Korean War Legacy Project

Graham L. Hughes


Graham L. Hughes enlisted in the New Zealand Navy at sixteen years old and was assigned to the HMNZS Pukaki. The ship was an anti-submarine frigate that served in the Korea Sea on Korea’s west coast. As a radio operator, he experienced long hours and overall stress of a four-hours-on-and-four-hours-off shift. The loss of three sailors on his ship had a lasting impact on him. He is proud of his military service, how the military shaped him, and his contribution to the South Korean people.

Video Clips

Stress and Relief for the Radio Operators

Graham Hughes was a radio operator and worked in four-hour, two-man shifts. Radio operators had to find time to sleep, wash, and rest in four hours. This exhaustion caused him to get shingles. There was a constant, intense pressure for his military specialty throughout the Korean War. He even went fishing with hand grenades in the East Sea during the few hours that he had off.

Tags: East Sea,Yellow Sea,Food,Front lines,Living conditions,Pride,Rest and Relaxation (R&R),Weapons

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Loss of Sailors and Shingles

Graham Hughes lost three sailors while he was stationed in the East Sea. None of the sailors died in combat, but all their lives clearly had an impact on him. He discovered one of the sailors who hanged himself. After getting shingles, he was sent to an island in Japan for Rest and Relaxation (R and R).

Tags: East Sea,Yellow Sea,Depression,Front lines,Living conditions,Personal Loss,Pride,Rest and Relaxation (R&R),Weapons

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The HMNZS Pukaki During the Korean War

Graham Hughes experienced an intensive nine-month basic training as a radio operator. The training included typing and touch typing. The HMNZS Pukaki, his ship, was armed with a variety of weapons to aid in the Korean War.

Tags: East Sea,Yellow Sea,Basic training,Civilians,Front lines,Home front,Pride,Weapons

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Inferiority of the North Korean Navy

Graham Hughes believed that the North Korean Navy was inferior to those in the United Nations (UN). An example of this occurred when his ship fired on a specific target at the 38th Parallel. North Koreans fired in retaliation, but they missed. The great thing about being part of the UN was the cooperation of lots of countries patrolling the West Sea, including Argentina.

Tags: East Sea,Yellow Sea,Communists,Front lines,North Koreans,Physical destruction,Pride,Weapons

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Video Transcript

[Beginning of recorded material]

G:        My name is Graham Leslie Hughes, spelled G R A H A M   L E S L I E Hughes,

H U G H E S.

I:          Great.  And what is your birthday?

G:        The 10th, 35. I’m 84 this year.

I:          Eighty-four.  And where were you born?
G:        I was born in Christchurch.

I:          Christchurch.  That’s where I’m headed.  And tell me about your family background when you were growing up, your sibling brothers and sisters.

G:        Uh,  my father was the Army, um, Second World War, and


I had a brother younger than me and two sisters at the time.

I:          Um hm.  So you

G:        We had it reasonably hard.  It was Dad being away.  But we made it, um.  Yeah.

I:          Yeah.  So you are the eldest.

G:        No.  My sister, I’ve got a sister that’s 92.

I:          Um.  Tell me about the school


you went through there.

G:        I went to, um, to, uh, [Kiapoi] Pri, Primary School.

I:          Um hm.

G:        It’s a, it was a [INAUDIBLE] big school, uh.  I had no troubles.  I was only a little fella, but I, for some reason, anybody


upset me I would bite, uh.  The people left me alone.
I:          Um hm.  So when did you finish your whole school?

G:        Uh, I joined the Navy in 1952, 7th of May.

I:          Um.


G:        From school.

I:          From school.

G:        Uh huh.  I was 16.

I:          Yeah, it is interesting to know that, uh, New Zealand Navy allowed 15 year-old boys

G:        Um.

I:          to join them.  That’s too young, wasn’t it?

G:        I enjoyed it.

I:          You enjoyed it.

G:        Yeah.

I:          Yeah.  So did you get any basic military training?

G:        Yes.

I:          Where did you get it?

G:        Um, up in Auckland.

