Unlocking Lockdown

It has been quite some time since my last mutter about Coronavirus and lockdown, and quite a few things have changed. For starters some of the shops have re-opened and that was good news, however the inconvenience is considerable what with queues, people hiding behind masks and screens, mysterious arrows pointing in unwanted directions and of course the previously empty pavements suddenly swarming with people and I had to walk in the street on occasions to avoid large groups filling the complete pavement. I do however understand the need for things like this, it is the new normal I am afraid, until we can get a handle on this virus. Unfortunately I do suffer from poor hearing and many of these interactions are incredibly difficult for me. I even explored having a takeaway but would have to phone in my order and presumably hide until it was ready for collection. I tried to buy new safety shoes the other day too and sure as eggs are eggs so did everybody else in the shop (7 at a time please). I also attempted to buy a piece of wood for my bedside table but it was made so complicated that I did not go ahead with the purchase. I am afraid that I am not the only one in this boat, many people are just not going to visit the shops or even attempt social interaction. 

On my reading list this past week was a book about the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic and it made for interesting and chilling reading. More people died from Spanish Flu than the total number of cases and deaths from covid-19. While gravehunting in South Africa I noticed that a years deaths would take up roughly a page and a half in the cemetery register. However, when it comes to 1918 suddenly there are 4 or 5 pages just for October! The book I read had a chapter on South Africa and the Flu and it seemed to peak in Cape Town and the mines in Kimberley and Transvaal were badly hit.

“Writing in the Conversation Africa in March 2020, emeritus professor Howard Philips, a historian at the University of Cape Town, said South Africa was estimated to have been “one of the five worst hit parts” of the world.

Philips specialises in the social history of medicine and has written two books on the Spanish flu’s effects on South Africa. He told Africa Check that the official death toll released by the government in 1919 was 140,000 to 142,000. This was for 1918 and 1919.  But the unreliable way the figures were calculated meant this toll was probably low, Philips said.

“There was no comprehensive death registration system in South Africa in 1918. There was supposedly for whites, but for Africans in [the Cape province and Transvaal] there was no requirement to register deaths,” he said.”  (AfricaCheck.org)

In other news it was announced that Tewkesbury  has had no active Coronavirus cases since May 24. At that point there had been 182 cases up till then. Hopefully this will continue though because all it takes is one infected person to walk down the street or go to work.   

The numbers game continues. Worldometers reports the following: There are 9 622 238 Cases world wide with 487 339 deaths. The USA still tops the charts with 2 477 876 cases and 124 485 deaths. The UK has seen a slowing in cases and deaths and while still at number 5 has 307980 cases and 43230 deaths.  South Africa has been climbing the charts though, it is currently at number 18 with 11796 cases and 2205 deaths. These rankings are for total cases, and look differently when total deaths is considered.: USA – 1, Brazil 2, UK – 3, South Africa – 25. The situation in South Africa is very difficult because of socio-economic conditions and often incomprehensible regulations. A report at Mybroadband.co.za stated “Liberty Fighters Network (LFN) and Reyno De Beer will be arguing in the High Court today that they believe that since of this morning Wednesday, 24 June 2020, the lockdown regulations are unconstitutional and invalid and that effectively the Lockdown is legally over.” Naturally this will get fought out in the courts, and huge amounts of money will get spent and eventually it will probably be settled out of court and the only ones who benefit will be lawyers. 

And that is it in a nutshell. Today it is supposed to be 32 degrees outside but I suspect we missed most of the heat at work. I remember those 37 degree days in Johannesburg in Summer, and the thunderstorms that often used to build up, apparently we are in for some of those too tonight too. 

Till next time… stay 2 metres away.

DRW © 2020. Created 25/06/2020

 

OTD: Start of the Korean War

On this day; 25 June 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea, signifying the start of the Korean War. As wars go this has become a forgotten one and in spite of having ended on 27 July 1953 the region has never really become safe. The North, governed by a dictatorship is constantly sabre rattling against its more prosperous southerly neighbour. 

Following the end of the Second World War, Korea was liberated from the Japanese invaders that had occupied the region since 1910. The United States and Soviet Union agreed to divide Korea into two occupation zones due to concerns of ‘spheres of influence’. and  a temporary internal border was created in 1948 between North and South Korea based on the 38th parallel – the circle of latitude that is 38 degrees north of the equator. The Northern part becoming a Marxist state under the dictatorship of Kim Il-sung and propped up by the Soviet Union, while the South was led by Syngman Rhee and propped up by America. 

Following the invasion The United Nations (UN) Security Council responded and called on all members to help the South. American quickly sent forces to support the country followed by further UN support of troops from 17 countries including Australia, Canada, France, the Philippines, Ethiopia, Turkey, New Zealand, South Africa, Colombia and Great Britain. By early September 1950, the South Korean and UN forces were facing defeat as North Korean forces pinned them against the southern coastal port of Busan. In response on 15 September 1950, the United Nations Commander General MacArthur ordered an amphibious landing at Incheon, a port halfway up the Korean peninsula, behind enemy lines. The landing allowed UN forces to make rapid progress north during the autumn of 1950, nearing the Chinese border by November. Alarmed by the proximity of South Korean and UN troops to their border China entered the war, sending forces into North Korea pushing the UN Forces back into the south.

