Friday 29 November 2013

WARNING! Unpleasant Photos

Seriously, this is nothing to do with my toe; some of these photos ARE distressing and show graphic pictures of war in Angola.

My toe is healing at an almost miraculous rate.  I have finished the lengthy course of antibiotics I was on and last night fell asleep in bed before I had read even a single page of my book.  At four in the morning I ran out of ammunition.  The guy to one side of me was dead, to the other side the young lad whose name I kept forgetting was staring at me with impossibly wide open eyes, a huge red stain spreading across his shirt and his mouth opening and closing like a fish ashore as he drowned in his own blood.  Then they were on top of me, teeth bared, bayonets fixed, insane with blood lust.  I screamed. 
Marcia shook me awake.  Little Alex was sitting up in his bed looking terrified, Marcia also looked very concerned.  I was bathed in sweat.  The sheets of the bed were all in a tangle and soaking wet.
'Have I been talking in my sleep again?' I asked Marcia.

Jean Charles Gutner was everything I expected a war photo journalist to be.  Tall, slim, indecently good looking as only blonde long haired Frenchman could be and very, very fit.  He dressed, looked and acted the part.  While everyone else was either keeping their heads down or at the very least keeping low and moving fast, he had his head up and was taking photographs.  I had been billeted in what was supposed to be only temporary accommodation for me in the same guest house as a number of international journalists and stringers.  That’s where I first met Jean Charles along with the BBC stringer, Chris Simpson and the Reuter’s correspondent, Nicholas Shaxson.  We are all friends to this day.  Chris and Nick had laid bets that I would not survive three months.  If I was up against long odds, I couldn’t imagine what Jean Charles’ were.
It wasn’t my job to take photographs and the few that I did have not survived.  Jean Charles was, however, kind enough to give me a few hard copies of his photos taken while we were together which I fortuitously concealed in a large book (on Swedish Architecture actually) so they wouldn’t get bent and I dug them out this morning to take a look.  Maybe by looking at them again, I could once again come to terms with what I had witnessed and put those memories to bed in the hope they would lay dormant for at least another decade.  Since they cover the subject of my nightmare last night, I reproduce them here along with a little explanation of each.

A moment of peace, Cubal, Angola
Captured enemy weapons, Huambo 1995
Independence Day celebrations.  Angola gained independence in 1975. 
The civil war carried on for another 27 years.
Russians, Cubans, South Africans and mercenaries of every nationality fought on Angolan soil.
The rich in the capital, Luanda, largely unaffected by the war, played on the beautiful beaches of Mussulo Island.
While civilians in the rest of the country buried their dead in the soil that they thought,
after a long struggle for independence, belonged to them.
Children of war.  Caimbando, Angola.
Boys as young as fourteen were pressed into service.
Girls of fourteen were raped.
Civilian casualties being buried in a communal grave after a night artillery bombardment
during the battle for Gabela.
Civilian killing his cow, they had to eat.

Civilians executed by UNITA rebels, Balombo.
The photograph has been cropped so you cannot see the children.
They were forced into a large water tank, petrol was poured onto them and then they were set alight.
Atrocities like this occurred all too frequently.
Most African soldiers had their Fetishes, their Ju Ju dolls to protect them.
I'd have been happier if they had just kept their fucking rifles clean.
The artillery bombardment of Gabela begins.
The rebels had already withdrawn, any men left in the town had melted into the bush. 
All that was left in the town were terrified women and children.
Many medals for bravery were won.
A moment to relax.  Mabubas Dam.
A lost child, Benguela.
Government held cities were flooded with orphaned street kids.
Many sought refuge in the drains at night and begged during the day.
More fresh graves being dug

