Voices from the air, p.20

Voices from the Air, page 20


Voices from the Air

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  No campaign conditions in the history of war have entailed greater hardships than here . . . No one appreciates more than I the need of relaxation and recreation to alleviate the hardship and rigors of the field. To know what is transpiring in the world – to hear the tinkle of music and laughter – to feel something of the little familiar things that link us with home – this is what I hope this station can do.25

  With short notice, Legg was sent to cover the American landings on the Admiralty Islands. The Admiralties, including Manus Island, the largest in the group, sat astride the Bismarck Sea leading to New Britain and the large Japanese base at Rabaul. The Americans landed at the end of February, accompanied by Legg and among others, the British correspondent for the Daily Mirror, Bill Courtenay, who carried a gold-headed walking-stick; and the Australian cameraman, Frank Bagnall. From on board the American destroyer, the USS Sands, Legg was fascinated by his first up-close sight of the power of a naval bombardment. On 29 February, with streams of tracer shells overhead, his landing craft hit the beach of Los Negros.

  On the beach an extraordinary sight met my eyes – there was only one man standing. Frank Bagnall, the Australian cameraman, was nonchalantly stepping over recumbent American bodies as he dutifully filmed the proceedings. He waved and called out: ‘Hullo Frank.’

  I called back, waving in return. ‘Hullo Frank.’

  For a moment I thought the casualty list must be enormous. Some of the bodies were only half out of the water, the sea breaking over their legs and eddying around their waists. But no, these were no corpses. They were men of the second wave, who, temporarily demoralised by the fire they had come through, and not too well officered, had dropped when they reached the beach.26

  It proved to be a bloodier time for the succeeding waves of troops landing on the beach but, by two o’clock, Legg watched as General MacArthur came ashore to pin a medal on the chest of an American soldier. The fighting for the Admiralties continued until May when the Americans finally secured the islands. In his book, War Correspondent, Frank Legg later recalled the summing-up document on the Admiralties landings prepared by MacArthur’s Intelligence staff at GHQ. It showed a map which compared the Southwest Pacific operations to Waterloo ‘with the implication, of course, that where Napoleon had failed, MacArthur had succeeded’.27 The summing up itself was essentially a puff-piece for MacArthur, concluding that the word ‘miraculous’ was too superficial to encompass his overall achievement in isolating Rabaul and its garrison of tens of thousands of Japanese troops.

  His first assignment as war correspondent now complete, Legg was brought back to Sydney. The 7th and 9th Divisions were also brought back to spell them from the field and to rebuild their numbers. The ABC proposed to record a series of radio documentaries on the Australian war in New Guinea. Chester Wilmot worked with Frank Legg on the preparation of the series but when he left at short notice to become a BBC war correspondent covering the war in Europe, the task fell to Frank alone. He spent much of the remainder of the year, often with Bill MacFarlane, recording interviews for the documentaries with soldiers in camps on the Atherton Tablelands and elsewhere across Australia.28

  The ABC newsman Raymond Paull was called into the ranks of war correspondents at the end of 1943. Paull was slim and good-looking, with dark hair characteristically parted in the middle, dating from his first days as a keen young court and crime reporter with The Argus newspaper in Melbourne. The descendant of Cornish tin miners who had emigrated to Australia in the 1850s, Paull’s father was a mail sorter and Paull grew up in a hard-working family of modest resources. Ray was the youngest of six children and with the support of his siblings became the only one to complete a high school education. He began working as a journalist in 1929, first in country Victoria, then with The Argus, where he also covered state and federal politics, and after that with the Adelaide Advertiser. An intelligent and gentle man, he was also a tenacious journalist. He met his future wife Chris when he was a crime reporter and she was working as a doctor in the casualty department of a Melbourne hospital. She threw him out for trying to interview a patient but he climbed back in through a window and persistence eventually won him a wife, if not the interview.

  Paull joined the ABC news department in 1939 and with the outbreak of war in the Pacific was called up to join the Army, starting a drawn-out struggle by the ABC to keep him in his reserved occupation as a radio journalist. Paull wanted to serve and the Army won the tussle with the ABC. He was appointed assistant editor of the Army magazine, Salt, and then received a commission as a lieutenant, working as an Army education officer attached to an infantry brigade in Darwin. Paull was fascinated by inland Australia and by the capabilities of radio, and during his time with the Army in the Northern Territory he sent the ABC reports on reception and signal strength and the listening habits of the troops. While recovering from a bout of dengue fever in hospital in Darwin he wrote to his wife Chris: ‘Tokyo is much stronger than our stations . . . It’s a great pity that our own people still don’t fully realise how valuable are powerful radio transmitters to combat the enemy over the frequencies of the ether.’29

  After a year with Army Education, he applied to return to the ABC as a war correspondent. The ABC’s federal superintendent, Bob McCall, recommended Paull to Charles Moses as ‘a good type of man for us to have’ in the war reporting team. Paull’s wife, Chris, was an in-demand doctor with the heavy workload of wartime medical practice, but she had agreed that he should seek a posting to New Guinea. Following his already long periods away from home with the Army, it was a wrench for both of them when Paull left her and their two children for a three-month assignment in Port Moresby.

