The story of the Radium Girls is possibly one of the most fascinating, tragic and yet overwhelmingly hopeful tales I have ever delved into.
This chapter of history is one hell of a rabbit hole, so to make sure we get as in depth as possible, I had to make it into a video, which you can check out on our YouTube channel. And, believe me when I say this one is a wild ride! So buckle in (brew yourself a tea) and lets get started.
Think Coronavirus is bad? Well it ain’t got shit on the 1918 flu outbreak…
Assuming you haven’t been living in a hole, you’ve definitely heard of Coronavirus. The big bad that might turn out to just be a pretty gnarly flu outbreak or could wipe out millions. Yeah, it’s a pretty scary either or situation.
Whilst the world waits to see which side of the coin Coronavirus lands on, global media are passing the time by unearthing the ghost of 1918’s Spanish Flu pandemic and excitedly shining a spotlight on it, shouting‘Look, this will happen again! We’re all going to die! Boogety boo!’
It’s being repeated again and again from country to country: this virus is as infectious and deadly as the 1918 flu strand.
But what exactly caused was the 1918 flu outbreak? Why did so many people die and with the knowledge of time is there anything we can do to stop this happening again?
Basically – are we totally fucked? Let’s find out!
What was the Spanish flu?
Fun fact, The Spanish flu didn’t originate in Spain, it’s just got a confusing name. Sadly we can’t pin point the exact geographic location this flu strain started, however we do know that the first officially recorded cases were in a military base in Kansas.
Between that first recorded case in March 1918, to the last known case, two years later in March 1920, an estimated 50 million people world wide would die from ‘the Spanish flu’ (though it’s now thought this was estimate could be as high as 100 million, roughly 5% of the worlds population.)
The flu hit in three waves. First in Spring 1918, then autumn 1918 and finally through winter 1918 to spring 1919. With the second outbreak being the deadliest.
The initial Spanish Flu symptoms were similar to that of most flu’s. Including a fever, headaches, feeling weak and joint pain. However it was what happened after these initial symptoms that was what made Spanish Flu so deadly.
In September 1918, Dr Roy Grist, described what happened to the men he treated at Camp Devens in Massachusetts:
‘…They very rapidly develop the most vicious type of pneumonia that has ever been seen. Two hours after admission they have the mahogany spots over the cheekbones and a few hours later you start to see the cyanosis extending from their ears and spreading all over the face until it is hard to distinguish the coloured men from the white. It is only a matter of a few hours until death comes. It is horrible.’
The majority of people died not from the flu itself, but from complications that came with it.
What really made the flu stand out was those that it killed. Generally people who die from flu tend to be old or very young, often with pre-existing health conditions.
However, the big killer of ‘the Spanish flu’ was young adults.
This is even crueller when you consider that just as the flu hit the The First World War was starting to come to an end. So now the millions of soldiers that had survived the traumatic trenches got a congratulations prize of another thing that might kill them. In fact more US servicemen died from the flu than in combat.
How did the flu spread?
There is never just one route that a pandemic uses to spread (they’re tricksy like that) however in this instance, The First World War was a key factor in the spread.
The Spanish flu was highly infectious. Take for example that first case in Kansas. Within hours of the soldier being taken to the infirmary, over one hundred other men at his base were also reporting symptoms.
Thousands of men all gathered together in cramped quarters, it’s the perfect brewing ground for infection.
But this was war and war doesn’t stop because some soldiers are feeling a bit peaky. Men with symptoms were still deployed, which resulted in people on all sides catching Spanish Flu.
Just to make this worse, The First World War was the era of trench warfare. Already living shoulder to shoulder in unhygienic holes in the ground, surrounded by death, the soldiers were given something unbeatable to contend with.
Then there were those soldiers that were in the most dangerous stages of the flu, who were sent to field hospitals. To get there they were often transported along with hundreds of other people, military and civilian. So the virus easily hopped from the infected person to dozens of others, with those people then heading off to unknowingly continue the spread.
With infected troops travelling all over the world, it’s no surprise that the flu spread so quickly.
But don’t worry. It gets worse.
Because the world was at war, public morale was key. Those countries at war, didn’t want to expose their people to just how lethal this pandemic was. So they didn’t.
Newspapers in America, Britain and countries across Europe were censored so they didn’t reveal the true magnitude of the pandemic. Spain was one of the few countries that was covering the spread in its early days and their wide coverage of the pandemic led to the flu being named ‘The Spanish Flu’ (they were unsurprisingly not happy about this)
The impact of media not telling people how bad the pandemic was shouldn’t be underestimated. When people are aware of a public health crisis, they tend to be cautious. If you know there’s something going around, you’ll naturally do things like washing your hands more, be less likely to go to crowded areas and generally take more precautions.
