Category Archives: Non-Fiction

Excerpt from “War Cameraman – The Story of Damien Parer” by Neil McDonald ~~Wau~~

picture-warcameraman-mcdonaldBy February 1942 it was clear Australia itself was in peril. The decision that they were to return to Australia must have been a relief to Parer. His parents and his eldest sister, Doreen Owen, were in New Guinea which was likely to come under direct attack from the Japanese.

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While the two correspondents rested in Wau, Parer located his parents’ hotel and his brother-in-law’s house. Both had been hurriedly abandoned at the first news of the Japanese invasion.

The three fine billiard tables were all that was left of Dad’s hotel . . . I walked into the home where Dor [Doreen Owen] and Jock were living and picked up some cloth animals – now sorely battered – they were some I had sent them from Palestine last year – also the big leather cushion affair I had sent mother from the Mussky bazaar in Cairo! Bending down and opening a camphor wood box I found an envelope addressed to me! Mother had written, made a mistake in the spelling and put it aside – then the family album – photos of all of us – some I took myself. What a strange war it seemed to me. From the far sands of Egypt – I had come home to see my own people’s homes struck by the enemy.

Damien was deeply moved by this experience. For the first time, he was meeting people who had known his family in New Guinea and seeing places he only read about previously. He incorporated what he felt in a re-enacted sequence showing Bob Nesbitt of the NGVR returning to his bomb-shattered home in Wau. ‘CU [close up] He bends down and picks up a cloth animal – a symbol of the happy life of peace time and he looks over to photos on the wall of wife and children’. The cloth animals and the pictures were the same ones Parer had found in his sister’s abandoned house. He described this sequence as ‘Australians are here fighting right in their own homes.’

 

Bob Nesbitt surveying the damage “War in New Guinea” Pathe Gazette Newsreel Issue 43-47

Bob Nesbitt surveying the damage
“War in New Guinea” Pathe Gazette Newsreel Issue 43-47

Bob Nesbitt handling a cloth animal “War in New Guinea” Pathe Gazette Newsreel Issue 43-47

Bob Nesbitt handling a cloth animal
“War in New Guinea” Pathe Gazette Newsreel Issue 43-47

 

Camera pans to photographs on the wall “War in New Guinea” Pathe Gazette Newsreel Issue 43-47

Camera pans to photographs on the wall
“War in New Guinea” Pathe Gazette Newsreel Issue 43-47

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Excerpt from “The Hundred Days of Lt. Machorton” by Ian Machorton ~~Lal Bahadur~~

picture-hundreddaysltmachorton-machortonFrom that ominously silent jungle across the railway track whence most of the firing had come, would there burst forth another charge? Or, even as we lay low waiting, were the Japs in the jungle behind us massing silently to complete the encirclement? An ammunition clip rang like a bell on the night air in the midst of the silence as someone to me left re-loaded his rifle. Someone to my left! Kulbahadur, I knew was by my right-hand, but who was at my left? My next duty as an officer was suddenly urgent. We must close up and keep contact. Whoever was on either side of me must be formed under my command into an integrated fighting force.
“Kulbahadur!” I whispered: “Eh! Kulbahadur!”
“Huzoor!” he answered softly.
“Is there anyone on your right, Kulbahadur?” I asked.
There was a pause of some seconds and then, having peered into the darkness: “I can’t see anyone, Sahib. Shall I go and look?”
“Yes. But very quietly” I said.
There came the clink of his empty cartridge cases, dislodged by his movements, striking the flints as they rolled down the embankment. Then silence again. A few minutes later, with a stealthy scuffling, he crawled up beside me to whisper in my ear. “I have found no-one, Sahib. Except four or five dead men.”
So I turned left to the Gurkha soldier lying immediately to my left to find out from him who I had with me on that side. “Pass the word down,” I told him. “Make contact with the man on your left!”
As if lost in thought the Gurkha soldier continued to stare fixedly at the impenetrable shadows of the jungle ahead of him across the embankment. His honey-coloured hands held his rifle in readiness, the taut readiness of a trained soldier ready for the next Jap attack. His obvious vigilance gave me an added sense of security. What better fighting soldiers could a young British officer wish for on each side of him than Gurkhas? For all his eagerness to be ready should another Jap charge come, this Gurkha must do what he was told. Impatiently I repeated my order, and when he still took no notice I exclaimed: “Eh – timi!” and stretched out my hand and pushed his shoulder roughly. He rolled over languidly and, amid an avalanche of small stones, slithered to the bottom of the embankment. He lay there in a crumpled heap, his upturned young face glistened in the moonlight. I lay paralysed.
The hasty hot words of reprimand were never said! I could only stare in horror at the smiling Gurkha boy who was younger even than I. I knew men were killed in war but it had never occurred to me that those I knew and liked would be killed. And killed beside me at that! Rifleman Lal Bahadur Thapa would never answer to my orders again.
Lal Bahadur had been close to me from the day I joined the Chindits back at Jhansi. Somehow or other he had always seemed to be there. All through those days of marching since we had crossed the Chindwin I had been somehow aware of his smiling young face, his virile young presence, marching onwards close to me. He was I knew little more than sixteen years old, and it was almost impossible to reconcile the grinning, tireless, Lal Bahadur with that body, which I could now see had a ragged hole the size of half a saucer in the back of the head, lying grotesquely at the embankment’s foot.

