History in Pics


Anti-Apartheid protesters sprayed with a water cannon shooting purple dye to mark the demonstrators for arrest. South Africa, 1989.

This happened in Green Market Square in Cape Town. The cops turned up and started shooting everyone with the water cannon loaded with purple dye. The protesters took the said cop off his perch, someone else jumped up there and began spraying everything. Not only was it now impossible to tell if a purple person was a protester or merely a shopper who was in the wrong place at the wrong time, but also all the buildings in the square got a coat. For weeks afterward, it was known as Purple Market Square.

Apartheid technically only ended in 1994. In 1990, it was basically agreed upon that it would be ended but no one was exactly sure on how or when. The 4 years in between 1990 and 1994 were an extremely tense time in the country. During these 4 years, there were a lot of negotiations about the conditions that needed to be met. In these 4 years, there was more violence and tension than the previous 40 years and it’s probably the closest the country ever came to going into civil war. There were so many different factions involved. There were the hard line whites who didn’t want any kind of end to Apartheid. There were the less hard-line ones who wanted an end but they still feared they could lose everything they have. There were the black leaders of the homelands who didn’t want to lose their powers and there were blacks who didn’t believe that they would be getting enough in these deals.

During those 4 years, there were assassinations of leaders, riots in response to assassinations and just general chaos and uncertainty about what was going to unfold.

Big Ben

A rare look behind the clockface of the Big Ben, 1920.
Big Ben is actually the bell, not the clock or the tower. The tower is officially Elizabeth Tower. Previously it was called The Clock Tower. The tower at the other end of the building is Victoria Tower.

If you are a British citizen you can write to your local MP and request a visit to Elizabeth Tower which houses Big Ben. You get a full hour tour and get to see the clock face in person. You also get to be at the top of the tower to watch Big Ben chime the hour (which is so loud you need earplugs – which they provide). It’s free and you have to be in good health (lots of steps). You can also write to your MP for a tour of the Houses of Parliament. I’m not sure if they’re happening at the moment with various terror threats.

Another interesting piece of trivia about clocks: The reason the stems on clocks are called “hands” is that back before they were mechanical, a man would stand in the town square and indicate the time using his arms. This takes constant counting and precise timing, so the men chosen to do this were trained extensively in universities for years. Because it was a lonely and dedicated craft, the decrees these men received were referred to as “bachelor degrees”. Time-men were actually the reason behind a surprising number of terms and phrases we use to this day.

Lyndon B. Johnson

U.S. President Lyndon Johnson listens to a tape sent by Captain Charles Robb (his son-in-law) from Vietnam (1968).

Johnson had asked Robb to send him reports of what was really happening on the ground in Vietnam. Though certainly the experience of leading the U.S. through Vietnam was anguishing, at this moment Johnson appears to have simply been resting his eyes while listening to Robb’s tape.

Robb went on to become governor of Virginia. Ms. Virginia 1983 Tai Collins publicly claimed to have had an affair with him when he was a senator.

Brutal Beating

Man’s spectacles explode after being struck by a policeman’s truncheon, 1971.

This happened during a cup competition football game between Cork Hibernians and Linfield from Belfast, played at Dublin’s Dalymount in May 1971. Linfield had a Loyalist following and with the growing conflict in Northern Ireland, there was political and sectarian tension in the air. Clashes erupted and the Gardaí baton charged the Linfield fans.

German Soldier

German soldier takes a break from the combat during the Battle of Berlin as the Reichstag burns behind him, April 1945.

In the early hours of 29 April, the Soviet 3rd Shock Army crossed the Moltke bridge and started to fan out into the surrounding streets and buildings. The initial assaults on buildings, including the Ministry of the Interior, were hampered by the lack of supporting artillery. It was not until the damaged bridges were repaired that artillery could be moved up in support. At 04:00 hours, in the Führerbunker, Hitler signed his last will and testament and, shortly afterward, married Eva Braun. At dawn, the Soviets pressed on with their assault in the southeast. After very heavy fighting they managed to capture Gestapo headquarters on Prinz-Albrechtstrasse, but a Waffen-SS counter-attack forced the Soviets to withdraw from the building. To the southwest, the 8th Guards Army attacked north across the Landwehr canal into the Tiergarten.

By the next day, 30 April, the Soviets had solved their bridging problems and with artillery support at 06:00 they launched an attack on the Reichstag, but because of German entrenchments and support from 12.8 cm guns 2 km (1.2 mi) away on the roof of the Zoo flak tower, in Berlin Zoo, it was not until that evening that the Soviets were able to enter the building. The Reichstag had not been in use since 1933 when it burned and its interior resembled a rubble heap more than a government building. The German troops inside made excellent use of this and lay heavily entrenched. Fierce room-to-room fighting ensued. At that point, there was still a large contingent of German soldiers in the basement who launched counter-attacks against the Red Army. Finally, on 2 May the Red Army controlled the building entirely. The fighting around the Reichstag was not a place that German Troops would “take a break”. It was the last stop before ending the war in Stalin’s perspective.


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