That’s not to mention the other ways many countries chose to put propaganda above public health.
For example in America several cities held mass morale boosting events, despite knowing that large gatherings were a breeding ground for Spanish Flu. Don’t see why that could end badly? Let’s talk Philadelphia.
In late September 1918, the city had planned a huge parade to boost morale and raise money for the war effort. Doctors urged the city to cancel the event. There had already been local cases of the Spanish flu and a massive crowded event was sure to make the situation worse. But the city needed to cheer up its citizens and raise cash, so the parade went ahead.
Over 200,000 people watched the parade on 28 September. Music filled the streets, Boy Scouts marched along with uniformed soldiers. There was dancing, heaps of patriotism and tons of Liberty loans sold. The parade organisers patted themselves of the back for a job well done.
72 hours later and every bed in the cities hospitals were full. Within weeks, thousands were dead.
By 3 October Philadelphia was shut down. Morgues struggling to manage the influx, with bodies stacked up and families struggling to find somewhere to bury their loved ones.
How was Spanish Flu prevented?
Hypothetically it was a good thing that the Spanish Flu hit when it did. For centuries people had believed epidemics were an act of god. However with the emergence of ever improving medical science, people were starting to put their faith into medical science. Recent epidemics, like the ‘Russian Flu’, had been studied to find a root cause.
With an arsenal of medical research, combined with peoples believe in science, the chances of beating this thing looked pretty darn good!
Sadly it didn’t work out like that.
In 1892 German bacteriologist thought he’d discovered the cause of the Russian flu, a bacterium he called, Bacillus influenzae (or Pfeiffer’s bacillus). The idea that deadly bacteria could be behind 1918’s pandemic made perfect sense, after all bacteria causes things like cholera and plague (and the 1918 pandemics symptoms had a lot of similarities with the plague!). So scientists across the world went all in on locating Pfeiffer’s bacillus in sick patients.
HOWEVER, influenza is a virus. It’s not caused by bacteria. So although loads of research was being done to stop the 1918 pandemic, they were looking at the wrong thing.
Those depending on religion to save them, we’re often also out of luck.
In the Spanish city of Zamora, a bishop went against all governmental guidelines and called the cities people together to pray for protection against the flu. The result of the gathering? Roughly 10% of Zamora’s people died from Spanish Flu.
What was the aftermath?
Around 1% of the European population died and that figure rises as you go across the world. It’s though that in India around eighteen million died. We will never truly know just how many lives the Spanish Flu claimed, but globally estimates vary between 50-100 million people.
It didn’t matter if you lived in a city or a village, the flu could impact you. In fact small communities who lay outside of the local mass populace were often utterly devastated if the flu reached them. For example in some parts of the Gambian countryside it was reported that
‘whole villages of 300 to 400 families (were) completely wiped out, the houses having fallen in on the unburied dead, and the jungle having crept in within two months, obliterating whole settlements.’
You were also far more likely to die if you came from a poor background. The working class, minorities and immigrants were far more likely to be living in cramped conditions without good access to decent sanitation, which meant the Spanish Flu exploded in these areas.
So will Coronavirus be Spanish Flu 2.0?
Now don’t get me wrong, I understand why so many media outlets are saying it will be – hey we all love click bait! However, in this instance history repeating itself just isn’t a super tangible outcome.
So many of the key factors that led to the spread of the 1918 flu are not even vaguely comparable to today’s landscape.
To be blunt. There’s not a world war on. That makes a difference. We don’t have hundreds of thousands of men crammed into tight often unhygienic environments that act as a perfect virus breeding ground. Those infected men are not then flitting all over the world, sprinkling the virus everywhere they go.
Yes, today we’re travelling the world more than before. But borders have already started to close, checks are being made and even when the virus slips past that, those are small numbers of isolated cases. It’s not remotely the same as the speedy global spread the First World War created.
Then there’s the science. Unlike 1918, medical science has far more of a clear handle on what makes up a virus like Coronavirus. In addition thanks to new fangled inventions like the internet, scientists worldwide are able to be a lot more open with their research. Meaning teams across the globe are able to be up to the minute on the latest findings. With clinical trials up and running, massive amounts of data and round the clock work being done by countless teams, we’re so far ahead cure wise than 1918, it’s not even comparable.
So whilst we may be in an international public health emergency, we’re in a far better place than we were 100 hundred years ago.
