In all, about 4700 men served with Kayforce and a further 1300 in the frigates during the seven years of New Zealand’s involvement in Korea. Forty-five men lost their lives in this period, thirty-three of them during the war (of whom two were RNZN personnel). One member of Kayforce was taken prisoner of war; held in northern North Korea for eighteen months, he was repatriated following the armistice, as was a New Zealander serving with the RAAF, who had been shot down near the North Korean capital, P’yongyang.
The Korean War had a dramatic indirect economic impact in New Zealand. The sense of crisis precipitated by the outbreak in 1950 encouraged the United States to seek to buy large quantities of wool not for uniform for use in Korea as many supposed at the time (and since), but to complete its strategic stockpiles. This demand led to the greatest wool boom in New Zealand’s history, with prices tripling overnight. However, the inflationary effect of other commodity buying offset the advantages of the wool boom, with imported raw materials rapidly increasing in price.
Especially once it became obvious that the conflict would be confined to Korea, New Zealanders paid little attention to events in the peninsula, and there were occasional complaints that Kayforce was a ‘Forgotten Force’. The outbreak intensified trends that had been apparent in New Zealand domestic politics in the late 1940s, and the National Party used anti-communism to good effect in the 1951 general election.
In terms of foreign policy, the war also assisted New Zealand achieving its long-standing objective, a security commitment from the United States. Not only was New Zealand able to demonstrate its support as a small ally in the UN coalition but also events worked in its favour. The Chinese intervention introduced a sense of urgency in Washington which opened the way for the signature of the ANZUS Treaty on 1 September 1951.
This essay is adapted from the Oxford Companion to New Zealand Military History, Ian McGibbon (ed.) (Oxford University Press, 2000).