New York panorama
1967 through the eyes of an Englishman

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The BEV Retrospective - 1967.

Topics this year are:
  • Vietnam war,
  • Six Day War,
  • Politics and happenings in the US,
  • Politics and happenings in the UK,
  • Other world events.

Vietnam War.

In January a mostly US force launched operation Cedar Falls to destroy an NLF stronghold in an area about 20km north of Saigon known as the "Iron Triangle". The area was riddled with NLF tunnel complexes, and had long been a no-go area for the ARVN. single ground. It was the largest single ground operation of the war, employing some 30,000 troops.

Characteristically, the NLF mostly slipped away across the border to Cambodia or hid in their tunnels. However, some of the tunnel systems were found and destroyed, and a large amount of NLF supplies were seized. The US/ARVN forces then proceeded to 'sterilize' the area, deporting the civilian population, and defoliating large areas of forest. The military counted the operation as a success, but critics argued that it alienated more of the civilian population, and only a few days after the conclusion of the operation, the NLF were back there in force.

US troops attacking a hill in the Dak To area.
In November, a large scale action was fought against North Vietnamese ARMY - PAVN - troops in the Central Highlands around Dak To, about 280 miles north of Saigon near the Cambodian border. The fighting followed a pattern, US and ARVN troops would search the area on foot until they discovered a hill-top defensive position, then they would apply massive artillery and air bombardment, and finally stage a ground attack. The PAVN would resist stubbornly to inflict as many casualties as possible on the attackers, and then withdraw.

There were heavy casualties on both sides. BY the end of November the PAVN was forced to retreat from the area into Cambodia and Laos, so the US forces could claim a victory. General Westmoreland told reporters "I am absolutely certain that whereas in 1965 the enemy was winning, today he is certainly losing." However is has been argued that the PAVN had a strategic victory in that they succeeded in drawing US/ARVN forces away from the lowlands and cities.

LBJ's Secretary of Defense - Robert McNamara - announced his resignation at the end of the month, and went to become president of the World Bank. He did so largely because of LBJ's rejection of McNamara's earlier recommendations to freeze troop levels, stop bombing North Vietnam and hand over ground fighting to South Vietnam.

The Six Day War.

The outcome of the 1957 Suez Crisis war had been a festering wound for Egypt for ten years. Now, in May, Nasser, apparently concluding that he had the force necessary to get even, required the withdrawal of the UN peacekeeping force that had been present in the Sinai since Suez. The UN complied, and Nasser then proceeded to move 100,000 troops, and 1000 tanks to the Israeli border, at the same time closing the Straights of Tiran to Israeli shipping. Syria also mobilized its forces during May, and Israel had been brawling with both Syria and Jordan during the previous year. This set the stage for the "Six Day War".

The Israeli's did not wait to see what would happen. On June 5th, a preemptive strike was launched against Egypt's large and modern air force - about 450 aircraft - with all of their 200 operational planes. They swung out over the Mediterranean, and came in from the north at ground hugging altitude to elude surface to air missiles. The blow was outstandingly successful and devastating. They destroyed about 300 Egyptian planes with a loss of 19 of their own, and thus guaranteed themselves air superiority. By the end of the next day they had inflicted similar damage to the Iraqi, Jordanian, and Syrian air forces.

Armoured engagement in Sinai.
At the same time the Israeli army moved against the Egyptians in the Sinai, initiating the Battle of Abu-Ageila. The Israeli forces attacked round both sides of the Egyptian defences there, dropped paratroopers on the Egyptian artillery, and then attacked from all sides. The large Egyptian force there was routed, causing the Egyptian Minister of Defence to panic and order a general withdrawal from the Sinai. The Israelis then attempted to outflank the withdrawal, and succeeded in blocking one pass in the Western Sinai. Elsewhere the Egyptian forces managed to escape across the Suez Canal.

Late on the 5th, the Jordanian army made a thrust toward Jerusalem, and the Israeli forces countered by moving into the West Bank on the 6th. Heavy fighting ensued, and the Israelis moved into Old Jerusalem. On this front, the forces were evenly matched, and the Jordanians arguably had better equipment. Nonetheless, the outcome was that the Jordanians retreated to the east bank of the Jordan, and Israel took and occupied the West Bank.

By the 8th, Israel felt sufficiently emboldened to attack the Syrian Golan Heights, which they captured via a pincer movement on the 10th. With UN assistance, a cease fire with Syria was signed the next day.
Israel had seized the Gaza Strip, the whole of the Sinai peninsular, East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Golan Heights. The victory was spectacular, and fostered a view all over the world that the Israeli forces could walk on water.

Politics and Happenings in the US.

Protest against the Vietnam war continued. On April 4th, Martin Luther King made a forthright speech against it, stating that that the US was in Vietnam "to occupy it as an American colony" and calling the U.S. government "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today". A few days later there were further large demonstrations against the war in NY City and San Francisco.

