Voices from the air, p.18

Voices from the Air, page 18


Voices from the Air

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  The sentiments undoubtedly also reflected his frustrations over more serious problems. Despite the continuing fighting and the opportunity of stories in the north, the output of the unit was limited by ‘poor communications from the forward areas, inability to get the recorder forward, inadequate transport in Moresby’s large area, and the paucity of material in Moresby’.52

  Dudley’s heart seemed to be closer to the soldiers in the field than with the growing frustrations of co-ordinating the work of the field unit and he now asked to be released so he could return to the army. In the middle of October, the ABC general manager, Charles Moses, approved his return to active service.

  Around the time that Leggett left the ABC, Peter Hemery also departed. Hemery admired the scale and resources of the American side of the war, and preferred the less bureaucratic approach of the American networks and agencies. He felt that his ambitions had been frustrated in working for the ABC, and he pushed beyond the acceptable boundaries in filing despatches for the American news agency, INS. He also experimented with taking photographs in the field for publication, and this also had pushed the limits of his accreditation. Nowadays Hemery would be considered a versatile multi-media reporter, but at the time his impatience and pride did not help his case with the bureaucracy. Hemery felt that he had convinced the director general of Army PR, Colonel Rasmussen, to accept his INS work, however Rasmussen wrote to Charles Moses that it had resulted in ‘a perhaps unintentional colouring of Mr Hemery’s despatches to emphasise the American angle, with consequent playing down of the Australian side’.53 This is not supported by a reading of Hemery’s scripts, but his actions had certainly breached his accreditation.

  The ruling is definitely given that accreditation of a national organisation may not be used to supply, on a profit-making basis, information to a commercial news circulating organisation.54

  Hemery returned to Sydney, and the ABC told him that he would be recalled to a position of Talks Supervisor in Brisbane. He had already spoken to the head of US public relations, Colonel Diller, about accreditation as an INS correspondent and the stage was set for a confrontation with the ABC. After a stormy meeting with Moses and other senior ABC managers he resigned.

  The departure of Leggett and Hemery forced some changes in the ABC’s team of war correspondents. The ABC’s controller of public relations, Syd Deamer, a former newspaper editor under both Keith Murdoch and Frank Packer, had been put in charge of ABC wartime coverage, which included Talks, run by BH Molesworth, and Frank Dixon’s News department. Deamer put the Talks producer and broadcaster Fred Simpson in the senior field unit role to replace Leggett. Like Leggett, Deamer had been impressed with Bill Marien’s human interest reporting and with his first voice reports for the field unit, and he put Marien in to replace Peter Hemery doing voice recordings.

  For Christ’s sake George! – Army Public Relations

  Tensions within GHQ between MacArthur’s office and the Australian command now played a part in a fresh row with Army PR. Colonel Rasmussen complained to the ABC of the effect on soldiers in the field of inaccurate statements supposedly from Marien and Haydon Lennard using ‘imaginative descriptions fabricated at a great distance from the scene of the action’.55 Rasmussen claimed that Army PR and command officers in the field were ‘most anxious to establish the reliability and authenticity of the ABC news broadcasts’.56

  As Chester Wilmot had found with some of his fellow war correspondents in the Middle East, exaggeration and inaccuracy could destroy the credibility of a correspondent with the troops, and with Army command. Rasmussen complained to the ABC about reports by Marien and Lennard describing 2000-feet-high, ten-feet-wide razor-backed ridges and deep mud on the battlefield around Sattelberg on the Huon Peninsula. In September, at the time of the original complaints about Lennard’s reports from GHQ, Marien had written to the Federal news editor, Frank Dixon (the underlinings are Marien’s) – ‘There have been inaccuracies but we are not the only offenders. Everyone who is represented at GHQ shares in them . . . Lennard is definitely not at fault.’57 The ABC accepted the need to specify in broadcasts whether a correspondent was reporting from the field or from GHQ, but it also identified GHQ as the source of the inaccuracies. It pointed to almost identical descriptions of Sattelberg in the newspapers which, like Marien and Lennard, had taken their information from GHQ and official sources. Bill Marien got his information about ten-feet-wide ridges from the deputy assistant director of public relations in the field, George Fenton, who had also censored his copy. In a confrontation at the field HQ, Marien rounded on Fenton: ‘For Christ’s sake, George, don’t give me that. Do you think I just airily picked the distance of ten feet out of the air?’58 Fenton acknowledged his own liability in censoring the copy.