Rangoon Memorial within the Taukkyan War Cemetery ... Rifleman Lal Bahadur Thapa

Rangoon Memorial within the Taukkyan War Cemetery …
Rifleman Lal Bahadur Thapa

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Excerpt from “Sequel to Boldness” by Richard Pape ~~Germans~~

picture-sequeltoboldness-papeThe screech of cart wheels broke my reverie and a middle-aged German farming type trundled forward with a load of mangels.
“Good day,” he called heartily.
I studied him sullenly, my mind moved automatically – “Ignorant, bloody savage,” I murmured. I observed him, sceptically, unsmilingly. He returned my look, staring with hard, grey eyes. He stopped the cart and, notwithstanding my unfriendly attitude, climbed to the ground.
“Nice day, ja?” He pointed to my rakish, shiny aluminium car. “Italian ?” he said.
“British,” I snapped.
Ach, so, schön, ja? You Englander?” he queried.
Ja.”
He asked me if I knew the district.
“Yes,” and my voice was tinged with sarcasm. “I was over there when it was one of your Gestapo, Nazi, Hitler, Luftwaffe bloody prisons.”
His face stiffened, he did not reply immediately; when he did he spoke gravely.
“It was Dulag Luft, I remember it all well.” He shook his head sadly. “You hate us Germans, don’t you?”
“I’ve come back to find out,” I acknowledged rudely.
I stood up; I didn’t want to be harassed. The man proffered his cigarette packet.
Nein!” I snapped.
He seemed nervous, but made no move to depart and, fumbling in his knapsack, withdrew a bottle of beer.
“Will you drink with me as a comrade now?” he said hesitantly.
Nein.”
The man was embarrassed and blew his nose. He stretched out his hand and withdrew it hastily. As I moved to my car he spoke huskily, quickly.
“I’m glad we lost the war.”
I turned and looked him full in the face. His bewilderment seemed honest.
“What makes you say that?” thinking to myself: “Ah, ah, usual unblemished line of innocency.”
He said slowly: “When Britain and America came into Germany, we also got our freedom as well as the men who went through the camp over there.”
“Don’t you hate the British and Americans?” I asked tersely.
“No, not now,” he said quietly. “My mother and aunt were killed in an air-raid. . . .”
“Bad luck,” I replied.
“Their worries are over,” he continued, then, he shook his head. “But my son was blinded on the Russian front; he’s also lost an arm.”
I eyed him doubtfully; was he trying to gain my confidence and sympathy?
“Where is he now?”
“At home from the Blind School. Come back with me and have some food with us?”
“All right.” I acquiesced, suddenly and involuntarily.
We chatted a little longer, and the weather-beaten German, with an intelligent, puckered face, remarked: “If you can forgive, but not forget, you’ve never forgiven.”
Turning to the German, I said with painful enthusiasm: “Let’s drink that beer.”
I met the unfortunate former enemy soldier, totally blind. It was an encounter I had not bargained for. He was very intelligent and from the questions I asked, seemed happy.
“The futility and stupidity of the last war, the régime of Hitler’s ruthlessness must be forgotten,” he said. “In the Blind School they tell us that if we do not look forward, we must look behind and fail.”