That’s not to say we shouldn’t learn from the lessons of the 1918 pandemic, but by no means should we be treating it like a crystal ball!
Forget the Insta fitness guru’s, there’s only one fitness queen you need to fall for: Sunny Lowry.
Is it even January if your gym isn’t packed to the rafters and everywhere shop you step into has a new superfood or protein thingy-ma-jig to promise you super abs and rock-hard glutes? To be honest I’m officially over it. I mean seriously, can a girl not run in red-faced sweaty peace, without being outstripped by a lycra-covered superhuman with every gleaming gadget to track and tread their workout? Oh for a simpler, My Fitness Pal free exercise time.
Well pine no longer, because today we’re bringing it back to health goals of the past. So sit down, have a brew or a refreshing cucumber-infused power water and lets discuss the absolute fitness hero of the 20th century: Sunny Lowry.
Sunny was one of the first (one of, I stress, one of!) British women to swim the English Channel. She defied all expectations, broke major sporting ground and dedicated her life to supporting the young people of the North in pursuing their own athletic dreams. Oh, and one time, she was almost arrest for public indecency…
And yet, despite all this amazingness, have you heard of her? Probably not.
So eat your heart our David Walliams, because this absolute athletic goddess is the real ruler of the English Channel.
Born in Manchester in January 1911, Sunny Lowry didn’t exactly come from a place that screamed open water sea swimming. After all, Manchester ‘has got everything except a beach.’ Sunny’s dad was a fish seller, so at least she had some kind of marine-life around her, even if it was, well, dead.
She was bright, attending Manchester High School for Girls, classing the infamous Pankhurst sisters as fellow alumni, and shared their rebellious and challenging nature. When asked by her Headmistress what she wanted to do when older, she simply replied:
‘Swim the Channel.’
That got her into trouble and she was told to abandon these dreams. Still, they weren’t that outlandish for Sunny. In fact, there was a surge of interest in Channel swimming in the 1920s, because what says fun like donning a ridiculously unsuitable bathing suit and running into a vast body of water? As the social restrictions set against women slowly began to disappear, more and more women started to give it a go and in 1926, Gertrude Ederle, the American long-distance swimmer, became the first woman to swim the Channel.
You think Cross fit is hard? They didn’t have WET SUITS. You know wet suits, the things that keep you warm and covered up. These swimmers were hard core, braving frigid choppy waters in basic bathing suits and look how happy they still are!
Yet despite everything to the contrary, Sunny stayed firm in her dream and started swimming lessons. It soon became quite evident that the girl swam like a fish. So she joined Levenshulme Swimming Club and attended lessons at Hathersage Baths – better known as Victoria Baths. Soon, she started winning pretty much every competition going and training outdoors.
Sunny was out to prove everyone wrong.
Ok, Manchester didn’t have a beach, fine. To train she travelled up and down the country, from the Lake District, to Blackpool, and even to North Wales to swim outdoors, where she once even helped save the lives of two drowning girls.
Then, in 1932, Sunny got her chance. An advert appeared in the newspapers:
‘Wanted – a British-born girl aged 17 to 20, weight about 11 stone, with the courage to beat Captain Webb’s channel swimming time of 21 ¾ hours.’
The advert was placed by (cue the excellent name incoming klaxon) famous swimming coach Jabez Wolffe, who had failed to swim the Channel himself and so he followed that mantra of ‘those that can’t do, teach’. He became a ruthlessly brilliant trainer instead.
Sunny responded and beat 300 other women to the position. She moved down to the South East and began training in Dover and Kent. To build up a bulk that would protect her from the icy water, she went for runs on the beach, lifted weights, and ate up to forty eggs a week.
Top fitness tip from Sunny: why bother with clean eating when you can cancel out all other food groups for eggs?
Sunny had herself one of the best trainers in the business. Her dream was so close she could taste it. But not without a hearty dose of hypothermia and failure, right?
That’s right. Wolffe told her straight away that if she couldn’t handle the cold water she might as well leave, and Sunny herself said:
‘I used to go in [to the sea] and come out not feeling my ankles…’
It’s making me shiver at the very notion. But Sunny was determined and in August 1932, she had her first bash at swimming the Channel.
Despite being covered in goose fat, accompanied by a boat full of bagpipes to keep her to rhythm and a supply of beef tea to nourish her, Sunny failed to cross the Channel.
She could almost see the finish line (Folkstone) when the rough and stormy seas became too much and she had no choice but to abandon her swim after spending over fifteen hours in the water. The first attempt had a lasting impact on Sunny, as the jellyfish stings and pain of the swim was cancelled out by the dolphins that came to swim alongside her.