I:          Auckland.

G:        I was a radio operator.


I:          Ah.

G:        Was typewriting, uh, yeah.  I was pretty highly trained actually.

I:          So was it easy for you?  You never done it before, right?

G:        No.

I:          No.  So how was it?  Was it easy or too difficult?

G:        No, I didn’t find it, uh, difficult.  It was Morse is something that you, you either get it or you don’t.

I:          Um.

G:        Um, typewriting,


touch typing.  I didn’t have any problem..

I:          Um hm.  For how long did you get that, uh, training, in Auckland?

G:        About nine months.

I:          And then, did you get any other basic military training after that?

G:        No.  We went to, uh, went to the Pukaki, a frigate


and went into Korea.

I:          Frigate, right?

G:        Yeah.

I:          Pukaki.  P U

G:        K A

I:          P

G:        Pukaki, P U K A, oh God.

I:          Pu, P you said?
G:        Yeah.  P U K A K I.

I:          Yeah,  Pukaki.  And what kind of ship the frigate was?


How, how big?  How many people there, and how many weapons?

G:        It was a anti-submarine ship, um.  It was not all that large.  It was about, oh I think, about 1500 tons

I:          Um hm.

G:        Um, crew about 120


I:          Um.

G:        Um.  We had a 4” guns and [INAUDIBLE] 40 ml., uh, and we had anti-um,

I:          Anti-submarine machine or


G:        Yeah.  We had, what did we call them, bombs.

I:          Bombs.

G:        Yeah.

I:          Yeah.

G:        Anti, and you’d fire them and, I happened to sink submarines.

I:          Yeah.  You, you seem to have a pretty good  memory about it.

G:        Yep.  I’m, I’m, yeah.  I’m, I reckon I’ve done alright.
I:          Um hm.  And so when did you


leave, when did you arrive around the Korean Sea area?

G:        I would say, uh, it was, uh,

I:          Fifty-three.

G:        Fifty-three, fifty-four, somewhere around there.

I:          Yeah.  And were you in the West or East?
G:        East.

I:          East?


G:        Americans were on

I:          East.

G:        that side, and we were on this side, yeah.  The British was this side, Americans that side.

I:          Right.

G:        Uh.

I:          So West, right?  So you were with the British?

G:        Yeah.

I:          Yes.  So you were in the West, and

G:        based in Kure.
I:          Hm?

G:        We were based in Kure

I:          In Japan.

G:        Yeah.
I:          Um hm.

G:        Um,


We didn’t have much to do with the Yanks, uh.  British, we were, yeah.

I:          Um.  And, um, were there any action between your frigate and North Koreans or Chinese or Russian, any action?
G:        We only, to my memory, we only fired, uh, a whole of rocks up by the 38th Parallel.


G:        [INAUDIBLE] and us, three of  us, three frigates.  We went in, one behind the other, and bombed them.
I:          Oh.  So you bombed there at Coastal line.

G:        Um.

I:          Around North Korea 38th Parallel.

G:        Um.

I:          Why?  Do you remember why you, you were just ordered

G:        You tell me.

I:          You were just ordered to do that.

G:        Yeah.

I:          Yeah.


G:        Yeah.

I:          And, any reaction from North Koreans?

G:        Uh, they did fire at our ship.  They did fire at some of our ships, but they didn’t fire them at us.

I:          They didn’t?

G:        No.

I:          Ha.  That’s interesting.  And any other episode where that your, you know, you were threatened  or kind of, uh


G:        Oh, it was always, uh, they didn’t, they didn’t have, sort of have any submarines which was the biggest danger to us.

I:          Yeah, yeah.
G:        They had shore batteries

I:          Um.

G:        And we would go up the Coast, up the Coast, yeah, to do our turn


patrolling, and they’d come out and shoot, uh, land, never, never got near us.

I:          Um.

G:        And, then they’d shoot at us on our way back again, you know.  We’d go about three weeks up there, 38thParallel.

I:          Um hm.

G:        Um.  No they, they never hit any of New Zealand ships.