Fighting stalled in early 1951 and armistice negotiations began. For the next two years troops faced a stalemate near the border, in trenches a little more than a mile apart they faced extreme conditions of cold and hot weather. Finally, in July 1953 an armistice agreement was signed, but there was no peace treaty.  To this day the Korean War has not officially ended and  tensions still run high between North and South Korea and US forces remain in the south serving along one of the most heavily militarised borders in the world. (https://www.britishlegion.org.uk/stories/the-korean-war)

 

P51 Mustang
F-86 Sabre

South African involvement was limited to a SAAF fighter squadron, with 50 officers and 157 other ranks of 2 Sqn SAAF sailing from Durban on 26 September 1950. This initial contingent was commanded by Cmdt S. van Breda Theron DSO, DFC, AFC and included many World War II SAAF veterans. The squadron was deployed as one of the four USAF 18th Fighter-Bomber Wing squadrons flying P51 Mustangs and later converted to USAF F-86F Sabre fighter-bombers. The South Africans lost 34 SAAF pilots killed with eight taken prisoner. 74 Mustangs and 4 Sabres were lost. Pilots and men of the squadron received a total of 797 medals including 2 Silver Stars, the highest US military award given to foreigners, 3 Legions of Merit, 55 Distinguished Flying Crosses and 40 Bronze Stars. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_African_Air_Force#Korean_War)

 

Memorials.

In South Africa I am aware of two Memorials/Rolls of honour. The first being at the Union Buildings in Pretoria.

  

The other is at the South African Air Force Memorial at Bays Hill in Pretoria.

The names of those killed in the conflict are also remembered on the memorial wall.

The dead are buried at the The United Nations Memorial Cemetery in Korea  in the City of Busan, Republic of Korea,  It contains 2,300 graves and is the only United Nations cemetery in the world. 

Sadly tension ebbs and flows on the tenuous border between North and South Korea, and there is a massive wealth gap between North and South. It is unlikely that they will ever be re-united and there is always a small chance that a major war could break out there at any time. The sabre rattling continues, with China always in the background ready to lend massive military support to the dictatorship of Kim Jong-un. The war has never been forgotten in Korea, but elsewhere in the world it has faded into memory.  

 

DRW © 2020. Created 24/06/2020 

Remembering Pauline

War Grave photography can be a very rewarding experience, with highs and lows, and many times you are left shaking your head or just feeling angry with what you see. My post today is one that  finally had closure for me after many years. 

I was “responsible” for many of the original photographs that we have on the South African War Graves  website that covered the cemeteries and memorials in and around Johannesburg and a few other places in Gauteng. I found it very satisfying to do and it did help me when I was suffering from an extreme case of “cabin fever” in 2011 and 2012. Unfortunately though, many casualties had slipped between the cracks when the South African Roll of Honour was being compiled. Apparently the person responsible for that job was stricken with Spanish Flu and passed away, and the unfinished ROH was adopted and the files of those who had not been processed were stuck on a shelf. 

In 2012 we started the record card project in an effort to photograph as many of the WW1 record cards as possible. The end goal being to submit the names of those who had slipped through the cracks to the CWGC and ultimately to have them added to the ROH.  When Ralph and Terry started to submit names for inclusion to the CWGC, one of the graves I went to find was that of PAULINE HERMIONE EMILY PAFF, a Probationer Nurse with the South African Military Nursing Service. She died of pneumonia and influenza, at Johannesburg Hospital on 20 October 1918 and was omitted from the ROH.

She is buried in Brixton Cemetery in the “EC” section (“English Church”) although that does not necessarily mean that the grave would be easy to find. Brixton is a big cemetery and there are very few grave numbers/markers and no real coherent plan of what is where. Fortunately I know the cemetery quite well and because I photographed the war graves can identify a section based on known graves.  Pauline’s grave was close to the fence of the Jewish section and a few graves close to where I was stung by a bee in 2009. By the time I left South Africa in 2013 no headstone had been erected although she had been approved for inclusion in the ROH and on the CWGC lists for South Africa

This past week Sarah Welham Dove was able to send me a photograph of her headstone and I was finally able to get closure over this grave. Pauline has been remembered and no longer does she rest in an unmarked space in a cemetery that is rapidly deteriorating due to indifference. 

I am also hoping that in the intervening years a headstone has been erected for Chris Charles Doak in Braamfontein too, although there was a dispute about where he was buried. He was somewhat of a troubled chap and died as a result of an overdose of morphine. Hopefully one day I will be able to display his grave here too. Irrespective of whether they died by misadventure of through no fault of their own each is important, and that is why we were out there taking the photographs. 

 

Rest n Peace Pauline and Chris and all those who we are still waiting for an answer on. 

Gravesite in 2008

 

DRW © 2020. Created 21/06/2020. Thanks to Sarah Welham Dove for the image.