Frank E. Butler
Frank Butler grew up in Palmerston North, New Zealand. After graduating high school, he worked for a mechanic until joining the New Zealand Navy. He was just fifteen years of age. He left Devonport, New Zealand for Korea aboard the HMNZS Kaniere in late summer of 1952. Frank Butler served as a stoker in the boiler room for much of his service. He returned to Korea three times after the war, developing a fierce love for the Korean people.
Enlisted at Age Fifteen
Frank E. Butler enlisted in the New Zealand Navy in 1952. He completed basic training in Auckland before sailing to Korea aboard the HMNZS Kaniere. At fifteen, he was the youngest New Zealand soldier to go to Korea. He traveled to Pusan, Seoul, and North Korea. He describes being under constant attack by North Koreans.
Patrolling the Korean Sea after the Armistice
Frank Butler learned that the war was over in 1953. He and his shipmates were assigned to patrol the border to prevent North Koreans from moving weaponry in the Korean Sea. At one point, gunners shot a ship filled with fruits and vegetables, but he asserts that most were transporting guns.
Joining the RSA
Upon return to Palmerston North, Frank Butler tried to join the Returned Services Association at the suggestion of relatives, but the man at the RSA offices tried to kick him out because he was just a kid. He persevered with the help of two brothers-in-law, but at sixteen years of age he was not allowed to drink alcohol at the club.
Frank E. Butler describes going ashore in Seoul while serving in the New Zealand Navy. He also reminisces about his later return visits. He wonders at the gratitude of the Korean people.
A Determined People
Frank E. Butler describes modern South Korea as an amazing recovery story. He marvels at their determination and the current differences between North Korea and South Korea.
"I Love Them!"
Frank E. Butler sends his heartfelt love to the Korean people. He is proud of the medals bestowed upon him by the Korean government, but he wishes the government of New Zealand would honor him as well. He feels the North Korean people did not fully intend the conflict that has split Korea, but he asserts that the world owes the South Koreans a debt of gratitude for standing firm.
[Beginning of recorded material]
F: My name is Frank, F R A N K, Ernest, E R N E S T, Butler.
I: B U
F: T L E R.
I: Yeah. And your written as Francis, but you wanna be called Frank?
F: Yes. Um, I was called Francis from a child. As I grew a little bit older
I: Um hm.
F: uh, I preferred Frank.
I: So then do you want me to write your name as Frank rather than Francis?
I: Okay. So I’ll change that. What is your birthday?
F: Twenty-six of the ninth, 1936.
I: You’re young. Eighty-three?
I: So it’s, uh, September 26.
I: Yeah. And where were you born?
F: Palmerston North.
I: Could you spell it?
F: P A L M S T O N, Palmerston North.
I: So P I L M Ston, S T O N. Yeah, yeah, yeah. If you, that, that’s what it’s better. Okay. Tell me about your family background when you were growing up, when you were a child.
F: Well, there was
my parents and five of us children.
I: Five of you.
F: Yeah. I started work working for a milkman at 1:00 in the morning
I: One o’clock in the morning.
F: until 6 in the morning when I was 11. It was interesting to say the least.
F: I still went to school, and
I: You mean after that work?
I: From one to six, six A.M.?
F: For seven days a week and, uh, it put me in good standing with the other cause we were not a wealthy family.
F: And, uh, it was interesting to say the least.
I: Um hm.
F: My father was a nominated all black because of his rugby experience at Palmerston North Boys High School.
I: Um hm.
F: But he never played a game for the all blacks. He met my mother, and that was the end of his foot, rugby career.
And when did you graduate school, high school or middle school? What happened?
F: Well, I, Betty and I, this is my second marriage.
F: I lost my first wife
I: Um hm.
F: of 51 years, and Betty and I grew up as children, and she lost her husband with cancer.
F: Five years ago we met,
and we married.
I: Um hm. And, so when did you finish your school, 1940
F: I can’t remember. Um,
F: just after the war.
I: Uh huh.
F: I think the war was in its last stages when I was at intermediate school.
