1950 through the eyes of an Englishman

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The BEV Retrospective - 1950.

In June, North Korea invaded South Korea. The country had split into the communist north, and capitalist south two years before. The Americans sent troops immediately, and British troops started to arrive there in August. British mothers who had breathed a sigh of relief five years before had cause to worry again, and lads of 18 had more to worry about than two years of tedious square bashing. In those days National Service was in effect, and all males in good health had to go into the army for two years, and subsequently remain on the reserve list for three and a half years.

The Americans had by this time pretty much written off the nationalists in China as a lost cause. It's likely that the communist forces would have continued their advance and taken Taiwan had it not been for the advent of the war in Korea. This stiffened the attitude of the Americans against communists in Asia in general, and President Truman ordered the US 7th Fleet into the Taiwan Straights at that point, denying the communists the possibility of taking Taiwan for the time being.

The North Koreans advanced quite rapidly from the 38th parallel, and quickly took the Southern capital Seoul. The American units that were sent from occupation duties in Japan were under strength and badly equipped, and the situation almost deteriorated into a rout.

Soon the South Korean army and the US units were penned into an area in the south-eastern part of the country around the port of Pusan, where they were pressed hard by the North Koreans.

MacArthur, in charge of the UN forces in Korea, audaciously ordered an amphibious invasion at Inchon, on the west coast near to Seoul, way behind the North Korean lines. This was enormously successful, and in no time, the North Korean troops were in full retreat with their supply lines cut.

Course of the Inchon landing force.

The UN troops and the South Koreans advanced rapidly into North Korea, taking the capital Pyongyang, and approaching the Chinese border. The Chinese responded by entering the conflict on the North Korean side in October, turning the situation on its head, and resulting in the longest and most disastrous retreat in US military history.

Since 1946, the Viet Minh in Indochina had been unable to do much against the French, while the latter promoted the idea of a State of Vietnam as a part of the French Union. However, when the Chinese communists finally got full control of south China in 1949, they were able to supply the Viet Minh with armaments and supplies, and it converted itself into a more conventional army.

The government that Ho Chi Minh had previously declared in North Vietnam was now recognized by China and the USSR, and the government that the French had set up in the south was recognized by the USA and the UK - et voilla! The stage was set. The French recognized the independent states of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, within the French Union, and authorized the formation of a Vietnamese National Army. This, it was hoped, would leave the French troops there in a better position to concentrate on the Viet Minh, in which enterprise they were supported by the US.

1950 saw another election in Britain. The Labour government was re-elected with a tiny majority, and Clement Atlee remained Prime Minister.


At the end of January, in response to the Soviet 'A' bomb test the previous year, President Truman now ordered that development of the 'H' bomb proceed. Not all scientists were happy about this, having now seen what the 'A' bomb did to two Japanese cities. Einstein warned that a nuclear war could lead to 'mutual destruction'.

There had been television broadcasting in the US and in the UK since before WW2, though it had lapsed in the UK during the war, and even now five years after, few families had a TV. In the US though, it was in more widespread use, and in October, the Federal Communications Commission issued the first license for colour TV broadcasting.

The first credit card - Diners Club - made its appearance in this year. It originally targeted restaurants in NY City.

Bell Labs designed the first telephone answering machine, which was then Manufactured by Western Electric.

The first Biggles book.

I was old enough by know to understand roughly what was going on and listen to news broadcasts on the radio that dealt with the Korean war. But I was hardly glued to the set. It all seemed very far away and unrelated to our lives in England.

After the summer holidays, in the next class, we learned about division and multiplication, and since we were now expected to be able to read, did that quite a lot. The classes were not streamed in any way, so those of us who could read were left to get on with it while the slower learners got the teacher's attention.

I think it was at this time that I started making regular visits to Bingley Public Library - mum would give me the trolley bus fare to get to Bingley and back from Cottingley Bar.

Initially my attention was confined to the children's library downstairs, for which my mother got me tickets. The first attraction of the place when I'd visited the library with my mother at a younger age, was a large scale model railway engine that they had in the window. I was fascinated by it, but the books now got my attention.

I think I started with the Biggles books. These were stories about a heroic fighter pilot and his chums in WW1 by W. E Johns. No drink, no sex, and the bad guys always got shot down in flames. There were about 98 of these books published. I can't remember how many I read, but it was quite a few.


In the US, the award winning movie was "All About Eve", directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, and starring Bette Davis. It was a story about an aging actress and a scheming 'fan' who set about destroying her career and supplanting her. Marilyn Monroe had one of her earliest roles in this movie.

By far the biggest box-office hit was Walt Disney's "Cinderella", grossing $71 million, a fantastic amount for the time.

The only British film that hits the top films lists was "The Blue Lamp" from the Ealing Studios. It was a somewhat sentimentalised story about a police officer played by Jack Warner who was killed in the line of duty. It later spawned the television series "Dixon of Dock Green".

In the US, the "Harry Lime Theme" had its turn again in this year, topping the charts for 11 weeks. But the biggest hit was "Goodnight Irene" by the Weavers - a New York folk music group headed by Pete Seeger.

This sounds prety awful when you listen to it from this distance. A French singer - Edith Piaf - got a look-in in the US charts with "L'Hymne L'Amour".

There is some British chart information for this and succeeding years. But in this year there were no number ones of British origin other than Harry Lime, which was still around.

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