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Excerpt from “Boldness Be My Friend” by Richard Pape ~~Crash~~

picture-boldnessbemyfriend-papeAs the bomber began to fall, the skipper yelled over the whining, faltering intercom, ‘Jump, bale out!’ It was a ‘Now’ situation: individual action, no hesitation. No doubt the tail gunner swung his turret and was the first away. In the general flurry, I glimpsed the second-pilot, the wireless operator, the front-gunner rush past and descend to the bombing well to vanish into the night. Terry was struggling desperately to get the machine into some gliding angle. I was shocked then to see the kid, the mid-upper gunner, lurching beside my navigational table. He seemed concussed; clearly he could not look after himself. And Jock Moir was still there. He had been frantically working, shutting off all petrol flow, a vital task with crash-landing inevitable. It was too late now to jump. I rapped Terry on the shoulder. He turned, gazing almost unbelievably at three of us. It was then, as I flashed my torch, that I observed blood trickling from below his flying helmet; his face was ashen.
Adding my strength to Terry’s, heaving desperately on the control column, we brought the machine to a more horizontal position for a few minutes before the nose fell with a vicious lurch to a more acute angle. I recall a patch of water and hoping we might pancake . . . it went by. Then horrifyingly a church steeple. God! We’re going to die in church with our boots on! Uncannily, an updraught lifted us lazily over the roof and we carried on, the earth terrifyingly close. Dark blotches on the ground raced up to meet us. I braced myself for the big ‘dig-in’. Strangely I was no longer frightened. Thirty tons of bomber hit the ground at over 150mph, bounced back into the air, then down, up and down again, ploughed deeply across a small field: a blinding white flash, vicious lurch, hideous grinding of metal . . . then silence.
I long believed we ended up facing towards home. Not so. We had done three complete turns; first about a small village, then around a farmhouse, just missing it as we began our bucking crashes; at the last, a wing struck an oak tree standing splendidly alone in a small open field – a stout anchor, it spun us about and settled us alongside its splintered trunk with a final grinding thud. That blessed oak may have been our salvation. We were down.

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Excerpt from “Combat Cameraman” by Jerry J. Joswick and Lawrence A. Keating ~~Ploesti~~