I: You mean what war, the World War II?
F: World War I, World War II, yes.
F: Um, And then
I: After school, what did you do? Did you work?
F: After school?
I: Yea. I mean after you graduate from school,
F: Yeah. I went to work for a motor mechanic firm.
I: Uh huh.
F: I only worked for them for about three months, didn’t really
enjoy it or like it. And I went home one day and said to my parents I’m not happy with that company. And my mother said why don’t you join the Navy? Her, her father was a fighter up there, was a Captain in the British Navy.
I joined the Navy at, uh, 15.
I: In 15 years old?
F: Fifteen year old.
F: Went to Auckland and did all the training. I went down to Palmerston North on leave and saw my folks, saw my family and came back to Devonport,
and they said you got a transfer.
I: Um hm.
F: You’re going on to a frigate called the Karnary, and you’re on your way, in three weeks’ time, you’re on your way to Korea.
I: When was it ?
I: And do you remember what month?
I: Summer, winter?
F: Late summer.
I: Um hm.
I: So you
F: And then
I: You left from here to Korea, or did you go by way of Japan, or what happened?
F: No. I, uh, I joined the, came off the Bellona which is a big cruiser, returned to the Karnary which is a lot smaller ship and, uh, I told my parents I had three days leave,
went back down to Palmerston North, told my father that I was transferred to the Karnary on a, it’s a war frigate, and I’m going to Korea. And he said no, I don’t think you can cause I was just 15.
I: Right, you were too young.
F: I was the youngest in New Zealand to go to Korea. And dad said
well, don’t tell your mother. I’ll tell her. So I went off. I eventually came back to Auckland, picked up my gear from the Bellona, I went straight onto the Karnary, and I was only on board there t here days when we sailed for Korea.
F: I think it was late ’52.
I: Did you go to Korea directly from here, or did you stop
F: No, we, yeah. We, we went Sydney, Bali, Singapore, and then on to Korea I think.
I: Um hm.
I: Where did you arrive? I mean, did you arrive anywhere or where were you in Korea?
I: Um hm.
F: INAUDIBLE] to Pusan ,
and then we went up to Seoul. then we went up north of Korea and north of North Korea.
I: Um hm.
F: Up to, what was that river, [STAMMERING]
F: Manchun, sorry. I forget the name of the river. Very well known. And, uh, everywhere we, we went, we were under fire.
And, including air, airplanes bombing us and what have you.
I: You mean North Korean flight, I mean the
F: Yeah. I think it was Japanese planes.
I: No. Japanese were not in the War.
I: Must be Russians.
F: No, North Korean.
I: Russian or
F: Russian, Russian planes definitely.
F: Russian planes.
And, uh, we were up there for, oh, a good six, seven months and, uh, I went to go on duty, the late was 1953 then, and I went to go on duty in the engine room
F: in the engine room.
I: Engine room, yeah. Okay.
F: And I
thought it was strange, I went right down the stern to the ship, and the rear door was wide open.
F: And I thought that, that’s not right. So I went in and had a look, and our padre, Harry Taylor, was kneeling down outside praying. And I said excuse me, sir. I don’t think you should be out here. It’s too dangerous. It’s alright, son. The
War is over. And then, I think, it was March ’53 or, I just forget the date
I: July 27th
F: Yeah. And, uh, I went down below on my duties in the engine room and told them about it, and they said oh now. That’s not right.
I: Um hm.
F: We would have heard. Next thing, crackle all over the air, over the radio system that the War had, in fact, been signed and a Peace Treaty signed.
So later on in the eve, uh, the afternoon, we had an officer explain to us what exactly happened. So I asked him are we going home? He said no, not right now. We’re doing border patrol to catch people
carrying and selling guns, etc.. And we were given a Korean bloke, to inform him who that was was taking our bombers. One ship, one ship, small boat
came in sight , and he said now that’s full of armament from our guns, etc.. So the military, the gunners on our ship said to him what do we do? Do we shoot in front of it, or do we shoot it? Oh, no. You shoot the ship. And so it went on.
