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Panpa Bulletin : March 2007
PANPA Bulletin March 2007 29 publishing matters In 1940, if you were a graded journalist under 40 years of age who was prepared to work for 500 pounds a year (plus a one-off 25 pound uniform allowance and portable typewriter) and have all your writings subject to military censorship, you were eligible to respond to an AJA advertisement calling for war correspondents. Denis Warner, Geoffrey Hutton, Osmar White, Damien Parer, Colin Bingham, Geoffrey Blunden, King Watson, Henry Bateson, Alan Morehead, Chester Wilmot, Alan Dawes, George Johnson, Rohan Rivett, Douglas Lockwood, George Silk and Ken Slessor were among those who applied and were accepted. As war correspondents they faced the same dangers as front-line soldiers, sailors and airmen, but during WWII were inadequately recognised --- no promotion, no decorations, no pension, no gold card and very little thanks or recognition from their employers, from the service hierarchy or the general public. Nor has their dedication, reporting and bravery been acknowledged since. Now Melbourne's Shrine of Remembrance, in association with The Herald and Weekly Times, has mounted an exhibition, Eyewitness -- Australia's Second World War Correspondents, which will go some way to redress this lack of appreciation. Denis Warner, who has been honored with a CMG and a CBE for his post-war writings, is the only survivor of the above group. He was at the Shrine, with his daughter Annabel and journalist grandson Michael, to hear Julian Clark, managing director of H&WT, who opened the exhibition, pay a tribute to him and his colleagues. "Journalism is the first rough draft of his- tory," said Julian. "There is no higher calling (in the world of journalism) than that of war correspondent. "War correspondents are eyewitnesses and the newspaper and radio journalists represented at this exhibition were hugely important in bringing the war to the living rooms of Australians. Their reporting and pictures were the prism through which the people of Australia viewed the conduct of the war. Interaction between global battlefields and the home front brought unprecedented importance to the role of the media and rec- ognition to individual correspondents." Sally White, daughter of Osmar White, herself a distinguished journalist (and the writer of the biography of my mother, Caroline (Lynka) Isaacson, for the Australian Dictionary of Biography Vol 14 Di-Kl), made the point that war correspondents must have not only physical courage but the moral courage to be true to the profession of journalism. She cited the tribulations of Wilmot, Parer and White who fell foul of Sir Thomas Blamey, the Australian Commander- in-Chief, because they continued to criticise equipment, uniforms and supply in the New Guinea campaign and Slessor who was pil- loried by the military authorities because of his (justified) criticism of the Australian army tactics in the battle for Finschhafen. Tony Clifton has been embroiled in more wars than almost any long-serving Australian serviceman --- Northern Ireland, Biafra, Vietnam, Beirut in time for the civil war, Iran watching the Shah fall and Khomeini takeover, the Iran-Iraq war and the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, Saudi Arabia for the first Gulf War, Beijing during the crushing of the students in Tiananmen Square, the Tamil Tiger revolt in Sri Lanka, the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan and lastly, before retirement, the Maoist insurgency in Nepal. It was Richard Hughes, the legendary Hong Kong correspondent who inspired Clifton to go to war. "Tony", he said, "make a name for yourself and when you get killed, your paper will run your obituary. And what's more, they'll spell your name right ... in the second edition". Clifton highlighted the difference be- tween getting the story out in WWII and today. "Today it's the easiest part of the job. A correspondent goes into battle with a small computer and a hand-held satellite phone instead of a clumsy typewriter and an unreli- able telephone." The closing words of Tony Clifton, which I think would be echoed by war correspond- ents past and present, are a clear and telling indictment of man's continual inhumanity to man: "I don't think that in any of the wars I reported, one side was unequivocally right in what it was doing. I don't think I ever reported a just war". As for the exhibition itself --- it is a modest display of front pages WAR OVER: OFFICIAL Sydney Daily Mirror JAPAN CAPITULATES DELIRIOUS JOY IN AUSTRALIA PLANS FOR SURRENDER Sydney Morning Herald AUSTRALIANS TAKE LAE Daily Telegraph On view are several Osmar White note books, and his dispatches - Drama that ended the war in Europe , which included the telling phrase, "(the surrender was) signed by men exhausted by war --- for men exhausted by war". There are copies of ChesterWilmot's epic masterpiece Struggle for Europe and Alan Morehead's Eclipse, historic photographs of the surrender of the Japanese, of Major General Gordon Bennett before he made his controversial escape from Singapore, even one of the redoubtable Alice Jackson, editor of Women's Weekly, taken when she visited the troops in New Guinea. Six of the correspond- ents in Paris after the German surrender posed for a group picture in the Place de l'opera, as did Alan Morehead outside the Hotel Scribe. The exhibition at the Shrine of Remembrance is a long overdue tribute to the most gallant of journalists, the war cor- respondents, who until this tribute have not received any accolades, any thanks, for keep- ing the world informed during the dark days of 1940 through 1946 and beyond. Peter Isaacson is a former publisher and is a life member of PANPA. A long overdue tribute ... War correspondents, the most gallant of journalists, are being given a long overdue tribute, writes Peter Isaacson