  There was little happening in Moresby in the first weeks after Paull arrived at the end of February and he soon came up against the field reporter’s bugbear: the GHQ communiqué. ‘It’s little use being here, for that matter, since the news arising from the communiqué comes from Brisbane, and I can’t duplicate that, naturally.’30 While he covered what he could from on base, Paull was keen to report his own stories from the field, and he observed the comings and goings and the reporting of fellow correspondents with interest, particularly Frank Legg, who he found to be a very bright and ‘most entertaining bloke’.31

  Many correspondents flew on bombing raids and wrote stories about the experience: Fred Simpson had recorded a re-creation of an air raid on Shaggy Ridge, but at that time probably only the BBC in Europe had managed to record a story with the actual sounds and events of a raid on board a bomber. Paull began working with the technician Len Edwards to do something similar in Port Moresby and thanks to Edwards’s technical wizardry they soon became the first to record a raid with an Australian bomber crew. Edwards had built his own lightweight recording unit for use in the field, and he now modified it to work in the unstable conditions aboard a bomber in action.

  In the Belly of a Bomber

  Recording on a B-24 bomber in flight required specialist equipment as space and weight was limited, and there was a lot of vibration from the four thunderous 1000-horsepower Pratt & Whitney aero engines. The ABC had yet to make much use of the new wire recorders – lighter devices that recorded sound onto thin wire filament that spooled across a recording head – and there were no lightweight disc recorders available in Australia, so Edwards built his own smaller, portable disc recording equipment in a workshop in Sydney. Searching around gramophone and second-hand stores he found a helical spring wound motor – a motor driven by spring tension rather than the usual assortment of cogs and gears, which caused vibration on a recording disc. He used lighter dry-cell batteries instead of the monstrous battery setup of accumulators and power inverters that drove the first field unit equipment. The amplifier and more powerful batteries added more weight to the full kit but the actual recorder had been slimmed down to about 20 kilos and for the first time the ABC had a reasonably portable disc recorder. However, Edwards also had to deal with the external vibration from the plane, which could
cause the cutting head and needle to jump from the track and ruin the disc.

  I rigged up what we call an advance ball. It was a little ball bearing that ran on the disc itself. It took all the weight of the cutting head and you could then put quite a lot of weight on the cutting head when it was resting on the disc so that prevented the cutting head from vibrating about. And that was how we were able to get these aircraft recordings.32

  Paull, Edwards and the modified recorder took off with an RAAF crew aboard a B-24 bomber on a raid to Kairiru Island, a Japanese staging camp, seaplane and barge base and fuel dump about 30 kilometres from Wewak on the New Guinea north coast. ‘I hope what I’m saying is intelligible above the tremendous roar of the Liberator’s four engines and the vibration of the plane,’ said Paull as he recorded his report in flight.

  The Liberator may appear to you to be a very large plane – on the ground or in the air – but it’s simply a matter of comparison. Actually, there’s very little space to move about anywhere inside the plane. The interior of the cockpit and the waist and tail is an intricate maze of wire and armament and gear. We first set up the recorder in the waist, but it was too noisy there – you’d never have heard anything – so we carried it across the narrow catwalk between the bombracks up into the cockpit, where it is a little quieter, and the vibration from the engines is not so great.33

  Edwards tapped into the plane’s communications system, and the voices of the pilot, navigator, fire control officer and the gunners were recorded on to disc along with Paull’s commentary.

  The intercommunication you can hear, by the way, is carried on by means of what are known as ‘throat mikes’, which are attached around the throat above the larynx. They’re small, delicate instruments which don’t pick up the sound of the voice, but its vibrations in the throat . . . Over Kairiru Strait now. Preparations are ready for the attack; this is the bombardier’s busiest time. The success of the mission depends on his accuracy in lining up his sights and letting the bombs go on a split second. (target) Bomb doors have been opened, and now the pilot is getting ready for his run over the target. This is a tense moment. The pilot must keep the aircraft absolutely steady on her course. They’re away. Water still beneath us, the shallows, the beach – listen – (motor noises & bomb noises for about 15 seconds). You Beaut! Right across the target. This is a superb piece of bombing. And now there’s a dense, billowing cloud of smoke coming up, all shot with long flame.34

  Paull watched the attack through the open bomb bays, but wrote to his wife Chris that he had to re-record some of his commentary later, because he was too interested watching the fall of the bombs and sometimes forgot to talk, or spoke in ‘too matter-of-fact’ a tone of voice.

  Where Are They? – Hollandia

  In April, Paull got his first major operational assignment when the Americans leap-frogged past the Japanese base at Wewak and landed further up the coast of New Guinea at Aitape and Hollandia (now Jayapura, West Papua).

  In fact, three ABC correspondents covered the operations: Paull went in with the amphibious force at Tanah Merah Bay, north of Hollandia; John Hinde covered the main Hollandia landing at Humboldt Bay and Bill Marien reported from Aitape. The landings helped to cut off the Japanese at Wewak and consolidate Allied control of New Guinea, but they also secured bases behind MacArthur’s coming island-hopping operations north to the Philippines.