We, we, we caught and shot all of the smaller ships transporting armament. And a couple of days later
I: Was it in the Korean Sea?
F: Yeah. North Korean right up top.
I: So the, must be North Korean soldiers
I: are gathering weapons
I: and selling those?
F: Yes. Selling them.
I: To who?
F: The, taking them down to, to parts, small parts of South Korea.
I: Did you see that?
F: Yeah. Oh yeah. I saw it alright. And when that, another boat came into [INAUDIBLE] and he said well, okay. One’s doing it, they must all be doing it . So just shoot us. So they, they, the
blokes on the guns fired at the thing, and blew it to pieces and what have you, and all came up to the surface was vegetables. Cabbages and all sorts of things. So we went, we drifted over towards it, and they picked the bloke up, brought him on board, handcuffed him, brought him on board,
and he tried to explain to them that he was carrying fruit and vegetables, not armament. And it was such a strange set up, and to see all that at my age of 15, just never went away. I quite often think about it.
I: So you sure that they were selling weapons?
F: On board that boat.
I: To whom? I, I cannot believe that.
F: Well, I don’t know who they were selling them. But there was, they had a boatload of armament.
I: What kind?
F: Whatever, guns are guns and they and, uh,
I: Where was it, in the Northern Sea?
F: Right up in North by the river.
I: Uh huh.
F: That was, what’s the name of that River?
I: Or Chong’on? Imjin?
F: Imjin River.
F: Yeah. Um, And, of course, being the youngest in my crew on the ship, I received a lot of, um, different feelings for that way.
I: Yeah. Tell me about it.
I: As a young boy,
F: Yeah. I was given the, um,
push around to say the least. And I carried that all the way home with me up here.
I: So you haven’t told anything.
F: No. Anyhow, I went home to Devonport, then went home to Palmerston North, met my father and my eldest brother at the
railway station, and we went home and had, couple of whatever, drinks or whatever, and a couple of nights later, my father put a whole area of our street about a small party at our place.
And we lived in what was called The Block. Just four streets that went into a block. So went in the street, and we danced and we walked around and made a noise, and within 100 yards, a police car pulled up and wanted to know what on earth we were doing.
And the policeman said to my fat her what on earth’s going on here? You’re causing a disruption. And dad said well, that’s because we’re not causing a disruption. It’s a welcome home to my son who has just come home from Korea. Oh, goodness me. And with that the Sergeant came up to dad
and he said okay, point him out. So dad came and introduced him to me, and the Sergeant said he’s just a bloody kid. And I said I know it. He said well, he’s now 16, and he went through all that when he was 15. Oh rubbish. You wouldn’t do, they wouldn’t do that, wouldn’t take the. Dad said it’s not rubbish. It’s truthful.
I: Was it legal to accept 15 year-old boy to the Navy soldier?
F: In the Navy it was, not the Army.
F: The Army had to be 18.
I: Um hm. Twenty-one?
F: Eighteen to twenty-one
I: Eighteen? Okay.
F: Anyhow, I was at home for about a week, and my brother said why don’t you go and join the RSL?
You know what the RSL is?
F: Yep. So I went down later to Palmerston to the office of the RSL, and the chap says to me what do you want, son? I said don’t you call me son.
F: He said what the hell do you want at your age in here? You know what this building is?
I: Returned Service League.
F: I said yes, it’s the Returned Service, and I would like to join.
He said you don’t get out of here, I’m gonna kick you in the bum. I said well I will kick you back more severely because I’m entitled to join the RSL.
I: Um hm.
F: I’m gonna call the police he said. I said oh, good. Do that. Policeman came around on a
said to me what’s your, I know you. Said I’m Frank, Frank Butler.
I: So he’s the one who saw you at the street when you make noise.
F: Yeah. And he said did you go to Korea, and I said yes, I certainly did. For well over a year,
and I’ve come home, and we’re having a party now. So he said to the chap, says what does he want with here? He said he wants to join the RSL for God sake. Yes, he’s entitled to. But don’t you give him any alcohol. Don’t you sell him any alcohol or I’ll book you.