I:          Um.


So you were patrolling around 38th Parallel in the West Sea

G:        Um hm.

I:          and to make sure that no enemy vessels or no, no enemy challenges going to be occurring in the Sea.  So the U.N. Forces were dominant in the Sea.

G:        Um.

I:          Right?
G:        Um.

I:          Um.  That’s very good.

G:        There was a lot of, uh, there was a lot of countries up there.
I:          Yeah?



G:        I think, it was even Argentinians, um, [INAUDIBLE] uh.  Yeah, there was a lot of different countries up there.

I:          Um hm.  How was the


cooperation between New Zealand Navy and British?
G:        Oh, good.

I:          Was it good?

G:        Yeah.

I:          Anything you remember working together with them?

G:        Um, we just would be on the screen of the aircraft carriers

I:          Um.

G:        The British had aircraft carriers up there.  And they’d have a screen of smaller ships


I:          Yeah?

G:        And we’d just be in the screen.

I:          And you were still radio operator using a lot of Morse Code.

G:        Yep.

I:          So do you remember any particular message or, you don’t have to reveal the secret.

G:        Well, I used to do the coding and the decoding.
I:          Um hm.


G:        I don’t, you’re going back a long time.

I:          Mostly, what was about it, the communication?  What was about it?  Mostly what was all those Morse Code communication was about?

G:        They were in code, all of them.  [INAUDIBLE] groups, and we had to decode them and depending on their


classification whether we read them or not.  Some we didn’t read, some we did.  Um, It was all supplies, movement, you know, that sort of thing.

I:          I see.  Were there any funny  episode about the Morse Code?  It’s like a texting.  But these days it’s a Smart Phone.  We using text, right?


Where are you?  What are you doing, things like that.  Were there any funny episode using those Morse Code between you and others, talking about something else?
G:        Well, we used to, you know, we used to [INAUDIBLE] a bit and I’ll see you.  We’ll go ashore and, and have a bit of, uh, fun, you know.  We all, we all did that, and, radio operators,


and, uh, we had a, a, sort of, we’d had words that nobody else knew

I:          Right, right.

G:        Yeah.  Um, but, yeah.

I:          Like in what?  Example, if you can remember.


G:        Request pleasure of company, and we’d just say the first letters in those words.

I:          What does that mean?  Request pleasure of company

G:        company and then a time.

I:          Uh huh.

G:        We’d meet, that was to meet them ashore and get on the boat.

I:          Um.


So must been a lot of those kind of things just between you and other, and you are the only people that can understand, right?

G:        Um.

I:          Must be fun.

G:        It was fun.

I:          Ah.

G:        Um.  It, the trouble was that, um, we did four hours on, four hours off, four hours on, four hours off for weeks.  And


we had, uh, I finished up with shingles.

I:          Oh.

G:        And they put me on a an island somewhere for a rest, um.  There was, um, it was very hard on the radio operators.

I:          Um.

G:        Um


You didn’t, you know, you never got any, you never got four hours sleep

I:          Um hm.

G:        in the one week, yeah, you know, yeah.  And some of them, uh, we’d get on a boat and, you know, most of the radio operators


would have got into a little bit of trouble on there.

I:          Um.  So the working condition was not good.
G:        No.

I:          Very hard.  And you have to work a lot.

G:        Yeah.  There  was no, um, central heating or air conditioning or anything like that.

I:          Um hm.

G:        It was, um, four hours on, four hours off.  But you had to do your washing and your, look after your clothes and share and, you know.


It, it just was a pressure, pressure, pressure.

I:          Um.  It wasn’t easy.  So that, but other than working condition, how was, um, living in the ship, sleep, shower, eating, things like that.

G:        Oh, there were showers, and we had, uh, salt water showers on the upper deck,


  1. Whenever it was a nice day, the skipper would stop and you could go over the side and have a swim.

I:          Oh, you could swim?
G:        Yeah.

I:          Oh.

G:        They’d put a, a boat, whaler, couple guys with machine guns for sharks or whatever.

