and living in tents, the Kiwi artillery needed to be ready for action night and day. As Gunner Laurie Valentine put it, 'Our lives revolved around the gun.' 1 Making matters worse, boots, beer and mustaches froze overnight, though improvised petrol stoves later kept life intact inside tents. 2 Elsewhere transport and signals personnel braved snipers, shells, mortars, unreliable allies and enemy infiltration.
Sergeant Wilfred Poulton of 162 Battery wrote in a letter home that 'All we could hear between shots was the sizzling of snow landing on the hot barrel . . . We got to bed tired out and woke at 6.30 to a dark white world.' 3
Francis Henry Edgerton, served as a Gunner with the Royal New Zealand Artillery, leaving New Zealand on a TEAL flight in August 1952, the Korea replacement flew from Wellington via Sydney before landing in Iwakuni, Japan. Edgerton served in Korea for two years, and spent part of that time documenting the New Zealand Artillery and camp life. He returned to New Zealand in 1954, after spending two years in Korea, he was later discharged in March 1955.4 He returned to civilian life as a Saw-millar in Tuatapere, Southland. 5 His photographs were purchased by the Museum in 2016.
For the Navy conditions were also extreme. Able Seaman Daniel Herlihy recalled 'We only spent a maximum of 20 minutes on lookout because it was so cold - very, very cold - and often we used to go and huddle around the funnel to get its warmth.' 6
Daniel Brian Herlihy joined the navy in 1949 as a seaboy on HMNZS Taupo, he turned 18 a few months after the outbreak of the Korean War. The HMNZS Taupo patrolled alongside American ships, along the East Coast and out towards the Russian border sweeping for subs.
'Our job was to interrupt their supply lines, but as quickly as we took out bridges and tunnels the North Koreans built them again. We rarely went ashore. Onboard conditions were harsh. We had inadequate wet and cold weather gear - a British issue duffel coat that the wind whipped up, sea boots and stockings and a pair of long johns. We were grateful for the NZ Patriotic Board’s present of woollen gloves and balaclava. Heating was poor and we were sleeping down below the waterline and it was cold. The inside doors of the upper deck would ice over in winter.'7
As with any war, there was deep tragedy with 45 young New Zealanders killed on active duty. Reflecting on the loss of his mate Poulton recalled, 'Bill Cook was killed by a direct hit on his slittie. He was a good friend of mine. We shared a tent in Australia and used to go about together. He had a girlfriend in Hastings, whom he was writing to regularly . . . . That poor young woman in Hastings, Bill's girl. To be told that her boyfriend had been killed. What dreadful news"'8
Gordon Brian Cook, Bill as he was known, is one of forty five men who died during the Korean War. Two of whom served with the Royal New Zealand Navy and two who had served with the Royal Australian Regiment. They are remembered in the Auckland War Memorial Museum Hall of Memories.
From November 1951, Parliamentary debates discussed whether those in Korea were a ‘Forgotten Force.’ Questions were asked about why parcels sent by surface mail weren’t received, why a family only learned their son had been awarded the Military Medal in the Newspaper. While Veterans of the Second World War were guaranteed homes and farms at reasonable prices, this policy had since disappeared for the Korean veterans. 9
On their return home troops found that few New Zealanders showed any interest in the stalemated war. Herlihy wrote; 'On our return to New Zealand it was all rather low key. We were met by our families, the Chief of Naval Staff and North Shore’s MP George Gair. After that it was business as usual and on to our next posting.'
It wasn’t until late 1989, that the Korean Roll of Honour was inscribed onto Auckland Museum's Hall of Memories. The New Zealand Memorial in Korea was unveiled in 2005, fifty-five years after the conflict.
It was felt by many that service in Korea was overshadowed by the later service in Vietnam.
Nevertheless the service of our veterans is keenly remembered in South Korea. The Korean Government remains committed to acknowledging the service and sacrifice of New Zealanders, each year they sponsor Korean veterans, their children or grandchildren to visit Korea through the Revisit Korea Programme.
So that the service of New Zealanders like Bill Cook is not forgotten, Online Cenotaph is working hard to expand and enrich our Korean War records. Over the Level 4 COVID-19 lockdown, Auckland Museum's Visitor Hosts began transcription of the original Korean Nominal Rolls. This transcription will have create and enrich thousands of Online Cenotaph records.
To help with the project, we're also asking veterans and their families to contribute to Online Cenotaph. If you have information or photographs you'd like to add, please get in touch with the team.
Lest we forget our Korean War veterans.
Stuart Boag, ed., (2000). Ice and Fire: New Zealand and the Korean War, 1950-1953, Wellington.
 Pip Desmond (2013). The War That Never Ended, Auckland.
G.F. Hopkins (2002). Tales from Korea: the Royal New Zealand Navy in the Korean War, Birkenhead.
Wilfred Poulton (2004), K Force in Korea: a soldier's life in the 16th New Zealand Field Regiment, Palmerston North.
Francis Harry Edgerton - Photograph album (1945-1955). Auckland Museum - PH-2016-15.
Chamberlain, Howard (2013). The New Zealand Korea Roll: Honourng those who served in the New Zealand Armed Forces in Korea 1950-1957. Howard Chamberlain.
New Zealand Electoral Rolls 1853–1981. Auckland, New Zealand: BAB microfilming. Microfiche publication, 4032 fiche.
 The White Ensign, The Royal New Zealand Navy Museum Journal, Issue 10, Winter 2010.
Parliamentary debates. vol. 296. p. 976
New Zealand in the Korean War, NZHistory
Kiwis in Korea: When the Cold War ran Hot, by Vaughan Yardwood, National Geographic.
Korea and the RNZN, National Museum of the Royal New Zealand Navy.
Cite this article
Millar, Daniel and Pine, Madison.
70th Anniversary of the Korean War. Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira. First published: 22 June 2020. Updated: 25 June 2020.