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.

OTD: Commemorating HMSAS Parktown

HMSAS Parktown was originally built for The Southern Whaling and Sealing Company of London by Smiths Dock Company of Middlesbrough. She was laid down and launched in 1929 under the name Southern Sky.  In 1936, she was  bought by the Union Whaling Company and registered in Durban as Sidney Smith for service in the whaling industry until 1940. When war broke out she was requisitioned for service in the South African Navy as a minesweeper on 8 August 1940 under the name HMSAS Parktown. 

HMSAS Parktown Memorial in Pieter Roos Park in the suburb of Parktown

On 10 June 1942, HMSAS Parktown arrived in Tobruk Harbour for magnetic minesweeping duties and for ten days she continued operations off the harbour while the 8th Army were being driven back by advancing German and Italian forces. On 20 June 1942  the Tobruk garrison was attacked from the south and south east and By 18H00, the Allies had been overrun and Allied ships were ordered to embark personnel for evacuation.   At 06:45 on 21 June, the lookouts of HMSAS Parktown sighted what they believed was an Italian “MAS” torpedo boat,  but according to German reports, the ship was engaged by a flotilla of German E-boats based at Derna. The Parktown attempted to fight off the attacks but she was out-numbered and out-gunned by the axis vessels.  Within 15 minutes Parktown was stationary with a hole in the boiler. Half of her crew, including her captain (Lieutenant (SAN) Leslie James Jagger) as well as evacuated soldiers were dead and the ship could no longer move and was on fire. 

The ship was abandoned and the survivors took to the sea. Some were saved by an Allied MTB as well as a tug that had been under tow by Parktown. The wreck was then sunk by depth charges.

The ship is Commemorated on a memorial in Pieter Roos Park in the suburb of Parktown in Johannesburg. 

Roll of Honour.

70457 Able Seaman Peter S  BROCKLEHURST
70265 Stoker 1c John COOK
70016 Lieutenant Leslie J JAGGER (Commander of HMS Parktown)
69686 Steward William A MCEWAN
71109 Petty Officer Arthur P TREAMER

The men are Commemorated on the Plymouth Naval Memorial in Devon.

Plymouth Naval Memorial

DRW © 2020. Created 15/02/2020. Image: “The Royal Naval War Memorial and Hoe Park, Plymouth Hoe” by Robert Cutts is licensed under CC BY 2.0