Still, Sunny refused to abandon her goal. She tried again in July 1933, bagpipes and all, but this time the storms were so bad that in the dead of night, Sunny actually disappeared in the waves – and it took an hour to locate her. She was only found when the crew spotted her bright red swimming cap amongst the endless crashing waves.
So once again only a few hours away from the shore, Sunny had to give up.
But, she didn’t hang around for her next shot. Only a month later, she was back in Gris Nez, France, setting off for Blighty. With her trusty pilot boat, beef tea, and of course, bagpipes, Sunny, third time lucky, crossed the channel in just under sixteen hours.
Sunny had done it! Covered in jellyfish stings, blue from cold and exhausted, she crawled up the beach, to be met with cries of:
‘I should have you arrested!!’
Yeah not exactly the heroes welcome she expected.
That’s right, despite a huge athletic achievement, Sunny was accused of public indecency because of the lightweight, two-piece swimsuit she was wearing.
Luckily, the offended party didn’t call the police, and Sunny was hailed as a national champion. She flew her Levenshulme Swimming Club flag, complete with the Manchester worker bee and red rose of Lancashire and carried out a national tour of judging galas, opening baths, and demonstrating her swimming prowess.
However– Sunny’s swim wasn’t recognised by the Channel Swimming Association until 1958, over twenty years after it took place. Funny that, how women’s achievements almost get left out of history, doesn’t ever happen, can’t imagine why…*insert massive eye roll*
For the rest of her life, Sunny ran swimming clubs, became the President of the Channel Swimming Association, and focused especially on teaching children with learning difficulties, her lucky charm, the dolphin, on all of her club emblems.
She was fiercely committed to championing swimming for all, and above all, ignoring all the voices that told her she couldn’t. There’s no better way to put it:
Today’s bright bubblegum Kpop actually stems from one of the darkest chapters in history! It’s a 50 year tale of censorship, hardship and evolution. How one country went from near destruction to world pop culture domination in half a century.
Right now Kpop is taking over the world. It’s practically inescapable; with catchy ear worms, insane dance routines and the constant presence of BTS at every talk show/award’s do going. But Kpop isn’t new! In fact this isn’t even the first international Korean music invasion.
Believe me when I say, the history behind this dazzlingly bright pop is fascinating; stemming from one of the darkest chapters in Korea’s history and revolving around censorship, cultural evolution and hybridisation. Mostly it’s a story of people and whether you love Kpop or haven’t ever heard it, it’s really bloody interesting.
So then what (I hear you ask) is the historic starting point for Kpop?
….The Korean War.
Once part of the Japanese empire, Korea fell into the lap of the allies after WW2. The country was divided, literally. A split was drawn down its peninsula (dubbed, the 38th parallel) with South Korea handed to America and North Korea going to the Soviet Union.
Now as a rule, splitting countries in half and sharing them between two powers with huge ideological differences never goes well. And -surprise- it didn’t go well.
By the 1950s both sides had formed their own rulings, the South under an anti-communist government and the North under the communist dictator, Kim Il Sung.
Obviously neither side were happy just having power in their designated area. They wanted all of Korea.
That right there is a recipe for disaster! Add into this the little fact that the world was in the midst of The Cold War and you’re set for some grade A clusterfuckery.
And so in June 1950, the North Korean People’s Army invaded South Korea.
It was the first military invasion of The Cold War and it had happened on what was essentially US turf. America was both angry and petrified that if the South fell, it could only be a matter of time before communism went global.
This powder keg of ideology, policy and fear exploded into one of the most brutal and bloody wars in living memory.
Peace negotiations were sporadic but by 1953 a stalemate was reached… and 5 million people were dead. Half of those were civilians.
Within the space of three years, 10% of the population were dead and millions of families were separated through the North South divide. Not to mention that South Korea’s economy was heading to ruin and the country was depending heavily on foreign aid.
South Korea was a country crippled.
Still, the Americans stuck around South Korea after the war and with their ongoing presence came a sudden boom in western ideals.
Throughout the 1950s, there was rapid urbanisation, fights for women’s rights, a complete overall from extended to nuclear family and more importantly (Where this piece is concerned) an influx of American culture.
The likes of Marilyn Monroe and Louis Armstrong performed at GI camps, bringing homesick soldiers a slice of Americana. But Marilyn couldn’t always be on speed dial; other acts were needed.
So South Korean entertainers stepped up. And in this uncertain economy, they were more than happy to try out something new for a paid gig.