  Warren Denning was filling in as News editor during an absence by Frank Dixon and warned Deamer of the broader background to the row.

  It seems fairly well established that there has been a clash between General MacArthur and [General] Sir Thomas Blamey, and we must take care to see that our correspondents are not made chopping blocks because of it. It is in the nature of broadcasting that our stories come right back to the men concerned while the incidents are still fresh in their minds; if the same men see newspapers at all, it is usually so long after the event that they are not so conscious of what they regard as inaccuracies.59

  In the following months, Bill Marien continued to report from Port Moresby and from the mainland. In February, his dispute with George Fenton re-surfaced when Marien claimed he had been the subject of ‘vilification’ in letters by Fenton. Fenton had seemed supportive of the war correspondents with whom he worked, rather than confrontational, but whatever the truth, Marien now had a head of steam and it was almost certainly correct that there had been ‘ill-will’ between them. In a letter to Charles Moses, Marien said he had heard that the rash of complaints about alleged ABC inaccuracies ‘all found their source in one brigade commander of the 9th Division’. Marien told Moses that he had since had further arguments with Fenton over public relations ‘exceeding their responsibilities in regard to the ABC’, and that these were the reason for the supposed vilification.

  Marien was in prickly mood and felt moved to defend his record, which included his six months in Darwin, his trip to Timor, and the campaigns at Nassau Bay, Mount Tambu, Salamaua, Lae, the Markham and Ramu Valleys, the Finisterre Ranges, and the landings at Cape Gloucester. He had flown on ten operations in Liberators, Mitchells, Beaufighters and A-20s, and had been on operational raids with PT boats during which they were bombed, shelled and strafed. He wrote to Moses, ‘I am proud of that record and I am jealous of it. So much so that I have risen up on my hind legs even at the suspicion of it being attacked.’60

  In April 1944, Marien covered the American landings at Aitape on the New Guinea coast, sailing on the American flagship, the USS Blue Ridge, and going ashore with American soldiers from a floating dock. He raced back to Moresby to file his story. On the flight back over the Owen Stanley Ranges from Finschhafen, bad weather forced his Douglas transport plane to climb to 17,000 feet, where the portside engine cut out. The pilot found a break in the clouds and the engine came back to life, enabling them to land safely and for Marien to file the first eye-witness account of the landings.

  Marien returned to Sydney and a few months later he resigned from the ABC.

  Thank Your Lucky Stars – New Britain

  Haydon Lennard had been back and forth between Port Moresby and Brisbane with GHQ several times in 1943 but by the end of the year he was restless and wanted a change from the continual grind. ‘The GHQ job in New Guinea is no soda,’ he wrote to Frank Dixon, ‘it’s a twenty-four hour job seven days a week.’61 Lennard had recovered from the debilitating episodes of malaria that he had suffered earlier in the year and he now wanted to return to reporting from the field.

  When the ABC discussed its options for stepping up its New Guinea coverage with Army public relations, George Fenton said he
thought Lennard was the best choice for field work. He told Dixon that the soldiers in the field did not like correspondents who spent too much time with the senior command officers, but they liked Lennard as he mixed with the men and understood them.62

  Lennard was soon sailing with a convoy heading for Arawe and the first Allied landings on the Japanese-held island of New Britain. On 15 December, he watched from a landing craft off Orange Beach as destroyers and Mitchell bombers pounded the Japanese defences. It was the biggest operation he had covered since the fighting at the beachheads of Buna, Gona and Sanananda a year earlier. The main force was ashore and Lennard was in the trees just behind the beach when Japanese planes appeared overhead.