picture-combatcameraman-joswickNone of us had needed a map since the Danube. We kept seeing in our minds that Ploesti table model back at Bonina. A big river with two bridges . . . fields . . . twin hills . . . more flat fields, so on. They were all where they should be, unreeling like a ribbon. And so far, no flak.
Three Groups now flew abreast. The 389th pulled away toward their target. The 98th and 44th went on, 70 planes in one ground crawling cluster. Nearing the great field of refineries stretching some miles ahead, I saw two dozen barrage balloons floating lazily among them. A few fires had started and black oily smoke was forming a shroud. Then I could identify our first target by smokestack silhouettes. We were to hit the Phoenix Orion complex and just beyond it, Astra Romana.
My film gave out. Using daylight load, I quickly threaded another. The order came, “Incendiaries!” These were for the dozens of huge oil storage tanks and small out-buildings which almost scraped our belly as we let go the fire-sticks.
Far to the left I saw a bomber fly into the long cables that held two balloons captive. The first cable snapped as if cut by scissors. The second struck their outboard engine. Instantly the 24 whipped around. It circled the cable, going down it as if going down a corkscrew. A puffball of fire and smoke. The bomber was gone.
There was ack-ack now, those familiar puffs in the air that flashed out colors. A jar told me that Witch had been hit, but I could not guess where. We roared into our run.
The machine gun at my elbow chattered as if with ague while I got a balcony view through my finder. B-24’s were approaching their targets; some were over them; through dense smoke some were vaguely seen beyond. One, caught in an up-draft of a burning oil storage tank, threw its nose upward and vanished in spattering bits. Two were down over there in a field. A crewman standing beside one waved his cap, cheering us on.
Ahead, a 24 had a wing tank afire but she stayed on her target run. I saw her eggs dropping, delayed-action fused. The pilot turned aside, plainly seeking somewhere to crash-land. He chose a creek bed with only a trickle of water showing. Didn’t he see that bridge? He tried to pull up and over . . . failed.
Witch now flew through a dozen fires set by our own people in an earlier wave. Hadn’t anyone foreseen how this would be a thirty feet? Supposedly delayed-action bombs seemed to go off on contact. We were in our bombing run but blast tossed us the way a breeze wafts a sheet of paper. I envisioned both our pilots with all their strength hanging onto the controls.
Storage tank fires grew higher and hotter. We were heading straight at a 60-foot curtain of flame. I touched my goggles to make sure they were on, clamped the camera between my knees, clasped both hands under armpits and put my head down.
The cabin became an oven. The radioman yelled. Then we were through and out, relieved of 200 degrees of heat but with all exposed hair gone and skin scorched.
“Bombs away!”
The first dose went down. Witch rushed on toward the Romana complex. Meanwhile, it was plain our whole five-Group raid organization had fallen apart. Bombers actually crisscrossed each other. It was a melee. Here, there, yonder a B-24 was burning or crashing or being swallowed by curling billows of black oily smoke.
I found Leissring, the right-waist, shakily trying to thread a new ammo belt into his gray-hot weapon. The aircraft’s side was holed like the cap of a salt shaker. Leissring’s pantleg lopped open above the knee, and he seemed to be unaware of the bright, moist blood. Behind us, Klein was banging away and yelling oaths.
It was only seconds before we plunged into slow-billowing smoke around Astra Romana. We could see nothing. We three in the waist began to cough, but we kept shooting, two with guns, one with camera.
“Boss! Chimneys!” Leissring shrieked into his intercom.
Blyer must have seen those tall brick chimneys looming dead ahead at the same instant. Witch stood on her tail. Up . . . up she climbed with engines straining. Bracing myself to keep my feet, I marveled how we seemed to be crawling up that oncoming red brick steeple.
Witch flattened out. “Bomb away!” Just as our second dose went something exploded below, an entire refinery powerhouse. It splashed up at us in one, two, three blasts. Our delayed-action bombs going off two days later must have pulverized whatever was left.
As we flew on, the roof of the Ploesti railroad station, crammed with machine guns, gave us a hard time. Beyond that were the hovering fighter planes: at first look the sky seemed to be crowded with them. The ME-109’s were out, HE-111’s and the fast Italian-built Macchis. For the next endless three hours they slashed and lunged at us. For three long hours our machine guns scarcely ceased their chattering except for insertion of fresh ammo belts.
Klein gave a screech. “It’s a damned biplane! Honest. Look, look! It’s a biplane!”
The enemy were flying everything flyable, for it actually was a fragile old-fashioned army biplane. We riddled it and it slowly sank lower, lower burst afire and was gone. That scene on film would surely look spliced from an old-time movie.
Getting away from Ploesti sorely tried Witch and all of us aboard, but it was far easier than for several dozen other B-24’s. Fighters were everywhere. From one group of six bombers they shot down four.