Enter The Kim Sisters!
The Kim Sisters were a heady mix of The Andrew Sisters and The Supremes and were an immediate hit with American soldiers. So much so that in the 1960s they became a break out hit in America!
The sisters were the first South Korean act to release music in the US (reaching no7 on Billboard) were a regular on The Ed Sullivan Show, all in addition to performing across the US.
South Korea also fell for The Kim sisters and with them came an increase in Americanised groups and the Korea/USA infused rock genre ‘Trot’.
As the 1960s continued, this new type of music boomed, along with the rapid rise in westernisation.
American influences were seeping more and more into the everyday. Helping to further set South Korea apart from the North.
BUT this was an enormous change happening in a startlingly short time span.
Suddenly two very different cultures were being melded together. Capitalism and commercialism were being placed alongside traditional Korean values and the still over arcing influence on the country of Confucianism.
It was a huge cultural shift and one that was being explored by this new hybridised music.
Artists reflected their own experiences in their work e.g The Pearl Sisters sang about going to coffee shops and wore short skirts, whilst Korean rock band, Add4 acted as South Korea’s answer to Beatlemania. These groups were mixing tradition and western influence and in doing so defining an era that would become looked to as one South Korea’s golden ages for music.
But then the new culture wave crashed.
In 1963 Park Chung -Hee was elected president of South Korea. A former military leader, two years earlier he had ousted the previous government (known as The Second Republic) in a military coup. Now president (of the The Third Republic) he oversaw massive economic growth (hooray!), but a huge human cost (yeah, not so great)
Park Chung-Hee was a military man through and through, and this guy and some serious concerns about the sudden shift in South Korea’s culture.
Now, Park Chung-Hee was technically running a democracy, but he did so with an iron fist. His opponents were dealt with harshly, he enforced rapid modernisation of rural areas (so they’d seem less ‘backwards’) and rounded up South Korea’s homeless, putting them in camps for free labour. So it’s unsurprising that Park Chung-Hee planned to deal with the new culture in the same brute force way.
And so in a bid to promote Korean traditionalism, Park Chung-Hee vowedto stamp out new culture, honing in on this new type of hybridised music as a key area to be quashed.
In 1975 he dealt musical freedom of speech a huge blow with the the enactment of Emergency Measure Number 9, which included the horrifically named ‘The Purification of Popular Music Measures.’
Hundreds of songs were banned, dubbed as ‘unhealthy’ to the populace. ‘Decadent’ foreign music by the likes of John Lennon, Bob Dylan and Black Sabbath we’re out, but worryingly so were hundreds of songs by South Korean artists.
Anything that could be deemed counter culture, risqué or clearly influenced by the West was under severe scrutiny.
Radio stations saw their allotted time for foreign and hybrid music drastically cut. And the penalty for defying the ban was to be stripped of your entertainment career.
The golden age of hybridised Korean and western music was over.
Park Chunghee said of this cultural cull:
‘Good influences we must retain, but bad ones we must reject, and reject at their very inception,”
With most of this new music banned, Park Chung-Hee double downed; arresting young people who sported Americanised long hair; having their heads shaved on the spot.
Then to fill the void of ‘subversive’ ‘unhealthy’ sound, Park Chunghee came up with ‘healthy music’.
If you couldn’t guess by it’s name. Healthy music sucked.
Several ‘healthy’ songs were written by Park Chung Hee himself, focusing on the glory of South Korea and just how bloody amazing his government was. And what they lacked in musicality they made up for in snappy titles, like ‘My Homeland’ and of course, who could forget everyone’s favourite, ‘New Village Song’.
These songs were everywhere. Seriously you couldn’t move for the government approved ‘New Village Song’ being blasted at you.
But then in late 1979 everything changed when Park Chung Hee was shot and killed by his friend (and director of his intelligence agency) Kim Jae-Gyu.
It’s unlikely that the assassination was pre-planned and it left the country in mass upheaval.
But one good thing came out of all this political turmoil, nobody was watching the purification of popular music measure and it sort of disappeared….
And so as 1980 dawned it looked like South Korean culturally infused musical golden age was now free once more to repeat itself.
Except it didn’t
Park Chung-Hee had (no matter else he’d done) totally turned around the countries economy and global standing, his absence left a massive hole.
And as such the 1980s provided yet anouther huge period of governmental upheaval, which in turn led to the continuation of Korean pop music being censored.
But it wasn’t all bad.As South Korea started to settle into what would prove to be a lasting democracy, mass media was born.