1967 also had a 'long hot summer' of race riots. The worst were in July, at Newark, New Jersey, and in Detroit. These occurred in cities where the inner city population was predominantly black, for a number of reasons - usually including police discrimination or brutality, high unemployment, and poverty.

The summer of love.
Paradoxically, this was also the 'Summer of Love'. It was heralded by Human Be-In events in San Francisco and NY City, provoked by laws banning the use of LSD.

The summer saw a spectacular growth of the 'hippie' movement. Maybe 100,000 young people from around the world gathered San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district, to enjoy free food, free drugs and free love.

 "If you're going to San Francisco,
be sure to wear some flowers in your hair.
If you go to San Francisco,
Summertime will be a love-in there."

The Beatles managed to hit the spot quite precisely by releasing the suitable psychedelic Sergeant Pepper album.
In June, US Solicitor General Thurgood Marshall was nominated as the a justice of the United States Supreme Court. He was sworn in in October to become the first black member of the Supreme Court.

The wrecked Torrey Canyon.
Politics and Happenings in the UK.

In March of this year, the first North Sea gas was pumped ashore at Easington, in the East Riding of Yorkshire. In an unfortunate near coincidence a few days later, the first major oil tanker disaster occurred when the supertanker Torrey Canyon ran aground between Land's End and the Scilly Isles. Six of its tanks were ripped open, and large stretches of the English and French coasts were polluted. The government decided to bomb it to send the wreck to the bottom, and in the hope of igniting the enormous oil slick and burning much of it off. The handling of the affair was a disaster in itself. Large quantities of detergent were sprayed that killed more marine life than the oil would have done, and the RAF and Royal Navy took two days to sink a large stationery target.

The UK government entered a first round of negotiations for membership of the EEC, and in May, Harold Wilson announced that the United Kingdom had decided to apply for membership.

In July, the British Parliament concluded that homosexual acts between consenting adults should no longer be a crime.

In the same month, much to the disgust of the Americans and the Australians, the UK announced that it would close its military bases in Malaysia and Singapore, feeling that it had done its part in the containment of communism in SE Asia.
In November, faced with a huge budget deficit and other economic woes, in a time of fixed exchange rates, Prime Minister Wilson decided to devalue the British pound by around 14%. In explaining his decision he made the injudicious remark to the effect that the "pound in your pocket" would not change in value. This made him the butt of cartoonists, comedians and impressionists.

Other World Events.

In January, the US, the Soviet Union, and the UK signed the Outer Space Treaty banning nuclear weapons from outer space. In June, the People's Republic of China tested its first hydrogen bomb.

Apollo 4 launch.

The 737 in British Airways livery.

The year began tragically, when the posthumously named Apollo 1 was destroyed by fire during on-the-ground testing. Astronauts Gus Grissom, Edward Higgins White, and Roger Chaffee were killed horribly in a savage fire resulting among other things from the use of a 100% Oxygen atmosphere in the spacecraft.

Apollo was the spacecraft that would be to be used for the moon landing. It was grounded for extensive modifications, and the first real test did not occur until November, when the unmanned Apollo 4 was launched by the first use of the new Saturn 5 booster.

In the meantime, Lunar Orbiter 3, Surveyor 3, Lunar Orbiter 4, and Mariner 5 were launched. The latter successfully flew past Venus in October.

In April the Boeing 737 made its maiden flight. This plane and its descendants would be the most successful commercial airliner design to date. Over 5000 have been delivered, and some 3000 are still on order. In December, the Concorde was rolled out to public view. It was a thing of beauty, and a magnificent piece of engineering, but only 20 would be built, and it was a loss maker.

In astronomy, the first pulsar - "An entirely novel kind of star" - was observed, though it would not be reported in the literature until the following year. Also the term 'Black Hole' was used for the first time.

In December, surgeon Christian Barnard carried out the world's first human to human heart transplant at the Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town. Unfortunately the recipient only lived for 18 days before he died of pneumonia. But the precedent was created.

The first handheld calculator was developed by Texas Instruments in this year. It used an integrated circuit.

Development of the Pascal programming language was started by Niklaus Wirth. This language was derived from Algol, was originally intended as a teaching tool, but became popular in its own right.

This years number ones in the UK, and the odd number two or three were as follows:

ArtistTitleMonth Comment
Engelbert HumperdinckRelease MeJan
Petula ClarkThis Is My SongFeb
BeatlesPenny Lane / Strawberry Fields ForeverFebNumber 2 but two of my favourite Beatles tracks
Sandie ShawPuppet On A StringMar
Jimi Hendrix ExperiencePurple HazeMarNumber 3 - Hendrix achieved almost immediate fame after performing at the Monterey Pop Festival this year.
Nancy Sinatra & Frank SinatraSomethin' StupidMar
TremeloesSilence Is GoldenApr
Procol HarumA Whiter Shade Of PaleMayBrilliant record - strange lyrics. At number 1 for six weeks.
BeatlesAll You Need Is LoveJul
Scott McKenzieSan Francisco (Wear Some Flowers In Your Hair)Jul
Engelbert HumperdinckThe Last WaltzAug
Bee GeesMassachusettsSep
FoundationsBaby Now That I've Found YouSep
Long John BaldryLet The Heartaches BeginNov
BeatlesHello GoodbyeNov
Georgie FameBallad Of Bonnie And ClydeDec

Sgt. Peppers album cover.