'Sandman' Liberator

‘Sandman’ Liberator

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Excerpt from “A Stillness at Appomattox” by Bruce Catton ~~Sheridan~~

picture-stillnessatappomattox-cattonSheridan rode out about nine o’clock, a few aides riding with him. It was a sunny morning, bare fields rolling away to the hills and mountains which blazed with autumn colors, a warm Indian summer haze thickening the air. Off to the south there was that continued sound of firing, perhaps a bit louder than it had been earlier. Sheridan seemed to be puzzled. As he picked up his cavalry escort he halted, dismounted, and bent over with his ear to the ground, listening intently. When he got back on his horse his swarthy face was clouded.
Down the road went general, aides, and cavalry, horses moving at a walk. After a mile or so they came upon a wagon train all in a tangle, wagons turned every which way, nobody moving. Sheridan sent his Major Forsyth trotting on ahead to see what was wrong, and presently Forsyth came back at a mad gallop. The train had been bound for the front, he reported, and at this spot had met an officer heading for Winchester bearing news that the army had been routed and was coming back in full retreat – on hearing which the teamsters had begun to swing their wagons around without waiting for orders.
Sheridan told Major Spera, the cavalry commander, to give his fifty of his best mounted men and to spread the rest across the road as traffic police: untangle the wagon train, round up fugitives, and in general see that everybody who thought he was going to Winchester turned and headed back for the place where the fighting was going on. Then with his chosen fifty Sheridan set off down the road, the horses moving at a walk no longer.
First they met wagon trains, coming back to escape capture, and these were told to park in the fields and await orders. Then they met the outriders of defeat – sutlers, camp followers of high and low degree, artillerymen without the guns, headquarter trains, battery wagons, caissons, and little knots of stragglers and walking wounded. A little farther on, they saw groups of men in the fields, clustering about campfires, boiling coffee, and they met increasing numbers of men walking along the highway. And always the sound of the firing grew louder.
Here and there Sheridan would rein up and call: “Turn back, men! Turn back! Face the other way!” Once he told a group of stragglers: “Face the other way, boys – If I had been there this morning this wouldn’t have happened! You’ll have your own camps back before night!”
Most of the time, however, he did not come to a halt but kept on at a gallop, swinging his hat in a great arc, now and then pointing toward the south, always calling: “Turn back, men! Turn back!”
The effect was electric. One group of coffee boilers, who had been stretched at ease around a fire, jumped up with a yell as he went past, kicked their coffeepots over, seized their muskets, and started back toward the battlefield. All along the way men sprang up and cheered. Those who were near the road turned and shouted, waving their arms in frantic signal, to attract the attention of men who were sauntering across fields quarter of a mile away. They pointed to the speeding cavalcade in the road and at the top of their lungs they cried: “Sheridan! Sheridan!”

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Major Forsyth wrote that every time a group of stragglers saw Sheridan the result was the same – “a wild cheer of recognition, an answering wave of the cap.” In no case, he said, did the men fail to shoulder their arms and follow the general, and for miles behind him the turnpike was crowded with men pressing forward to the front which they had run away from a few hours earlier. And all along the highway, for mile on mile, and in the fields beside the road, there went up the great jubilant chant: “Sheridan! Sheridan!”
As they got closer to the front Sheridan became grimmer. Major Forsyth wrote: “As he galloped on his features gradually grew set, as though carved in stone, and the same dull red glint I had seen in his piercing black eyes when, on other occasions, the battle was going against us, was there now.”
They came at last to a ridge where there were batteries in action, dueling at long range; and up ahead, on the right of the road, they could see the ranks of the VI Corps, men standing in line waiting to be used. Sheridan came plowing up through the fainthearts and skulkers, and his face was black as midnight, and now he was shouting: “Turn about, you damned cowardly curs, or I’ll cut you down! I don’t expect you to fight, but come and see men who like to!” And he swung his arm in a great inclusive gesture toward the VI Corps up ahead.
These men had been waiting in line for an hour or more. As veterans, they knew that the army had been beaten in detail and not by head-on assault, and they were grumbling about it, making profane remarks about men who ran away – and then, far behind them, they heard cheering.
“We were astounded,” wrote a man in the Vermont Brigade. “There we stood, driven four miles already, quietly waiting for what might be further and immediate disaster, and far in the rear we heard the stragglers and hospital bummers and gunless artillerymen actually cheering as though a victory had been won. We could hardly believe our ears.”
And then, while the men were still looking their questions at one another, out in front of the line came Sheridan himself, still riding at a swinging gallop – and the whole army corps blew up in the wildest cheer it had ever given in all of its career, and the roar went rocketing along the line as Sheridan rode on past brigade after brigade of the toughest veterans in the Army of the Potomac. The Vermont Brigade’s historian wrote fondly:
“Such a scene as his presence produced and such emotion as it awoke cannot be realized once in a century. All outward manifestations were as enthusiastic as men are capable of exhibiting; cheers seemed to come from throats of brass, and caps were thrown to the tops of the scattering oaks; but beneath and yet superior to these noisy demonstrations there was in every heart a revulsion of feeling, and a pressure of emotion, beyond description. No more doubt or chance for doubt existed; we were safe, perfectly and unconditionally safe, and every man knew it.”