With that, two of my, my brothers-in-law
I: Um hm.
F: who were drinking in the, the, in the bar, came out and said oh, Frank. Nice to see you again. Come have a beer. And I said well this chap won’t let m e. He said this is our brother-in-law.
He’s entitled to come into here.
I: You married at the time?
F: No, no, no, no.
I: But he said brother-in-law?
I: What he, why?
F: Well, those two boys were married to my two sisters.
I: Okay, okay, okay. In-laws, yes.
F: And he said alright. You can go in. but you can’t have alcohol. You can’t buy any alcohol.
I: Yeah, because you were too young. But were you able to join the RSL?
I: But they, didn’t they say that the Korean War was not war. It’s a conflict so that they not gonna allow you to join that?
F: No. I have all medals and all the paraphernalia that comes from the War.
I: Right. But at the time, it wasn’t war. It wasn’t recognized as war.
F: It was re cognized as a war.
I: Oh, there in New Zealand?
I: Good. So you were able to join them?
F: Yeah, I can join the RSL
I: Um hm.
F: I couldn’t, I was too young to buy alcohol.
I: I know. Good for you. So tell me about what was your specialty in, as a 15 year-old boy soldier
I: What, what did you do in the frigate?
F: Prior to joining the Navy?
I: In the Korea.
F: In the Navy.
F: In the Korea.
I: Yeah, yeah. What did you do?
F: I was, I was a gunner.
F: Yep. And, uh.
I: You kidding me?
F: No. And
I: You were 15 year-old boy.
I: And still they assign you as a gunner?
F: Yep. And some of my papers, discharge papers. I can prove it. And I worked in the boiler room as a stoker.
I: So did you actually shoot?
I: You didn’t shoot, but you were gunner?
F: Yeah. I had a gun position.
I: Okay. What kind of gun was it?
F: Oh, bloody big thing that made a noise.
I: Do you know the name? The size of the diameter?
F: Uh, just about that big I suppose.
F: Yeah. And it was so different from what I’ve ever had. Never been, never used to that short of stuff.
And, uh, at 15 years of, as I said, I was the youngest in New Zealand to serve in Korea.
F: And today, I still get it. People say to me how come you served in Korea?
I: Did you get a pension from it?
F: Yes. I’m on a war pension now.
I: Um. So you participate in the Korean War, but, any other war?
I: No. You retired, right?
I: You came back from it, and then you done with it.
F: Yeah, I’m finished for the Navy.
I: So you just served one year in Korea?
F: Oh, a little bit more than that.
F: And then, uh, I came back, and I was discharged, went back into Palmerston North, and I went to Freezing Works for one year. And then I went over to Melbourne
to watch the games in 1956 I think it was. And I joined the Fire Brigade in Melbourne.
F: I had two years over there, came home and joined Auckland Brigade. I went from Auckland Brigade to North Shore, a total of 48 years in the fire service.
F: I finished up a Station Officer.
I: Um hm.
Tell me where, did you actually land in Seoul? Were you able to look around the city or were you in the ship all the time?
F: No, I wasn’t going ashore in, in, in, uh, Seoul.
I: What did you see there? You were there in 1952.
F: People. Millions of people. I’ve been to Tokyo. I’ve been to New York. but Seoul was just so busy.
I: 19, when was it?
F: First time, it was 1953 like. Yeah. And then, I have since gone back three times to Korea.
I: When did you go, when was the first time that you went back?
F: Oh, they, uh,
Oh, I can’t remember now. Um, I went back 19 years ago with another mate who was, who was in Korea.
I: How was it? Tell me the differences between the Korea you saw in 1953 and, and back 10 years ago.
F: The people, South Korean people, they’d never changed.
We had a nametag on here, and we were walking down the street, and someone would come up and, and read that, and put their arms around you. They, they were never, ever forgotten. It, I grew up so quickly in those days, uh. When I came back home after going through all that,
I: Um hm.
