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1950s Korea explored by English medical doctor

A photo collection that portrays 1950s Korea has been issued by the Seoul Museum of History. The photographs were taken by the late English medical doctor John Selwyn Cornes who volunteered his medical services for the Friends Service Unit in Kunsan from March 1954 until July 1956.

John Selwyn Cornes and his wife Jean Mary Cornes (85) who worked as a nurse visited Korea in 1954 to provide volunteer medical services when the country was struggling with the aftermath of the Korean War. The couple worked hard in terrible circumstances dealing with a flood of patients and inadequate medical facilities.

Sixty years later, the doctor was recognized and honored by the Korean government and awarded one of Korea’s highest civilian awards, the “Heung-in Jang” Diplomatic Service Medal in January 2013.

The photographs taken by John Selwyn Cornes include a view of the cityscape of Seoul (left) and the lives of women washing laundry by a brook (photos courtesy of Seoul Museum of History).

The photographs taken by John Selwyn Cornes include a view of the cityscape of Seoul (left) and the lives of women washing laundry by a brook (photos courtesy of Seoul Museum of History).


While in Korea, Dr. Cornes was known to have explored every nook and cranny of Korean society. He captured diverse scenes with his camera, from the daily life of the refugees, the usual streetscapes, seasonal changes, Korea’s kimchi-making process, to the presidential election period.

“The snapshots by Dr. Cornes tend to provide a more candid view of ‘50s Korea compared to other sources offered by war correspondents and soldiers,” said the museum.

More details about the photo collection can be found in the Seoul Museum of History.
Those who have collected historic materials of Korea can get in contact with the museum to share their unknown stories with wider audiences.

By Lee Seung-ah
slee27@korea.kr

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