Civilians, desperate to flee, trying to storm an aircraft during the UN evacuation of Huambo.
Huambo was fucking hammered afterwards.
An assault group moving into position through the bush prior to an attack near Ganda.
Logistics were woeful and it was impossible to stop the men stealing anything they could eat from civilians.
All men of fighting age who were not involved in the conflict would do a runner leaving the women and children defenceless.
You can imagine that by then, my opinion of the bravery of the average African man was somewhat tarnished, a view shared by no less than Che Guevara in his Congo diaries.
As a soldier, the average African is a complete waste of fucking rations yet capable of the most unspeakable brutality against his own people.
The UN tried very, very hard but it was impossible to evacuate whole populations.
I forget the name of the tall UN official, the guy with the sunglasses sticking his finger up to say he could only take one more passenger but he was brilliant.
As you can see, he stood head and shoulders above all of us.
I bet he got no recognition whatsoever for his sterling efforts.
Just think how his heart bled having to turn people, especially kids away.
Some mother's son, 
Sadly for him, he was on the wrong side and met a good man behind a bayonet.
Landmines and booby traps were a constant threat for citizens moving around Angola,
as they are in Afghanistan and the countless other conflict zones engineered by
venal politicians and the lobbyists who support them.
Twenty people died in this refugee transport, most of them women and children.
Lucapa. 1995.  One of the few photographs of mine that survived.
And here I am whining like a wussie about a piddly little nightmare. 

Look at this young Orphan of War.

Who is going to stroke his poor little head when he wakes up screaming?


  1. This is why I read you - theres so much more then just a man living in Angola with his son and wife. I see through the Bullsh*t and see you - a man whose not afraid to "speak"- especially to the small world I live in. We dont know, we forget, or we choose to look the other way, while the rest of the world slowly kills itself.

    Today I am very thankful for what i do have. I should be. Thank you for reminding me of how lucky i am.

    1. I am a fat old alcoholic who has nightmares. I am nobody special.

      I'll be alright in the morning.

    2. Listen - if a fat old alcoholic who has nightmares has gotten someone to think at least once today how damn lucky she is instead of whining about some absolute nonsense (like not having enough eggnog in the house), then that fat old alcoholic who has nightmares has done her a favor. Thats special = makes you special. just for the moment though...

      And no, you probably wont be alright in the morning, but it will have to do. We all know that in our own lives. Get rest when you can, you fluffy ripe imbiber you.

    3. Got any rum to go with that Eggnog? That'd make me alright!

  2. Amazing, awful. Quite a journey.
    (Unsure what else to say)

    1. If you are wondering what to say, how about ringing your publisher and saying, 'You're fucking sacked'.

      I still haven't heard from them apart from one email saying they would get back to me. Jesus, I have heard about Australians being lazy but these guys put Africans to shame!

  3. I was taught to use 303, a Sterling, a Bren, and a few other delights. Thank god I never had to use them in anger.

    1. I started off with a Lee Enfield and a Bren Gun! Then it was the Fabrique Nacional in 7.62mm NATO calibre (which was really .308 Winchester, the Sten Gun became the SMG in 9mm and the Bren became the LMG. also in 7.62mm. Since then I have become familiar with most infantry weapons from any number of countries.

  4. Well that was several years of living dangerously. I hope I am safe in saying we are nowhere near, but discussion of civil war has been on the menu a few times. We're pretty good at coup d'états - 18 to 20 since 1932, depending on how you classify them. It's quite a "normal" process to change the government.

    1. You were responsible for 18 to 20 coup d'états since 1932? Gosh! I had you pegged as quite a young chap.

  5. Fat old alcoholic?
    You have a good soul...

    1. i prefer to use "fluffy old imbiber"

      after all, the man was bathing a goose...

    2. It's you two that are soft in the head!

  6. What can anyone say about these pictures? Thank you for sharing them with us. Like the chorus of that song "Where Have all The Flowers Gone?" - "When will they ever learn? When will they ever learn?"

  7. You now have security in your family life that a lot of people crave. That should help cope with the past.

  8. Yes! distressing and graphic. The photo with the fellow behind the flag is a winner! That one should be on a billboard.

    1. Jean Charles was always an excellent photographer.

  9. Are you trying to get a publisher?

    1. Who would publish my drivel?

    2. someone on here will help I am sure... Penguin seem to give a lot of book deals to bloggers

  10. shit.. my post seem rather shallow after reading this one.....may your soul find peace one day.... you have lived more torture than is due any man.

    1. All our souls are guaranteed to find peace one day! Unless you are a Catholic, of course. Then you have to endure Purgatory.

  11. Moving post. Makes me glad for what I've got and what I haven't had to go through.

  12. Thank you so much for this amazing posts and keep update like this excellent article. You now have security in your family life that a lot of people crave. That should help cope with the past. WARNING! Unpleasant Photos (UPDATE)

    Thanks you for sharing such a great blog with us.


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