Suddenly radio and TV weren’t regionalised but rolled out on a national scale. Music was becoming liberalised once more and Korean ballad and trot singers enjoyed immense popularity.
Then came colour TV and with it music programming. Something the entire nation could watch all together. This soon became the main way for South Koreans to consume music. Not so much video killed the radio star, as video starting life as the mass medium!
By the 1990s the stage was set for something entirely new.
Enter Seo Taiji and Boys
The trio of rappers, dancers and singers *phew!* performed their self penned song Nan Arayo” (난 알아요, I Know) on South Korea’s leading talent show in 1992.
Not only did they break the TV produced talent mould by writing and choreographing their performance, they were one of the first acts in years to once more combine westernised music with South Korean styles.
It was like The Kim Sisters all over again, but half a decade later and with baggy pants.
Sadly the shows jury didn’t get it… and Seo Taiji and Boys were awarded the lowest score possible.
BUT the South Korean public didn’t care about the jury’s votes.
People loved Seo Taiji and Boys. They were new and exciting and soon they blew up in a big way.
With their increased fame, the group continued playing with culture and genre, their later songs fusing Korean folk music with metal, creating a South Korean take on Gangsta rap and even using rock to discuss the idea of north south unification.
Off the back of this success, music agencies started to pop up all over Seoul (including YG Entertainment founded by Seo Taiji and Boys member, Yang HyanSuk) looking to create their own fortune making cultural phenomena.
Polished dance and hip hop groups dominated the charts. Each creating its own almost hysterically obsessed fandom. From rappers 1TYM to the fantastically 90s bubble gum boy group, H.O.T.
Business was so good that by 1998 the South Korean government wanted in and formed a team that sat within its Ministry of Culture and Tourism department. Solely dedicated to this new fangeled Kpop trend.
Around the same time as the Kpop government team was set up, Asia underwent a financial crisis. To survive the South Korean kpop industry would need to look beyond it’s boarders.
So in 1997 H.O.T released their first Chinese album to a fantastic reception. And music agencies started to train their artists to not only sing in other languages but to speak them too.
With SM Entertainment going so far as to hire Japanese vocal trainers and instructors to make their young female singer, BoA appear native to both countries.
By the turn of the millennium the tide of South Korean culture breaking into markets across Asia was dubbed ‘The Korean Wave’ or ‘Hallyu’.
But Kpop had become a lot more important than just selling records. There was a reason it had a governmental team!
Kpop was to be key in how South Korea would re position themselves on the global stage.
Using it was a way to consolidate their ‘soft power’. What is soft power you ask? Well much like America had once used glossy Hollywood pictures, Coca-Cola and jeans to attract international attention to it’s policy and alliance. That’s what South Korea were about to do with Kpop.
And that brings us up to today. South Korea have officially ridden that Hallyu wave all the way to the top. Positioning themselves as a global leader in the exportation of pop culture.
From a country that 66 years ago was on its knees to one whose unique hybridised culture is EVERYWHERE.
It’s not to shabby a leap and a huge part of that success is from the sparkly, happy clappy but always overcoming music of kpop.
Further Reading: You can learn more about the in depth history of Korea’s musical evolution in Made in Korea: Studies in popular music. For the economically minded, check out here for a fascinating deep dive into its post war economy. And click here for a great paper on South Korea’s cultural identity.
Gertrude Koch wasn’t like other 17 year old girls. What with her living under Nazi rule in Cologne, Germany, during WW2, that’s not exactly surprising; after all, her days were spent recovering from the latest air raid and picking her way through bombed out streets.
But that wasn’t what made Gertrude stand out.
See, at night night Gertrude would risk her life to shelter allied soldiers and escaped prisoners. Yeah… not so normal.
Together with other rebel teens, Gertrude rained anti-Hitler leaflets down from the roof of Colognes Train Station, helped break into food warehouses to feed the imprisoned and daubed anti-Nazi slogans on every building she could.
Gertrude was an Edelweiss Pirate and she and thousands of teenagers like her risked everything to tear down the Nazi regime in any way they could.
Yet the Edelweiss Pirates remained largely forgotten by history – until now…
Lets do this thing!
In the late 1930s bands of teenage resistence groups sprang up throughout Germany.
Created by teenagers who wanted nothing to do with the Hitler Youth or League of German Girls; they called themselves, The Edelweiss Pirates (which btw is a way better name than Hitler Youth!)
Almost all were working class. These teens worked in factories and mills in the day, then as soon as their shift was over they’d don their metal Edelweiss pins and head to the hills to frolic with their mates.