F: a couple of mates that I had in Palmerston North sort of looked at me and said I’ve been told that you went to the Korean War. They didn’t believe it. I said yeah, that’s true. And I still have all the necessary documentation there, medals and
I: And what was the difference when you go back and when you went back to Korea and the Korea in 1950 and the Korea 10 years ago?
F: The people in Korea during the Korean War were petrified. When I went back in, 60 something I think it was the first time, that’s when people came up and read the badge, and they couldn’t believe it.
And that, one elderly lady in particular came up and kissed you on the forehead. I was so pleased to see people come back. Uh, the whole world, I’m sure, doesn’t know what the South Korean people went through. Having gone through part of it with them, I understand where they come from.
They were so, they were so appreciative of what has happened there. And as I said, I’ve had, I have good friends, South Korean people, and they, they’re so genuine.
I: How was this trip that when you saw 10 years ago, the buildings and so on?
F: Oh, it’s unbelievably huge, Seoul in particular. It is just a massive city with high rise, oh. When we flew from, um,
F: We didn’t go directly to Korea. We went to, uh, [Koko]
F: Um, I forget the name of it. It’s where the Americans were.
F: It’s an island.
I: Yes. And,
F: And when we flew from there
I: Um hm.
F: to Seoul to fly over these buildings, high rise buildings
and looking down on us, it was unbelievable.
I: How? Why?
F: Well, coming from Palmerston North, there was nothing like that down there.
I: Right. And now, what’s happening?
F: And now, the people of Seoul know that they
have their country back. And they’re so welcoming to you.
I: Um hm. Do you know that Korean economy now?
F: Um, so so.
I: Do you, it’s the 11th largest economy in the world.
F: Yeah. That’s right.
I: What do you think about that?
F: I think it’s incredible to think what they’ve been through
F: and to be 11th or 12th the economy in the whole world
proves how determined the souls of the South Korean people are.
I: Um hm.
F: And they are. I’ve had, I’ve had Korean people come out here to meet us and tour and have dinner with us, and they’re so genuine.
It’s hard to think that the two Koreans so close can be so different. Um, to go through what I went through at that age, it’s unbelievable.
I: Um hm. That’s right.
F: Even now, I can’t hardly believe that I’ve been through a war. I didn’t go right through it.
I missed the early part, but I was there at the end from 1952 till late ’53. What they’ve been through is incredible.
I: So Mr. Butler, you didn’t know not much about Korea before you joined the Navy.
F: Not at all.
I: Yeah. And now you been back to Korea three times.
F: Yeah, four times.
I: Four times.
F: Once during the War and three times after.
I: Yeah, right. So what is Korea to you now personally?
F: For the heart. It’s in here. I just absolutely love it. I love the people. They appreciate so much. They’re, it’s hard to explain why
they are so dedicatedly South Korean folk because the South Koreans and North Koreans, it’s just hard to believe.
I: So this is the certificate of your service, right?
I: Yes. And can you turn it around and, and read it
from the top? From the top. Could you read it?
F: Uh, Butler, Frank Ernest, enrolled in the Royal New Zealand Navy. My number is 14221. Date of birth: 26, September, 1935. Palmerston North, New Zealand.
I: Is there a dis, discharge paper, too? What’s on the other side? Can you read it?
F: Twenty-seven July, 1953
F: United Nations Medal- Korea.
I: Um hm. Very good.
F: Two, something 04 Korean War Medal.
I: Um. Okay. And the other one. What is the other paper? What is about it?
F: Oh, here we go.
I joined the Karnary on [INAUDIBLE] to the 5th, 1952. And from the Bellona, well the Commander
I: Um hm.
I: And that’s good enough. Uh, I’ll, why don’t you put this one here like that so that I can focus on it
I: And what is this is Recommendations for Advancement and Conduct Record Shared
I: Butler and ratings, special qualifications, [INAUDIBLE] Division and official number. Great.
And what is this one?
F: Um, oh, G, General Duties.
I: General Duties?
F: In the Navy.
I: In, in the Navy. Great, uh, stoker, mechanic rating, employment and ability record.
I: Right. Beautiful. And show me the medals that you got from Korea. Here.