I:          They gunning sharks?

G:        Yes.

I:          So they’d catch it?


G:        No.

I:          No,  just shooting.

G:        Yeah.

I:          Yeah.

G:        Yeah.
I:          That’s the fun part of it.

G:        Hand grenades, they’d throw hand grenades and, uh, we’d get some fresh fish for tea.  Used to go fishing with hand grenades.

I:          Fishing with a hand grenade.  That’s the most effective, right?

G:        Yeah.

I:          You sure you catch it.
G:        Yeah.


Strictly illegal.

I:          I know, right?  Were there any other episodes living in the small ship?  Frigate is kind of small ship compared to others, right?

G:        We lost three men.

I:          How?

G:        Um, one hung himself.

I:          Whoa.


G:        They were never tested to see whether they were suitable for going to sea.  And this guy had a bit of pressure on him, and he hung himself. I actually found him.

I:          You found him?

G:        Yep.

I:          Was it kind of pressure to be alone in the sea or what, why do you think that he committed suicide?


G:        Don’t know.

I:          You don’t know.

G:        No.

I:          Did you know him?
G:        Oh yes, knew him well.

I:          Oh.

G:        There was only 128 of us on board.
I:          Yeah.

G:        And they had, uh, [INAUDIBLE] which is smaller than my little finger

I:          Um hm.

G:        and he just wrapped it round his neck and bent his knees.


I:          What about other two?
G:        Uh, one, uh, [INAUDIBLE] fell down the stairs from a canteen, concrete stairs.  Joined in with the rest of them, and they were just sitting there quietly, and then he said, uh, Jesus, my  head’s bloody sore.


So they put him on a, on a bed, took him and put him in a bed.  And in the morning he was lying on the floor dead, fractured skull.

I:          That was accident.
G:        Yeah.

I:          The other one too?

G:        Yes.
I:          Oh.

G:        Swimming pool at Singapore.  The side of the swimming pool was about that high.

I:          Um hm.


The, you came out of the dressing sheds, and they were about that high, and there were tiles were always wet so, and it as at night, the light shining, and he thought it was a swimming pool,

I:          Um.

G:        and he dived in, and he hit his head like,


like that, broke his neck.

I:          Must have been very depressing to witness all those, right?
G:        Yeah.

I:          Yeah.  You didn’t have any problem, right?

G:        No, just Shingles.  I got Shingles there.

I:          Oh.  That ‘s a very painful.

G:        Um.  Wasn’t pleasant.

I:          So how long did it take to cure that?
G:        I don’t know, two or three weeks I suppose.


I don’t know.

I:          Where were you?

G:        We were in Korea

I:          In Korea.

G:        and they  put me on an island.  It was a rest camp, British run, British camp somewhere.  I, don’t ask me where.  I

I:          Um.

G:        It was an island where, what’d they say, where Kamikazes trained during the War.

I:          So you mean in Japan.


G:        Um hm.

I:          Oh.  Did you come back to serve?

G:        Uh, yeah, oh yeah, yeah, yeah, 16 months.

I:          So you served 16 month in Korea.

G:        Yep.

I:          Yeah.  So that means that you, uh, left Korea around ’55?
G:        I got, uh, yeah.  That would be, I got married in 1956 and


I:          You came to New Zealand one year before.
G:        Yeah.

I:          Yeah.  Have you been back to Korea since then?
G:        No.

I:          No.  Do you know what happened to Korean economy and Korean politics, modern right now after you left?
G:        I think it’s boomed.  I don’t know to be honest.
I:          Um.

G:        But, uh, it was a pretty, um,


they were having a pretty tough, the people of South Korea when we were up there.

I:          How do you know?
G:        Well, we used to go everywhere and go ashore and

I:          shore, and you were able to see?
G:        Yeah.  And

I:          Tell me.  What did you see?


G:        Mostly bars, um, girls.

I:          Um hm.

G:        It was all pretty well controlled.  All the girls had to have a license, uh.


I:          You mean prostituting, yeah?

G:        They had to have a doctor’s, it was all controlled.