  For 5 minutes Orange Beach and the nearby bay became a hell hole. In a few seconds bombs and tracer bullets were tearing a mad pattern through the coconut grove where the main body of troops had gone ashore. I dived behind a fallen coconut tree – a poor shelter but the only one in sight – and watched the gunners open up as Zeros and dive bombers came into the attack. It is remarkable how quickly you dive for cover – there’s no loss of time in finding where to go – in a split second everyone is flat on the ground – some in holes, half behind trees, some in shell holes or bomb craters. I’m sure all are scared but some show it and some don’t. And when the bullets start to hit the ground there is that awful feeling that they are coming straight for you – that maybe they will cut right across the spot where you are lying. Then as the fighter bomber roars overhead, you hear the ear splitting crunch of a bomb falling 20, perhaps 25 yards away. The crack as they go off shakes the ground, the air, the trees – everything that is around, and you thank your lucky stars that it’s not your turn . . . That is what the boys on Orange Beach had to endure a few hours after they had fought their way ashore.63

  Filing from Arawe was difficult, if not impossible, and over the next 48 hours, Lennard made his way as quickly as possible by small boat, barge and plane back to Moresby where a radiotelephone link with the mainland had just opened. Fortuitously for Lennard, he had missed a cable and a letter from the News editor instructing him not to use the radio link for news despatches because of the high cost compared to cables and, as soon as he returned to Moresby, he made a small piece of history by sending the first voice report by a war correspondent over the new channel. Thereafter the radiotelephone link would be used regularly for Talks and urgent news voice reports by the Moresby correspondents.

  It Fell Like a Stone

  Lennard’s lucky run continued, but not without cost. On Boxing Day, Lennard and other war correspondents were on board a B-17 Flying Fortress heading off to observe the landings at Cape Gloucester on New Britain, when the plane crashed on take-off at Port Moresby. Two members of the crew were killed outright and two war correspondents, Pendil Rayner and Brydon Taves, died soon afterwards. Lennard and Ian Morrison of the London Times were injured. The ageing bomber stalled in mid-air and crashed back to earth tail first into a swamp. Several weeks later on his first day up from his hospital bed, Lennard wrote to Warren Denning and told the story of the crash.

  We set off just before dawn in a fortress to cover the Cape Gloucester landing and crashed soon after taking off. The plane seemed to shoot five hundred feet into the air as soon as it left the runway – lost flying speed immediately – and fell like a stone. Fortunately we had no bombs on board otherwise I would not be writing this. We crashed into a swamp on the edge of the runway and the plane just simply broke into pieces. The pilot in a last desperate manoeuvre somehow managed to prevent the machine from diving headfirst into the ground and this probably saved our lives. I was knocked out by the crash as was practically everyone else and recovered semi-consciousness to find myself surrounded in flames. The heat from the fire and pain of the burns probably woke me up. I still had enough strength left to crawl away from the flames and managed to reach the rear of the wreck where I fell through an opening in the side of the fuselage. By this time my clothes were well alight and a corporal – a member of the crew – grabbed me and pushed me over backwards into the swamp to put me out. He probably saved me from fatal burns. By this time ammunition in the plane was exploding and bullets were whistling everywhere. It’s a miracle no one was hit. We just crawled into the swamp and lay behind a thick log and [sic] for help to arrive. Because of the nature of the crash those up on the aerodrome thought no one could survive and they did not come in for us until Ian Morrison and I managed to push our way through the thick undergrowth of the swamp and reach the side of the aerodrome.64

  Lennard was burned extensively on his back and suffered other less serious injuries. He was still stunned when his ABC colleague, John Hinde, saw him later that day in an American military hospital, and he could only repeat over and over how lucky he was to be alive. Bill Marien saw photographs of the wreckage of the plane and believed it was a miracle that anyone survived. ‘The Fortress was telescoped to a smashed lump of twisted metal.’65 Many years later Hinde said he believed the cause of the crash was that ‘the bomber had taken off with its tail flaps locked – somebody had forgotten to take the locking chocks out of the tail flaps’.66