In June the Beatles released "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band", nicknamed in the US "The Soundtrack of the Summer of Love"; it would be number one on the albums charts throughout the summer of 1967.

In August, Pink Floyd released their debut album "The Piper at the Gates of Dawn" in the United Kingdom.

It was a strong year for film in the US. The award winner was "In the Heat of the Night", which did not make the box office top ten. There Disney was back on top with "The Jungle Book". My favourites would have to be "The Graduate", and Bonnie and Clyde.

The Brits produced two Bond films - still Sean Connery - "Casino Royale", and "You Only Live Twice". Critically rated in the UK was an adaptation of Thomas Hardy's "Far from the Madding Crowd".

In July, the first UK colour television broadcasts begin on BBC2. The first one was from the tennis championship at Wimbledon. A full colour service began on BBC2 on December 2. In September there was a revamp of BBC Radio, with the old programs scrapped and replaced by the imaginatively named BBC Radio 1, BBC Radio 2, BBC Radio 3 and BBC Radio 4.

I got a trip out on the CEGB in the spring of the year because I had some experience of X-ray crystallography. I went to the headquarters research laboratory at Leatherhead in Surrey for a week, and stayed with a couple who lived in a rather nice cottage at Box Hill. But really this year only had one thread.

Quite early in the year, our daughter Helen, now four years old, started complaining about pains in her legs if we were out for any length of time that involved walking. We took her to the doctor, and he looked at her, couldn't find anything wrong, and said it must be growing pains.

Whatever it was it got worse. In addition to the pains Helen became very easily tired. So at about the time of Richard's birthday in mid April we saw another doctor who thought that she was anaemic, and asked for a blood test. The test came out with her red blood cells very low, and after further tests, we were taken aside and told in hushed tones that she had leukaemia.

You didn't know how to react; shock, disbelief, anger, remorse for some past sin, you name it. The disease was pretty much an absolute death sentence in those days, and still kills a lot of children today. So we were on a time fuse. In my case, the past sin was hanging about in the basement of building 220 at Harwell getting my balls irradiated with the low level of radiation there that maybe caused some mutation in the critical sperm cell.

Richard and Helen.
Helen, poor kid, got taken into LGI for a week where they made her into a pincushion with tests and doped her up with steroids and other drugs to stabilize her condition. She was very brave. Then she was put in the out-patient care of a kindly gray haired pediatrician at the hospital in Otley. Her red blood count improved, and after a month or so we were told that she appeared to be in remission.

When you asked them what that meant, the answer was pretty much that she wasn't going to die just yet, but that sooner or later it would catch up with her. If anything, that made things worse, because you knew what was going to happen but you'd no idea when.

So for us it was the summer of despair. That uncertain certainty nagged you in your every waking hour, woke you from your sleep in a sweat, and surfaced in your dreams. Life turned gray. At the same time there was the constant necessity to put a brave face on things, and to act normally to minimize the stress on Helen.

On the 29th of November, she was crying after we'd put her to bed. I brought her down and she sat on my knee and slowly calmed down. She couldn't or wouldn't tell us what was wrong. After a time she dozed off into sleep, and I took her back to bed and tucked her in.
The next morning when I got to work, one of the girls in the office came looking for me to tell me that my wife had been calling - no mobile phones in those days. I called Elaine. As soon as she spoke I knew from her voice that something was terribly wrong.

I can't remember what she said, but in essence, to paraphrase Helen's favourite song, the Morningtown Train had not arrived, our little traveller was lost, Helen was dead.

I don't remember how I got home. I'm guessing one of my colleagues gave me a ride. I can't remember what happened when I got home - Helen was gone, whisked away by the doctor to the local morgue. I don't know who organized the funeral, and I don't remember it. I guess she was cremated since that would have been the choice of both families. I don't remember how it was between me and Elaine. It is as if someone had cut out the part of my brain that harboured the memories of this event, and indeed, I think that somebody did: it was me.

After Helen's death I became a changed man. I learned the age old lesson that life is short and often brutal. Any remaining vestige of religious belief was stripped away, my senses of responsibility and of care for the future were altered. Strangely I also lost much of my fear of death - what did it matter?

As you can guess, though our friends and our parents - also grief stricken, did their best to buck us up, it was not a particularly merry Christmas. Here's one of Helen's favourite songs - a little requiem:


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