Now this may sound super wholesome… but it was also super illegal.
You see outside of the state sanctioned youth groups, it was illegal for teens to go outside set zones within their regions.
It was a ridiculous law and the pirates happily stuck two fingers up to it, proudly heading off on hikes, carrying guitars so they could sing anti-Nazi songs round the campfire.
As the Nazi regime grew, so did the law breaking pursuits of the Edelweiss Pirates.
They were soon painting buildings with anti-Nazi slogans, jokes and messages. One official reported:
‘These youths who have been inscribing the walls with the slogans “Down with Hitler”, “The OKW (Oberkommande des Wehrmacht) is lying”, “Down with Nazi brutality”.
Unsurprisingly the Nazis (not known as history’s fun-sters) wanted to crush the troublemaking teens.
Edelweiss Pirates were quickly rounded up by police; then they had their heads shaved and were thrown in prison.
But of course… that didn’t stop them.
As the war ramped up so did the Pirates.
They were now giving shelter to escaped prisoners of war, Jewish people, and even allied troops.
They didn’t stop there.
The Edelweiss Pirates started to militarise themselves and within months they were running armed raids on Nazi bases for the supplies needed to distribute food and aid.
Soon they were planning missions to destroy Nazi weapons and attack Gestapo bases.
You can imagine how happy the Nazis were about this…
In one night in 1942, over 1000 Edelweiss Pirates were arrested by the Gestapo.
Gertrude Kloch was one of them. Aged just 17 she was roughly interrogated and thrown into prison.
She was lucky.
The Pirates has proven themselves to be an unceasing thorn in the regimes side and the Nazis weren’t shitting around anymore.
In 1944, 12 teens and young men were publicly hung in Cologne; at least 6 were Edelweiss Pirates.
Anecdotal evidence from former pirates suggest that many more were executed without trial, their deaths never recorded.
Yet, despite the deaths in their ranks, the Edelweiss Pirates never stopped.
They steadfastly remained a constant pain in Hitlers arse, right until the end of the war.
After the war, the Pirates refused to take the allied side. The only thing they wanted to do with their new occupying authority was to work out a patrolling rota so they could go back to keeping their local streets safe.
See, the pirates weren’t interested in backing one allied authority over another.
They warned against making things about politics again; understandable since last time Germany had done that… you know… Hitler happened.
Sadly, however reasonable the Pirates argument, the allies were not having it.
They shunned the pirates and as such, didn’t remove their previous criminal records (from the Nazi regime) which meant any pirates with criminal records from this period remained ‘war criminals’
It would be literal decades until the Edelweiss Pirates had their criminal records wiped and were officially (AND FINALLY) recognised as resistance fighters (this happened in 2005 for you date lovers)
Sadly many Pirates weren’t there to see their names cleared.
but 81 year old Gertrude Koch was.
Sure, Gertrude was happy to finally have the recognition the Edelweiss Pirates deserved… but she hadn’t lost her fighting spirit. So she stood up and declared to the awaiting press:
‘We were from the working classes. That is the main reason why we have only now been recognised’
which ya know … true
Gertrude then picked up a guitar and headed off to join Colognes surviving Edelweiss Pirates as they proudly sang their anti-Nazi anthems once more.
Rafael Trujillo was a dick. Ruling as dictator of The Dominic Republic for over 30 years. Following a rebellion Trujillo was voted into power with 99% of the vote in 1930 with essentially no opposition (after his opponents were subject to military threats). Once the Commander in Chief of the army Trujillo now wielded ultimate power. Of course, he did have his supporters and under his control The Dominican Relublic soon became a founding member of The United Nations, enjoyed a great deal of economic stability and even saw its first national park-but the cost of this was incredibly high, human rights violations were a daily occurrence, torture and assassinations routine and order was maintened through fear and brute force- it is thought that Trujillo was responsible for at least 50,000 deaths (his mum must have been proud) his bloody reign seemed unstoppable.
Enter the Mirabel sisters. Patria, Dede, Minerva and Maria Teresa Mirabel all came of age under Trujillo’s rule. The sisters came from a well connected middle class family, were feisty, well educated and with the exception of Dede, all the sisters made the unusual (for the time) step of attending higher education institutions.
Whilst attending law school Minerva started to learn about the families of her new friends who had been killed (or simply vanished) under the dictator, this paired with a blossoming knowledge of her uncles involvement in the resistance started to spark something in Minerva.
