By Frank Herlihy

Frank was born in New Zealand, assigned to Korea in 1937 but was repatriated to New Zealand by the Japanese. He died in 2006.

The central house at Mokpo was completed in the autumn of 1935. It was a plain brick building that would not have claimed any special notice in a town at home, but it made a significant impression here. At least, it affirmed that the foreigners intended to remain, and to increase. Three more were in fact already on their way – Frank Woods, Tom Cusack and Austin Sweeney, whose brother, Jerome, was in Cheju. The Catholics saw the building as a mark of progress that gave them a little boost in the community, and it brought some new confidence to the priests themselves. If they could build this they could build some decent churches too, and other things they had dreamed about.


On the night of 17 July a weary young man from the US Embassy staff in Taegu drove into Mokpo to tell Monsignor Brennan to get his men out as soon as possible and head for Pusan. The North Koreans had crossed the Kum River. General Walker, now commanding UN ground forces, was pulling back to hold the south-east corner; there would be only delaying action at Taejon, and the south-west, which included Cholla namdo province, would not be defended.

Pére Brennan found it hard to comprehend, but there was no room for argument. He thanked the courier who had made the trip of over 200 rugged miles to warn them here and at Kwangju, and suggested that he have a meal and a few hours sleep. He asked Father Henry to go down to the port and look for any kind of boat that would take most of them to Pusan. With the Mokpo jeep and those of the visitors he could collect the men in the other parishes.

The crowded room was suddenly quiet, and Henry asked if he meant that he was not going with them. He said yes, he was going to stay. But it was no big deal, it went with the job. And would they now get moving for an early start. Father Cusack, the Mokpo pastor, then said he was going to stay. His assistant, Father O’Brien, said he was, too. The Pére looked at each of them a long, silent moment. He didn’t trust himself to speak just then but raised his hand in a half salute that said it all.

Within an hour or so, Harold Henry came back with the night’s first good news. A Korean gunboat had come into Mokpo for a repair job, and the captain had agreed to take the twelve young priests to Pusan. They should go on board soon, because he would sail when repairs were finished.

The others left in the early morning. The Pére was up to wave them off. His two companions had said their farewells and were asleep. He was subdued and in need of sleep himself, but optimistic still.

“We’ll be seeing you, boys!” he called as the jeeps began to move. They echoed the promise and prayed in their hearts it would come true.

148 Swords and Ploughshares

After a few days they were told they were going to Seoul. With their hands manacled or bound, the three soldiers and the priests and two more soldiers they had not known about, and twenty four Korean prisoners, were all put on a truck. It started off at night to avoid attack. They travelled three nights, standing up in the truck, and spent the days in gaols along the way. During the fourth night the truck gave out, so they had to walk. They were about eight miles from Taejon, and in no shape for marching. Three of the soldiers had wounds, and two had no shoes; but if they dropped out the guards were going to shoot them, so they staggered on.

In Taejon the soldiers were put in with about a hundred others; after two days those who could still walk started out for Seoul, and the lieutenant did not see the priests again. A woman released three weeks later from the Franciscan Monastery in Taejon had seen them there, and that is the last that is known about them. It is believed that they died with many others there on the night of 24 September, but their bodies were never found.

In October, New Zealand is in full spring; frisky lambs on rolling pastures, larks rejoicing, bell-birds chiming in the timbered hills. I was hunting missionary shekels, writing letters, occasionally addressing groups of lunching citizens, mildly interested in wondering why the Koreans should be fighting one another. Unexpectedly I had a letter from Father Hub Hayward. The stationary came from the American Red Cross and the address from 11 Div. Artillery. He apologised for not writing sooner; the summer had been more eventful than most.

My present occupation is that of a sort of chaplain. I am with an official chaplain looking after Artillery. He drops me off to say Mass for one unit, and he goes on to another. I am seeing a lot of Korea. I aim to get back to Chunchon as soon as possible. There are a lot of guerrillas scattered in the hills. Fr Kraka and myself have been sniped at a couple of times, but the reds seem to be poor shots at moving targets