Harvards: The Iconic Sound of Summer

One forever associates sights, smells and sounds with where one grows up.  Sometimes they are pleasant and sometimes not so, but they all define our childhoods and underpin our lives in subconscious ways.  The sound of the surf is one of my most pleasant memories as much as I’ll never forget the rotten sulphuric smell of the aptly named Smelly Creek at the shunting yards in Deal Party.  But a distinctive sound that I oddly found soothing and comforting, probably because of its familiarity, was the otherwise harsh sound of Harvards flying lazily overhead, particularly on beautiful summer days.  Being a boy and a WWII buff, that sound would always bring out the Biggles in me and get my pulse racing.

Main picture: The iconic North American AT-6 Harvard (Texan to Americans) resplendent in SAAF colours

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WW2’s Unusual, Amazing and Sometimes Ironic Statistics

In all respects, WW2 was a war of superlatives. From the number of people killed to the quantum of destruction of civilian property, it easily outranks all previous wars combined. Of all other wars, it was truly waged on an industrial scale.

This blog presents those statistics that will amaze, astonish and often make one reflect on why in the mid 20th century, man’s primal instinct was still to murder, annihilate and plunder.

Main picture: Only 20% of the males born in the Soviet Union in 1923 survived the war

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A Haunting Reminder of the Horrors of WW1

The horrors of WW1 are unspeakable. Knowing that their chances of survival were minuscule once “going over the top”, unhinged many a Tommy. Even those who were terror stricken, had to face another enemy apart from their warped minds, a tribunal for desertion or failing to obey an order if they failed to display an appropriate martial ardour.

Such were the terrors of an inhumane war. To commemorate this suffering, Martin Galbavy has created a “tin” statue as a tribute to the soldier’s bravery, their torment & the suppression of their demons.

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The Rheinwiesenlarger: Did the Americans kill German POWs?

On first hearing about my German father-in-law’s ill-treatment in an American POW Camp in France during 1944 & 1945, I was extremely sceptical. Not only that but I was totally dismissive of his claims, never deigning to hear him out.  

Then in 1989, I came across a book by James Bacque entitled “Other Losses” in which he exposes the extent of American disregard for the lives of German POWs and the blatant deception practiced by them in an effort to hide these resultant deaths. 

Main picture: The Rheinwiesenlager provided no protection from the elements together with meagre rations. This was a recipe for disaster on a large scale

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Lost Photographs of Berlin between 1939 & 1940

These photographs were taken between 1939 and 1940 in  Berlin and were lost for over 50 years  because the American photographer  disappeared at the beginning of the war, along with his Roliflex camera.

Shown here are the originals (Used at that time in the production of  magazines). The majority are 6″ X 9″. They were found by a nurse in a Berlin  hospital, who kept them stored away during  all these years.

After her death her  daughter returned them to the current editors, who retain the copyrights to Life Magazine, which has not been published since the early ’70s

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After the War was over

Victory in Europe Day, generally known as VE Day, was the public holiday celebrated on 8 May 1945 to mark the formal acceptance by the Allies of World War II of Nazi Germany’s unconditional surrender of its armed forces.

The war might have been over, the rebuilding of shattered lives, buildings and infrastructure could only now commence. Finally, it was a time of retribution for the vile deeds of the Axis countries both in Europe and in the East.

This blog is a pictorial representation of the issues that had to be addressed in this brave new world.

Main picture: A Japanese man amid the scorched wreckage and rubble that was once his home in Yokohama, Japan

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Even the Nazis could not prevent a Rugby “International” from being Played

White South Africans are addicted to rugby. Whether it is as a player or a spectator, through trying experiences I have learnt that this relationship may not be tampered with, as these rugby addicts cannot resist the lure of the game. Soccer might be endowed with the sobriquet “The Beautiful Game” but rugby is definitely the macho man’s game. This fact is attested to when the South African POWs during WW2 arranged an “International” Rugby game in a German POW Camp. It is a matter of record that in spite of most of the items required to hold an authentic rugby match were not readily available, ingenuity and improvisation were the mothers of invention. 

As if to confound their critics, this game was held in Stalag IV-B conforming to the dress code and rules of the games. It was that spirit that embodies the game.

Main picture: Springbok Rugby Team at Stalag IV-B in 1944. Back row, left to right: Oehley, Van Huyssteen, Kaplan, Timm, Coetzee, N. Hinds, Boet Wessels, Heydenrych, Youngleson, Foster, Chapman, Rahl. Middle row: Fabricius, Moore, Ackermann, Major Ochse (medical officer), Fiks van der Merwe (captain), Katzeff, Van der Westhuizen, Ritchie, Hultzer, Zietsman. Front row: Marais, R. Hinds, Sephton.

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Effect of WW1 100 years after it Ceased

WW1 is still emblematic and notorious for killing on an industrial scale. What is little known outside France is that a huge area has been designated as the so-called zone rouge [red zone in English], where entry is prohibited even a 100 years after this calamitous event.

Certain sections of this demarcated area have been so thoroughly contaminated that, in all probability, they will still be designated as no-go zones in 10 000 years’ time.

This is the tale of that forbidden no-man’s land, no longer protected by stuttering machine guns but by various poisons which have contaminated the ground.

Main picture: Enter the prohibited zone / Zone interdite / Sperrgebiet – pick your language of choice – with me at your own risk

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I slipped the Sultry Bonds of Earth

This sonnet by John Magee, written in September 1941, about his experience in flying a Spitfire will forever epitomise for me the elegant and sleek lines of that iconic plane.  At 80 years old on 5th March 2016, it has certainly aged gracefully. Of the 20,351 built only 55 are still flying today. To celebrate its diamond anniversary milestone, aerial photographer John Dibbs and wordsmith Tony Holmes have created an epic & fitting tribute to the Supermarine Spitfire. 

These legends of WW2 and the Battle of Britain in particular are captured by John Didds in pin-sharp pictures using only a hand-held camera. John Dibbs took years of being flown to within 15 feet of these planes to capture the stunning pictures below. 

This is tribute both to the enduring beauty of the plane and to the skill and experience of John Dibbs.

Main picture: AR614 tears through the sky over the white cliffs of Dover

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