Honouring a whānau legacy: Teurungaotera (Toti) Tuhaka’s journey from Ruatōrea to the Korean war

Teurangaotera Tuhaka, fondly known as Toti to his friends, embarked on a journey from the tranquil shores of Ruatōrea to the tumultuous waters of the Korean War, unaware of the profound impact it would have on his life and the enduring legacy of valour it would leave within his whānau.

Now, at 89 years old, Toti reflects on his service and the remarkable lineage of dedication to war service that runs through his family.

Tuhaka reminisced about the fateful day when naval recruiters visited Ruatōrea’s Manutahi High School, offering an opportunity to change his life forever.

“There were five that put their hands up and I wasn’t one of them because I didn’t know what the navy was, I’d never heard of it,” Tuhaka recalls.

It was only at the insistence of a friend that he found himself venturing into the unknown world of naval life.

The year was 1952, and Korea was engulfed in war. As Tuhaka enlisted, he served as a gunner aboard the Hawea, tasked with firing at targets in North Korea. Reflecting on his duties, Tuhaka vividly describes the intensity of combat, where focus on the task at hand overshadows thoughts of personal safety.

“When you’re attacking, your mind is fully on your job, not about if I get hit. You only think about what you’re doing,” he says.

Recalling the ship once under fire, Toti recounts a harrowing experience where luck seemed to be on their side.

“We turned our ship away from the land, and we sort of zig-zagged our way out to sea. And the shells were landing here all around us... but not one of them hit us. We were lucky,” he says.

Extreme cold posed another challenge, with Tuhaka describing the surreal experience of navigating icy seas aboard their ship. Yet, amidst the trials and tribulations of naval life, his commitment to duty remained unwavering.

Tuhaka’s journey is not just his own; it is intertwined with a legacy of valour that stretches back generations within his whānau. His ancestor, Captain Pineamine Tuhaka, stood tall as a figure of courage during the 1860s, fighting bravely against the Hauhau.

Today, Tuhaka’s eldest son, Darby Tuhaka, serves as the guardian of their whānau taonga, preserving the artifacts and memories that embody their family’s commitment to service.

From Captain Pineamine’s ceremonial sword to Tuhaka’s own Queen’s Service Medal, the Tuhaka family’s legacy shines brightly on this Anzac Day. As Tuhaka proudly dons his medals, he not only honours his service but also pays homage to the sacrifices of those who came before him, ensuring their legacy of valour will endure for generations to come.