Page 1: Biography
King, Peter Frank
Soldier, guide, wildlife ranger
This biography, written by Ian McGibbon, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 2000.
Born at Caxton, Cambridge, England, on 30 October 1916, Peter Frank King was the son of master builder William Edgar King and his wife, Hilda May Pleasants. He was educated at Truro School. In March 1939 he enlisted in the British Army Dental Corps, and within a year had achieved the rank of sergeant. Increasingly dissatisfied with his relatively unglamorous role once war began, in 1942 he and another soldier crossed the English Channel unofficially and attacked a German troop train, an exploit for which they were court-martialled on their return. Nevertheless, they were allowed to transfer out of the Dental Corps.
From August 1942 King was a private in the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry, but was detached for service with the commandos. By the time of the Normandy landings he was a staff sergeant in No 4 Commando, which landed at La Breche, near Ouistreham, early on 6 June 1944. A month later he was commissioned in the field. He later took part in No 4 Commando’s capture of Flushing (Vlissingen) in Holland during the important operations against Walcheren. He was awarded a Military Cross.
Leaving the army in 1946, King emigrated to New Zealand and from May 1948 to September 1949 worked as a factory manager in Christchurch. He was a bushman at Otautau, Southland, in July 1950, when he enlisted in Kayforce, the ground force offered by New Zealand for service with the United Nations Command in the Korean War. After training at Waiouru, he left New Zealand aboard the troopship Ormonde on 10 December as a junior officer in 16th Field Regiment. In February 1951 he returned to New Zealand with a party of officers and men to help train Kayforce’s second reinforcements. With the rank of captain, he commanded the 97-strong detachment, which departed in June by air to Sydney, where it joined a passenger ship for the voyage to Japan. In Korea he was to make his mark as a troop commander, one Scottish infantryman describing him as ‘the genius of gunner observers’.
It was while serving as a forward observation officer with the 1st Battalion, The King’s Own Scottish Borderers, at Hill 355 on the afternoon of 4 November 1951 that King had his most dramatic experience in Korea. When a powerful Chinese infantry attack penetrated the Borderers’ positions, he gathered together some light machine-gun parties and used them to provide cover as he hurled hand grenades. With the assistance of his radio operator, Gunner D. E. Rixon, he helped to stem the onslaught. Wounded three times in the leg, King was eventually evacuated on a stretcher. Both he and Rixon, who was also wounded, were decorated for their conduct; King was made a DSO. He later commanded 161st Battery from July to September 1952, before returning to New Zealand.
King became a guide on the Milford track, and was employed by the Te Anau Hotel from September 1954. Late the following year he was selected by the New Zealand Army to join the United Nations Observer Group in Kashmir. Commissioned in the regular force, he served three years at Srinagar, in the rank of major. On 18 April 1959, following his return to New Zealand, he married Dorothy Woodham Graham, a postmistress and daughter of the renowned alpine guide Alec Graham, at Blenheim; they were to have a son and a daughter. King worked for the New Zealand Forest Service at Otautau, then in 1960 became the first ranger appointed by the Westland National Park Board. He was on his way to a board meeting in Hokitika on 12 December 1962 when his Land Rover went out of control while passing a truck and plunged into Lake Wahapo. His body was recovered later that day. Survived by his wife and children, he was buried at Whataroa, south Westland.