  Ray Paull was bemused by some of the information about the New Guinea north coast that he received in the Intelligence briefing ahead of the landing. He wrote to Chris: ‘Jiggers, mites, abundant anophaline mosquitoes with voracious appetites, adders, pythons, 14 ft. crocodiles and leeches. A pleasant spot for a holiday!’35

  As the convoy stood off shore at Tanah Merah Bay, the first wave prepared to launch and Paull went below to collect his gear.

  We’d been particularly careful about the gear we intended to carry – every ounce that seemed superfluous was discarded. We were armed with machetes for cutting through jungle and a jungle knife. We carried in our jungle packs some spare clothing and medical kit, cigarettes, rations, water bottles and so on, and wore the usual American battle bowler. The heat below was absolutely torrid; after all, we weren’t so far below the equator, and the ship had been blacked out with closed ports and extra screens throughout the night – so we stood waiting and sweating, and pretty soon, over the ship’s public address system, came the order, ‘First wave, stand by.’36

  In the fourth wave, Paull and many of the heavily-laden American infantry climbing down the descent nets into the ‘pitching, heaving’ landing craft expected the landing to be a baptism of fire. Instead, reported Paull, it was a ‘pushover’, with minimal Japanese resistance. Troops in the later waves asked those already ashore, ‘Where are they?’ ‘Who?’ ‘The Japs.’ ‘What Japs?’ On the beach, Paull saw the body of a Japanese sniper, hanging head downwards from a tree, but the ‘only other living things were a few goats, one wounded, crouching beneath the floor of a native hut’.37

  I was able to see how the Americans run an invasion. While the bulldozers were extending the roadway along the strip of beach, infantry landing craft came ashore and lowered their ramps and the troops aboard, as I said, came ashore with fixed bayonets, but as with us, their jaws dropped when they found no fighting.38

  The following month, Paull was again with an invasion convoy as the Americans took the Wakde island group further north. Len Edwards was with him in the landing craft and they condensed the recording of the landing into a fifteen-minute program that broadcast the sounds of ‘the bosun’s call, the winches putting the boats down, from the davits and the deck, into the water; the bombardment by the cruisers and destroyers, and finally, the boats, with troops embarked, starting for the beach’.39 It was one of the first complete ‘sound pictures’ of an amphibious landing. Paull’s next assignment in the field would come near the end of the year.

  As Ray Paull came ashore at Tanah Merah Bay, John Hinde was covering the Hollandia landing at Humboldt Bay. In all, nearly 40 war correspondents travelled with the massive convoy and it was the biggest operation Hinde had covered. Hinde was somewhat diffident when explaining how he became a war correspondent in 1942. He recalled that it was not long after Haydon Lennard had been appointed the first correspondent from the news department, that he also became interested. ‘I’d been turned down for active service with the Army and I don’t know that I wasn’t half relieved. I wasn’t all that mad really about getting caught up in a routine military affair.’40 Hinde’s deprecating and casually contrary edge masked a diligent journalist and correspondent who was probably not well suited to the physical demands of the battlefield. He had been badly injured in a car accident when he was sixteen years old which left him with poor eyesight and a weak arm – this ruled him out of the Army and would have probably also barred him from service with the Air Force, which he thought he might have preferred. He went and saw his boss, the News editor Frank Dixon and said ‘I’m wondering if and when you need another war correspondent if I could be accredited’ . . . and lo and behold I was an accredited war correspondent on the Sydney lines of communication almost overnight’.41

  John Hinde was born in Adelaide in 1911 and as a young child lived on campus at a private girls’ school founded by his mother. When he was older he boarded with one of the master’s families at St Peter’s College in Adelaide. He lost a year at school while he recovered from the injuries he sustained in his car accident, and this delayed his entry into university, where he began by studying medicine. Hinde was now married – ‘it was a silly marriage, it was much too young,’ he said later, and as the marriage failed he dropped out of university and became a journalist. In Sydney, Hinde met and later married another young journalist, Barbara Jefferis, who would become a well-known Australian author. After several stints on Sydney newspapers, Hinde joined the ABC in 1940 as a journalist for the ABC Weekly magazine and then as a member of the ABC News staff: he was one of Frank Dixon’s senior writers. At
that time, the ABC News operation in Sydney was in Market Street, part of the ‘rabbit warren of offices that had once been her Majesty’s Theatre’.42 Hinde found it a strange place, with only around half a dozen people and a studio, but he came to love working in radio news.

  One of his first assignments as a war correspondent in the Sydney area was following the Japanese midget submarine attacks in the harbour. Hinde remembers that the ABC actually hired a ferry for him, Frank Dixon, and senior journalist Warren Denning to watch the sunken submarines being raised from the bottom of the harbour. ‘The second day I was alone, because there was a slight lop on the harbour and Warren managed to get violently seasick in a ferry on the inner harbour. So I watched the subs being brought up and wrote great notes and thought we’ll get some sort of a story out of it. But we were never allowed to publish anything except the bare facts.’43 Hinde’s war since then had been mostly spent as a correspondent at GHQ in Brisbane and sometimes in Port Moresby.


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