I:          Um.

G:        MP’s

I:          You mean in Japan or in Korea?

G:        In

I:          In Japan, right?

G:        Yeah.
I:          Yeah, yeah.

G:        Yeah.  Korea we didn’t, we didn’t spend a lot of time


ashore in Korea.

I:          Um.  And now Korean economy is 11th largest in the world.
G:        Yeah, they’re hard workers.

I:          The first is China, U.S., U.S and China, Japan, Germany, right, and we are the 11th, and by 2030, 10 years after that, 10 years from now, we are projected to be


number seven in the world.  Can you believe that?

G:        Yes, I can.

I:          Why?

G:        Because they are focused on what they are doing.  They, uh, well, from my memory of them, if you, uh, like we got to know some of them reasonably well, and they were hard working and


and they, they deserved everything they got.  They, they  worked hard.

I:          Um.

G:        You know, the fellow that was cutting your hair and you go ashore and you’re gonna have a meal somewhere and no, they were good people.

I:          Um.  Do you think it is kind of natural or


not surprising?
G:        Not surprising, no.

I:          Um hm.  Yep.

G:        No.  They, no.  We got on pretty well with them

I:          That’s very good.  So are you proud to be a Korean war veteran?
G:        Oh hell, yeah.

I:          Yeah.

G:        Yeah.  I got my medals.

I:          You got medal.

G:        Yep.
I:          From Korean government?

G:        No, from the New Zealand government.


I:          New Zealand government.
G:        Yeah.

I:          Oh, that’s good.  They recognized you.

G:        Yep.

I:          Yeah.  Um.  How does that affect you, the War, how does the Korean War service affect you to be a man?

G:        Well, I think I was 16 when I went in the Navy.
I:          Yeah.

G:        And I think it was the best thing I could, could ever do


to make myself into a person of honor.

I:          Wow.  That’s a great comment.

G:        The Navy was, you know, you, you fronted up and you had to do your job and, no.  I, I’m very proud that I was in the Navy.

I:          I mean, yeah. I, I absolutely agree with you.  Look at 16 year-old boy here in New Zealand right now.

G:        Useless.

I:          I don’t think they can do anything like that.
G:        No.


No.  And I had 10 years in the Navy.

I:          Um hm.

G:        Uh, I had sore aches and nothing very much in my life.  We were supporting the New Zealand SAS far into the jungle.  And I had a little bit up and career.
I:          Um.


Next year will be 70th anniversary of the break out of the Korean War.

G:        Um hm.

I:          That War never been really ended.  It’s never been [INAUDIBLE] Peace Treaty.

G:       It’s never, no, no.  I know that.

I:          Think about it.

G:        I, I, I’m , I’m, I knew that it had never been, uh, signed.  Yeah, I knew that the War was still officially on.


I:          Um hm.  So what do you think about that?  I mean, do you know of any war in the e 20th century history of human being that lasted more than 70 years after official cease fire?

G:        I suppose you could say the [INAUDIBLE] I don’t know, no.

I:          Do you have any special message to the Korean people in the context of 70th  anniversary?


G:        I’d just like to congratulate them.  We tried to help them, uh.  But that was part of my job.  And I think they’ve done very well and, yeah.

I:          Graham, it’s been a very nice and pleasant to meet you and to hear from you about your service.


And because of that, we were given chance to rebuild our nation, and it’s now stronger than ever in our own history.  And that’s why we want to do it.  we want to honor your service and preserve your memory.  But we going to use this one into, uh, curricular resources like a lesson plan, primary and secondary resources for the History teachers so that they can teach


about the War that you fought for, you know?  That’s why we are doing this.  So this is very important and valuable.

G:        Um hm.

I:          Thank you very much.

G:        It’s the little sailor from New Zealand.

I:          Yes, just a little sailor.  But you did your part.

G:        Um.  We tried.
I:          Yeah.  I want you to be proud of that.

G:        Oh, I,


I’m very proud that I  was in the Navy.

I:          Thank you.

[End of Recorded Material]