  Lennard was forced to lie on his stomach swathed in bandages for several weeks, in the sweltering heat of the Moresby hospital. ‘The pain and agony of the thing has been almost unbearable,’ he wrote to Warren Denning. ‘Up to last night I had had no sleep for twelve nights apart from a doze of five or ten minutes after drugs. Last night I got about two hours – thank heavens – as I know I have been getting into an impossible nervous state and was near breaking point.’

  Six weeks after the accident Lennard returned to Australia by hospital ship to complete his recovery and for a break from the field.

  Chapter 12


  With the departure of Dudley Leggett and Peter Hemery, and with Haydon Lennard out of action recovering from his injuries, a new group of correspondents were called into the field. Lennard’s spirits revived sufficiently for him to complain with typical competitiveness from his hospital bed about the influx of ‘unnecessary correspondents’. Hating to be out of action so soon after his return to the field but too ill to do anything about it, he wrote, ‘I have a feeling I’ve been left nicely out in the cold although in my present frame of mind I don’t care a damn.’1

  The new group were Fred Simpson, Frank Legg, a popular ABC radio personality who had served as a sergeant in the AIF at Tobruk and elsewhere in the North African and Middle East campaign, and Raymond Paull, an ABC newsman who had been serving in the army as an education officer.

  Each day at Port Moresby, ABC correspondents covered the daily release of the GHQ communiqué, summarised it and cabled it to the ABC as a news item. If a correspondent wrote a talk for News Review on an immediate news story they read the voice report over the radiotelephone shortwave link.2 This had revolutionised the work of the ABC correspondents as it meant their voice reports could be on air only hours later.

  Recording was done in the bush behind the war correspondents’ house. The technician, Bill MacFarlane, had set up the ABC recording equipment in a small tin shed in a clearing about one hundred metres away. To record, he snaked a rubber-covered cable about 80 metres long through the bush to the microphone on a wooden ration box in another clearing, with a second ration box for the correspondent to sit on. Bill would shout out for the correspondent to take a ten-second cue and then begin speaking, while he dashed back into the tin shed to start the recorder.

  In the hottest part of the day at Moresby, the wax on the discs was often too soft for recording and the cutting needle would sink into the surface rather than cut. Recording in the relative cool of dawn was usually out of the question as that was when the bombers took off from the nearby airfield and the thunder of their low flight drowned out the words of the correspondent. As a result, most recording was done in the evening, after five o’clock, when it was cooler and, hopefully, when there were fewer planes.3

sp; The new leader of the field unit and the ABC recording operations, Fred Simpson, had come to Australia from New Zealand in 1939, uprooting his family in search of the best musical education for his three daughters, all of whom were already prodigiously talented musicians. His wife Thelma was a brilliant pianist, believed to be the first student in Australasia offered a scholarship to the Royal College of Music, though she was unable to take it up. In a household full of musicians Fred was the enthusiastic musical amateur with a pleasant singing voice. This probably contributed to his later skills as a broadcaster but as a young man he first trained as a chemist and served as a medic with the New Zealand 4th Field Ambulance in Europe in the First World War.

  He was only ever a reluctant chemist and on his return from the war he studied several courses at university in Auckland, where he captained New Zealand debating teams and at one point was asked to consider running for parliament. He spent almost a decade as sales manager for a national company but changed career again when he became the first station director of a new national radio station in Christchurch. Some time after arriving in Sydney, Simpson became a producer and broadcaster at the ABC. He was now overseeing the work of the ABC mobile field units on the home front and broadcasting from the field. He was also producing programs for the armed forces. Simpson was an experienced broadcaster, and as a veteran of the First World War he had an easy manner with soldiers, and when Dudley Leggett returned to the Army, Fred was an obvious choice to replace him.


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