Shortly after this Minerva came face to face with Trujillo. In 1949 the family were asked to attend a party he was hosting (I say asked, I mean forced-Trujillo liked to ensure his parties had a high percentage of pretty young women). During the party Trujillo’s men separated Minerva from the family, seating her at his table. Accounts from here seem to vary and are a little fuzzy, but what we do know is that Trujillo made a move on Minerva and she rejected him. The family then swiftly left the party, this was was a risky move.
Unsurprisingly Trujillo was not often told no and did not respond well to Minerva rebuffing his sexual advances or to the family leaving the party before he did (a big no no as it suggested disrespect towards the dictator) and so he ordered the entire Mirabel families imprisonment.
The family were eventually released, from prison. However Trujillo blocked Minerva from continuing her legal education and maintained a constant ebb of harassment towards her (again-his mum must be proud)
The families every move was now being monitored, with Minerva in particular reported to Trujillo’s forces several times for crimes including not toasting Trujillo at dinner. Soon Minerva started to become more active in resisting Trujillo, her youngest sister, Maria Teresa quickly jumped on board, outraged at the intimidation and human rights abuse that had not just seeped into the Mirabel household but the entire country.
Then on 14 June 1959 Patria witnessed the Luperion Invasion, an attempt by ousted Dominicans to topple Trujillo’s government. The rebels were quickly and brutally crushed, but rather than serving as a warning to Patria of the consequences of fighting Trujillo, she was inspired by the rebels. This is of course perhaps not that surprising as Trujillo’s years of continued pressure on the family had only ever served to weaponise them.
Patria went home and joined forces with Minerva and Maria Teresa. Round their kitchen table the sisters hatched a plan to continue the rebels fight and put an end to Trujillo’s reign of terror.
The group called themselves Movement of the Fourteenth of June, named after the slain rebels. With the help of their husbands, the three sisters started to distribute leaflets and pamphlets detailing Trujillo’s crimes, the people he had killed and the resistances work. The sisters started to become known under the moniker Las Mariposas or The Buttleflies.
In addition to their written work the group slowly started to weaponise. Once more the sisters sat around their kitchen table, this time making bombs from fireworks. They also gathered weapons, learnt how to use them and began to talk about taking a much more radical step-assassination.
Their attempted assassination of Trujillo in 1960 failed and Minerva, Marie Teresa and their husbands were thrown in jail. But though Trujillo had survived the sisters attempt on his life his political career was heading towards its demise. An assassination attempt of his own (on The Venezuelan President) had failed, he had lost the support of the Catholic Church, his former powerful allies America and even the top tiers of Dominican society and now the work of the Mirabel sisters and others like them was starting to threaten his already weakening grasp on power.
Trujillo did what he did best, he tortured and executed many of the captured rebels, but it didn’t quell the murmurings of discontent at the regime that were now becoming ever louder. To make matters worse in 1960 growing international pressure forced Trujillo to release the incarcerated Mirabel sisters; the butterflies were once again free.
But Trujillo became fixated on the idea that the root of his problem was Patria, Minerva and Maria Teresa Mirabel.
Warning – This next bit is rough
On 25 November 1960 the sisters were driving home after visiting their husbands in prison. Their jeep was stopped by secret police, who included Trujillo’s right hand man, Victor Alicinio Pena Rivera. The sisters and their driver were made to get out the car. They were taken to a sugarcane field and separated, then secret police beat and strangled each of the sisters. Their bodies were taken back to the jeep, which was then pushed off a cliff, in an effort to make their deaths look like an accident.
But this isn’t the end of the Mirabel sisters story.
You’ll pleased to know that cover up didn’t work work. The public soon realised that Patria, Minerva and Maria Teresa was assisnated. The people were angry and the tide turned against Trujillo in almost an instant.
People were inspired by the sisters and keen to pick up where they had left off; as the Mirabel sisters had done for the Luperion Invasion rebels. Less then six months after thier deaths, in May 1961 Trujillo’s own car was ambushed and he was shot in an assination carried out by Dominican Rebels with American backing.
The sisters became known as national heroes and their sister Dede opened a museum which told thier story. The Mirabel family also continued their legacy, Minerva’s daughter went onto become the Dominican Republics Under Secretary of Foreign Relations and Dede’s son the Vice President.
That was really interesting, where can I find out more? If you read Spanish then you my friend are in luck, there are tons of great resources out there, so go nuts!
If you don’t speak Spanish it’s a little bit harder BUT there is still some great material. In the time of butterflies is a cracking book all about the sisters (shout out to my Twitter followers that suggested it) it is a fictionalised version of events but still historically good and if your feeling lazy there is even a film staring Salma Heyak (the whole things currently on YouTube-just saying)