Sunday, June 25, 2023

Evacuating the US embassy in June 1950, and the photos Shirley Dawes took of Korea in the late 1940s

For my latest Korea Times story I look at the events surrounding the evacuation of the US Embassy during the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950.  

Some time ago I was contacted by Lynn Thompson, who had worked as a journalist at the Seattle Times and was writing a novel based on her parents' lives. Her mother had worked for the US Embassy from around 1948 to 1950, which was then based in the Bando Hotel (about which I have a post here). She shared with me numerous photos her mother, Shirley Dawes, took (or at least collected during her stay in Korea) and I answered questions about them. She also gave me permission to share the photos, and from that starting point came the idea for this article, supplemented by other sources such as interviews with political officer Donald MacDonald and Marine guard George Lampman [update: there's much more about him here], and John C. Caldwell's 1952 book The Korea Story

Below I share the photos Shirley Dawes' photos that were shared with me - many thanks to Lynn Thompson for giving me permission to do so. She really did capture a variety of scenes in Korea at that time.

But first, here is the Seattle Times article (which Lynn also shared with me) about her mother's experiences during the outbreak of the Korean War:

Hwanggudan altar on the grounds of the Chosun Hotel.

Seoul as likely seen from the former Mitsui Building, now the Seoul City Euljiro Annex.

The frozen, snow-covered pond in the secret garden in Changdeok Palace.

Children play on a see-saw.

Women do laundry near Hwaseong Fortress’s Hwahongmun in Suwon.

A monk at an unknown temple.

A sailboat, whether for fishing or transport is not clear (though perhaps the latter).

Dried fish being sold, perhaps in a market. Note the hairstyle of the girl in the center, which was very common for younger girls at that time.

I suspect this is a 'honey bucket', collecting human waste to use as manure.

A police officer directing traffic in the days before traffic lights. Life Magazine documented a very dynamic officer in action in the late 1940s.

An American on a mountain top, perhaps north of Seoul.

A US embassy employee poses next to the White Buddha in northwestern Seoul.

A Korean farm scene. The photos that follow are clearly also farm scenes.

Planting rice.

Employees of American Mission in Korea sunbathe on the roof of the Naija Hotel.

An employee of the Naija Hotel poses on its roof. Below are two more (out of focus) photos of the same woman. Note the former Government General building is can be seen clearly in the photo below on the left.

Embassy employees play tennis on the grounds of Paichai High School (Thanks to JiHoon Suk for identifying the location.)

Gimpo Airport. The relaxed poses suggest this was not taken when she left the country in June 1950.

US AMIK staff boarding a plane. Was this during the evacuation? Perhaps more eagle-eyed military plane experts could identify the plane to help give a clue.

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