First New Zealander killed in battle in Korean War

24 April 1951

Dennis Fielden (Remember them)

New Zealand’s 1056-man Kayforce arrived at Pusan, South Korea, on New Year’s Eve 1950. It was part of the United Nations’ ‘police action’ to repel North Korea’s invasion of its southern neighbour.

The New Zealanders joined the 27th British Commonwealth Infantry Brigade and saw action for the first time in late January 1951. Thereafter they took part in the operations in which the UN forces fought their way back to and over the 38th Parallel, recapturing Seoul in the process.

In April 1951 the Chinese, who had intervened to save North Korea from defeat, launched their Fifth Phase Offensive. The 27th British Commonwealth Brigade fought a successful defensive battle against a Chinese division at Kap’yong, filling a gap in the UN line caused by the collapse of a South Korean division. The Royal New Zealand Artillery’s 16 Field Regiment played a vital supporting role for 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, and the Canadian 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Light Infantry, from 23 to 25 April.

During this action Kayforce suffered its first fatal battle casualty with the death of Second Lieutenant Dennis Fielden. The experienced Fielden had served for seven years with the Royal Artillery and the Royal Air Force before joining Kayforce. He was posthumously Mentioned in Dispatches for his conduct at Kap’yong. The death of the ‘popular and unassuming officer [was] much regretted by officers and men alike’. The regiment was awarded a South Korean Presidential Citation, conferred at a parade in February 1952.

The Chinese offensive in this sector had been effectively checked, though Kap’yong later had to be abandoned as the UN forces fell back in good order to positions just north of Seoul.

In all, about 4700 men served with Kayforce and a further 1300 in Royal New Zealand Navy frigates during the seven years of New Zealand’s involvement in Korea. Forty-five men lost their lives in this period, 33 of them during the war (of whom two were RNZN personnel).

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