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Excerpt from “Apollo 13 – Lost Moon” by Jim Lovell and Jeffrey Kluger ~~Thermostat~~

picture-lostmoon-lovellBut the wrong thermostat switch – the 28-volt switch – was in the tank, and, as it turned out, the heaters stayed on for a long, long time. On the evening of March 27, fifteen days before Apollo 13’s scheduled liftoff, the warming coils in Spacecraft 109’s second oxygen tank were flipped on. Given the huge load of O2 trapped in the tank, the engineers figured it would take up to eight hours before the last few wisps of gas would vent away. Eight hours was more than enough time for the temperature in the tank to climb above the 80-degree mark, but the technicians knew they could rely on the thermostat to take care of any problem. When this thermostat reached the critical temperature, however, and tried to open up, the 65-volt current surging through it fused it instantly shut.
The technicians on the Cape launch pad had no way of knowing that the tiny component that was supposed to protect the oxygen tank had welded closed. A single engineer was assigned to oversee the detanking procedure, but all his instruments told him about the cryogenic heater was that the contacts on the thermostat remained shut as they should be, indicating that the tank had not heated up too much. The only possible clue that the system was not functioning properly was provided by a gauge on the launch pad’s instrument panel that constantly monitored the temperature inside the oxygen tanks. If the readout climbed above 80 degrees, the technician would know that the thermostat had failed, and he would shut the heater off manually.
Unfortunately, the readout on the instrument panel wasn’t able to climb above 80 degrees. With so little chance that the temperature inside the tank would ever rise that far, and with 80 degrees representing the bottom of the danger zone, the men who designed the instrument panel saw no reason to peg the gauge any higher, designating 80 as its upper limit. What the engineer on duty that night didn’t know – couldn’t know – was that with the thermostat fused shut, the temperature inside this particular tank was climbing indeed, up to a kiln-like 1000 degrees.
For most of the evening the heater was left running, all the while the temperature needle registering a warm but safe 80. At the end of eight hours, the last of the troublesome liquid oxygen had cooked away as the engineers hoped it would – but so too had most of the Teflon insulation that protected the tank’s internal wiring. Coursing through the now empty tank was a web of raw, spark-prone copper, soon to be reimmersed in the one liquid likelier than any other to propagate a fire: pure oxygen.
Seventeen days later and nearly 200,000 miles out in space, Jack Swigert, responding to a routine daily request from the ground, switched on the cryogenic fan to stir up the contents of the oxygen tanks. The first two times Swigert had complied with the instruction, the fan had operated normally. This time, however, a spark flew from a naked wire, igniting the remains of the Teflon. The sudden build-up of heat and pressure in the pure-oxygen environment blew off the neck of the tank, the weakest part of the vessel. The 300 pounds of oxygen inside the tank flashed instantly into gas and filled bay four of the service module, blowing out the ship’s external panel and causing the bang that so startled the crew.

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