F: Now this one is a special one, came from the President of Korea
I: Um hm.
F: of South Korea.
F: to serve, to show that I served, uh, in the Korean War and
they call this the Little Angels.
F: These are the war medals.
I: Um. Yeah.
F: They’re invaluable. No one but no one could buy these.
F: When, when anything happens to me,
they go to Betty.
I: Um. So you are very proud of your service.
F: Oh, very much so.
I: Yeah. At, at that special age of 15
I: Wow. Do you still suffer from anything from your service?
I: What is it?
F: It’s hard to describe it.
Um, I get very nervous
F: sometimes. And it sounds a bit silly, but I needed to be looked after.
F: And Bett y does a great job of it.
I: Great to have a Bett y.
F: It’s hard to describe.
When I was in the Fire Service, I became the President of [Brownspa RSA].
F: In charge of 2 1/2 thousand blokes. And
I: And could you show that, the frame?
I: This frame?
So tell me about it.
F: Well, this was taken when, I lost my first wife
F: 51 years, um, of 51 years about 10 years ago. And I ran into Don. He’s the bloke I used to go next door and play with when I was six. And I met him one day
had a girl [INAUDIBLE], and he said oh, and Betty’s lost her husband.
F: So we went into a coffee shop in [Browns Bay ] one day, and became good friends, saw each other all over again, and we’ve been married now for five years, six years, five years and, uh,
we had a huge wedding up here in the village.
F: Oh there was, what, 60 people?
I: Um hm.
F: And, uh, we’re more than just husband and wife. We go back a long way.
I: Great, yeah. I mean, look at those pictures.
I: That picture very young age
I: Like five to
F: That’s right. Betty was, Betty was four.
F: We’re about six.
I: Yeah. Yeah.
I: You are blessed.
I: You are blessed.
F: That’s Betty.
F: Betty’s, Betty’s mother took this photo.
I: Could you, could you say something special message to the Korean people in the context of 70th anniversary of the Korean War?
It sounds ridiculous, but
I: I have so much advantage to the South Korean people. They are so nice, so homely, I have made several friends from South Korea. One in particular was Jaon and Tina, his wife.
Uh, we’re just like brothers. Uh, I talked him into joining the KVA, the Korean Veterans Association
I: Um hm.
F: And he’s done such a good job. He, anything that even our President can’t understand in Korean, Jaon does it all. And, uh,
I: So the special message to the Korean people in Korea, what would you say to them?
F: I love them.
I: Very good.
F: Just I certainly love the South Korean people. How they got through the War is simply beyond me, to have your home and your family ripped
it’s simply unbelievable. I’ll have a special drink tonight on them.
I: Be careful, though.
F: Yeah. Always am, very, there’s the boss.
I: Yep. Frank, it’s really nice to meet you and be able to hear from you about very special story, 15 year-old boy you never knew before anything about Korea. Now you’ve been back three times
F: That’s right.
I: And you love Korea.
F: And I love it, absolutely love it . I can’t travel anymore
F: Otherwise I would go back once more.
F: for the last time.
F: But, uh, what I would really like from the New Zealand government, is some recognition medal wise. I have the normal medals. I have this one here which means
a lot to me. It came from the President of, of South Korea. But I would like something from my own country.
I: That’s why we are doing this, and we have to teach this one in your school.
I: See? But Frank, thank, you very much receiving me, and it ‘s, um, I don’t know how to describe this. But you linked
the dot between New Zealand and Korea, and Korea is now 11th largest economy in the world and more substantive democracy in Asia, and I think you made the chance for us to rebuild our nation and make what it is right now. So I want to thank you.
F: The Korean people will make their country good again and again. Finale. That’s it.
F: The North Korean people
not through all of their own fault, had to lead and do something that I don’t think they wanted to do.
I: Um hm.
F: But the way the South Korean people stood up for their country, the world owes them a lot.
I: We’ll make sure that everybody knows about it.
I: Thank you, sir.
F: Thank you very much.
I: Thank you, Frank.
[End of Recorded Material]