International

The year of 1812 is mainly remembered for Napoleon Bonaparte’s ruinous retreat from Moscow, when his “Grande Armee” was forced to evacuate the city or face starvation with the Russian winter impending. It was the beginning of the end for “Boney” and his defeat would eventually lead him to abdicate as emperor of France in 1814. Napoleon’s failed “Russian Campaign” would be known as the “Patriotic War of 1812” by the Russians and seventy years later would be celebrated by the first performance of Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” in Moscow.

Professor Lipmann Kessel MC, MBE, FRCS (1914-1986) was an eminent surgeon and a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, who wrote several important works on orthopaedic surgery, but rather like another well-known doctor, Roger Bannister (1929-2018), Kessel is best remembered for what he did as a young man. In the case of Bannister it was breaking the four minute mile barrier (in 1954) and with Kessel it was his medical role during the famous Battle of Arnhem, in late September 1944.

There are not many South Africans who have been honoured by having a statue of themselves erected in London. Only two come readily to mind and they are Jan Smuts and Nelson Mandela, whose statues stand proudly in Parliament Square, Westminster. However, there is a lesser known South African who has a statue which stands outside Bank Station; he is James Henry Greathead (1844-1896), the grandson of an 1820 Settler of the same name. So why is it that a boy from Grahamstown should be so honoured and what was his achievement?

Many commentators have written about the guns falling silent in Europe on 11 November 1918 and the reasons we should be remembering 100 years on. For South Africa and other African countries though, the war continued until 25 November 1918 when the Germans finally lay down their arms at Abercorn, today’s Mbala.

Below is the epilogue of Mel Baker's remarkable story. It covers his return to Wernersdorf on two occasions and his reunions with fellow POWs over the years. It also highlights the powerful commemorative events that he has been part of.

Mel Baker was a crew member of the HMS Gloucester which sank near Crete in 1941. He was one of only a handful of survivors picked up by the Germans. Below is Part 1 of his powerful account of being a Prisoner of War for most of World War II. He was 21 when he was taken prisoner and returned to Port Elizabeth in 1945 aged 25.

If I undertook a street survey and asked passers-by how much they weighed or how tall they were, the answers I would get back would be dependent on what system of weight and measures a person was brought up on and was familiar with. Grandparents would most likely answer in imperial units (pounds, feet & inches), and their grandchildren would reply in metric units (kilograms and metres), the reason for this is that South Africa converted to the metric system in the early 1970’s.

The reason I say this is that the game of football means different things to different people. If I were an Australian, football (or footy) would mean Aussie Rules, to a New Zealander football would be Rugby football and to an American, football is a contact sport where the ball is handled rather than kicked more akin to rugby. Europeans, Africans, Asians and South Americans know football as a predominantly kicking game with the passing of the ball by use of the foot between players: i.e. football played to the rules of Association Football (a.k.a. Soccer).

At 05:30 on the morning of 11 November 1918, in a railway coach standing at a remote railway siding in the heart of the forest of Compiègne, Germany signed the Armistice Agreement that brought the war to an end.

Soon after, telegraph wires were humming with the message: “Hostilities will cease at 11.00 today November 11. Troops will stand fast on the line reached at that hour...”.

This last week brought a spectacular media scoop to Steve Humphrey of the BBC when an anonymous tip off (presumably telephonic) led him to a bell shaped parcel left at the entrance to the Swanage Pier in Dorset, England. The BBC team was on hand to film the careful unwrapping of the parcel to reveal a ship's bell with the word “Mendi” deeply etched in capital letters on the side (main image from Steve Humphrey and BBC TV South). The bell of the SS Mendi, lost in World War 1, had been found. 

 

Ever since the Millennium the buzzword has been “Globalisation”, which paradoxically was given prominence by the anti-globalisation movement; those people who saw the threat of the multinational companies creating a new world order. By definition Globalisation is “the process enabling financial and investment markets to operate internationally, largely as a result of deregulation and improved communications” (Collins). The word came into everyday speech in the 1990’s having been coined first in the 1960’s by economists.

The late Fred Dibnah, although unknown to most South Africans, was a household name in Britain. He was a true English eccentric who had a passion for all sorts of machinery powered by steam and he spent much of his life studying their construction and history.

He was a man born out of his time, as by the time he started work in the 1950’s, steam power in industry was being superseded by newer technology in the form of electric powered machines.

In today’s world, large infrastructure projects such as the state of the art “Gautrain” rapid transit railway between Johannesburg and Pretoria (80 km in length) are constructed using mechanised plant and equipment for better productivity when working to tight project schedules (fast tracking). Occupational Health and Safety on construction sites has become a main concern when it comes to planning and executing large civil engineering projects with hazard operability studies (HAZOPS) and risk assessments being mandatory.

Field Marshal Bernhard Law Montgomery, nicknamed “Monty” by his men, commanded the Allies 21st Army Group in Northwest Europe, during the last months of the Second World War. On the 4th May 1945 at Luneburg Heath he accepted the unconditional surrender of the German forces in that theatre of the War. Victory in Europe (VE day) would come four days later on the 8th of May 1945.

Dickie Jeeps who passed away recently aged 84, was one of the greatest scrum halves ever to play the game of Rugby. He came to the fore during the 1955 British Lions tour of South Africa, where he played in all four Tests against the Springboks. He went on tour as a surprise choice as he was uncapped (by England), but he proved, on the hard grounds of the Highveld, to be the ideal partner for the mercurial fly half Cliff Morgan. The Test series would be drawn with two wins apiece.

 

When someone is asked who or what is the Iron Lady, the first thought that comes to mind is usually Margaret Thatcher, but long before she became Prime Minister of Britain there was another Iron Lady. Ask any Parisian and they will tell you that “La Dame de Fer” is the Eiffel Tower.

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