Hakan Gottberger was a Swedish photographer who volunteered to work for the International Red Cross during the Biafran War helping distribute relief materials as they arrived. In 2007, Gottberger was in an exhibition where he showed his Biafran project photographs in Biafra in 1968-69 during his days of volunteering for the Red Cross in distributing food along the routes designated by the handlers from Item to Uli. Thanks to Ed Keazor, Ebele Obumselu and Hakan Gottberger who made this presentation possible. Presentation was conducted on Keazor's Facebook page between August and September 2011. All images in this article were taken by Gottberger and permission must be sought for any use and reproduction.
Ike Chime: I remember these routes well. At a time during the war, I was a Red Cross volunteer. I served in Hospitals such as Iyienu hosp, Adazi Joint hosp, Achi joint hosp, Gen hosp Owerri etc. I was also at sector rendezvous like Nzam Odekpe axis, and briefly in relief centers . Thanks Ed and Håkan Gottberger.
Ambrose Ehirim: Thanks Ed for this...'preciate it! @Ike: What were your assignments at these hospitals and relief centers?
Ike Chime: My first posting was Iyienu Hospital and my assignment included waiting on hospitalized soldiers and assisting doctors and nurses. Regarding sector rendezvous our duty was to assist military medical personnel in applying first aid and rushing the wounded to hospital. My brief work at the relief center was in Owerri where we doubled as air raid emergency unit and assistants at relief supply centers. I operated at the cenima theatre off Douglas by Ama JK. My coming to Owerri was due to the evacuation of the Adazi joint hospital when Awka was under fire. When I think of it now, I am amazed at the ingenuity of the planners of such a massive operation of moving a large hospital with hundreds of soldiers and civilians with varying degrees of ailment. A group moved to Umuahia, and the other Owerri.
Ambrose Ehirim: How were you recruited in such a critical time of a people? Was it voluntary?
Ike Chime: Ambrose there is more details about my red cross activities during the war in this NVS article http://www.nigeriavillagesquare.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=7886&Itemid=154
Ambrose Ehirim: @Ike: The link doesn't take me directly to the particular article you were referring to. If you would, email me and send me the link. Also, have you considered an eye witness account in book format?
Ike Chime: OK Ambrose, will be looking forward to that.I am putting the pieces together, and hopefully with the encouragement I am getting from people like you, a book to that effect will see the light. I salute you.
Ambrose Ehirim: @Ike: Thank you so much for the attachment. Apparently, NVS does not allow its link related. Once again, thanks, and we should be hooking up soon!
Håkan Gottberger: Sixty's was a turbulent time, a lot happened in the world, but the Biafra war brought an extra strong feelings in Sweden with large collections of money. When the International Red Cross Committee asked Sweden to send aid to Biafra sent the Red Cross, the largest operation since the Second World War. With large ads in newspapers, they sought volunteers to the effort. I signed up because I had little experience in Africa, after having served in the United Nations forces in Congo. Also upset about what happened in Biafra and Czechoslovakia, I did not want to stand next to and just watch.
Ed Keazor: Incredible stuff gentlemen. @Ike: I am still intrigued by your accounts especially your detention after the war and how Nze Mark Odu tutored you, incredible! @Hakan: Did you serve in the army in Congo? Of course you did, as you clearly said so...
Håkan Gottberger: Yes, the Swedish army sent volunteers to serve in United Nations forces. A tradition since Dag Hammarsköld time.
Ambrose Ehirim: @Hakan: As a voluteer serving for the Red Cross, what role did you play during the course of volunteer work in Biafra?
Håkan Gottberger: At first, I was stationed in the village Item to distribute food and other supplies to refugee camps in the surrounding area and to try to Check whether the items came to the needy, children and pregnant women. Everything was done in close collaboration with Biafra Red Cross young enthusiastic volunteers. When it became difficult to get staff to work at Uli, the airport, I started there.
Ambrose Ehirim: @Hakan: At Item and before Uli, did food distribution get to the needy -- women, infants and children -- in the manner it was suppose to? We heard there were incidents of coercion and theft, leaving the desperately starved short of relief materials.
Håkan Gottberger: Sure, it happened that trucks with supplies were robbed, but we got over time, police escorts, as well it happened to older people tried to oust the young people to access goods. But we managed to keep control in our area, I think. I hope my English is not too bad, use Google for translation, it can sometimes be wrong.
Ambrose Ehirim: @Hakan: Your English is perfectly well, sir! On your own personal account, what was it like working at Uli? We heard relief materials came in at night and some couldn't sneak in because of the 'Economic Blockade.' Were you aware of that?
Håkan Gottberger: What was the cargo in the aircraft that was not RC I do not know. It was a stressful work situation in the darkness of night to retain sole responsibility of the load was taken care of and that nothing was stolen, but that happened occasionally. We also took the gasoline from the aircraft to be used for our cars. Sometimes there was gunfire when the police would catch any thief, the routine was at least one bombing raid every night. Of course they were scared when they heard the whistling of the bombs and we counted seconds after it ceased to detonation was heard, then you knew how close it was
Ambrose Ehirim: @Hakan: How long were you stationed at Uli and what were your findings with regards to the war?
Håkan Gottberger: About 3 months. I was at the airfield, difficult to answer the second question, the memory fades, but the UN did not have the ability to intervene because of the prevailing balance of power is a sad story. Maybe it's a little better world now.
Ed Keazor: Really enlightening gentlemen and thanks Ambrose for asking the right questions. Its a privilege to have you guys share this with us while you're still here and to Ebele for making it all possible.
Ebele Obumselu: Ed, we could not have done this better. Many thanks for organizing, annotating and presenting the material.
Ruth Bourne: Fascinating stories, gentlemen.
Ed Keazor: For those who are not aware Capt August Okpe was the Chief Pilot of the Biafran Airforce, who flew under the command of Chude Sokei and Count Carl Gustav Von-Rosen and was in the pioneer set of Nigerian Airforce Pilots. His book is the only focused work on the Biafran airwar, I cannot recommend it enough.
Håkan Gottberger: There is a small book written in Swedish for Swedish volunteer effort in the war. In it are a shared feature in English, when I'm home again I will copy the pages and mail them to you Ed.
Ed Keazor: I definitely will and looking forward to it- many thanks Hakan safe journey back.
Obaro Ege: Ed, as we give Captain Okpe due recognition, do you have any information on Wing Commander Ezeilo? I had written earlier on a couple of his missions, using the captured Nigeria Airways DC3. It would be nice to know where he is today and if he recorded his memoirs as Captain Okpe did.
Ed Keazor: I believe Ezeilo is deceased (I stand to be corrected) there is quite a lot about him in "The last Flight". What comes to my mind from reading is that whilst a brave and talented Pilot, he probably found Command challenging. On another note what is intriguing is the camaraderie between all the members of the first set of the NAF who trained in Canada- Aleyideino, Okpe, Ezeilo, Ukeje, Yisa Doko etc. They remained close like brethren, even until the Eastern members returned to the East after the July 66 coup.