A Gripping Account of 54 War Correspondents K.I.A. in WWII 1940-1945 by Doral Chenoweth


Chapter V
Australia's Accredited Dead During World War II there were 7,100,000 Australians who occupied the smallest of the continents, an island of three million square miles in the southwest Pacific. Australia was a nation of city dwellers. More than 50 percent of the population lived in the five largest cities of Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth, and Brisbane. Their geographical isolation has historically accounted for their deep-rooted interest in world affairs. Australians have long depended on the shipping lanes to bring items of commerce other than bare food staples. With the imports came world news and outside reading matter.

Being a nation of cultured people, the demand for refined reading material and sophisticated world news reports exceeded the supply. In response, the Australian press acted to satisfy the demand. (10) Before the war Australia's newspapers spent vast sums on trans-oceanic radio and telephone hook-ups to serve as foreign news channels. News from the United States was particularly desired. In pre-war days the Sydney Sunday Telegraph published a news review supplement featuring material from Time magazine. At great cost between 12,000 and 15,000 words were telephoned weekly from New York to Sydney to a team of six high-speed shorthand reporters. (United States wire services did not serve Australia on a day-to-day cable at that time.)

When World War II brought the Japanese into dangerous proximity to their island nation, local interest in spot news increased. As a result the national newspapers doubled and tripled their battlefront staffs. The United States War Department Bureau of Public Relations received dozens of requests for correspondent credentials in January of 1942. The Australian Department of Information received first consideration. Requests from individual newspapers and magazines were also handled. Fifty-five Australian newspapermen and photographers were accredited for U.S. field service with our troops. Most of them served either with troops stationed in Australia or with those making early offensive moves in the Southwest Pacific Theater of Operation.

Six of the accredited Australian group died-five in combat. The sixth was Harold Dick, a young western Australian photographer. He died in an airplane crash in Queensland on July 20, 1943. He had just returned from a foray over Japanese island positions when the accident occurred. His pictures were delivered without damage after the crash. Keith Palmer went ashore with our army forces in Bougainville to report the war for the Australian News Service and for Newsweek magazine. He was wounded during a Japanese raid and died on November 7, 1943.

Pendil Arthur Rayner died the day after Christmas in 1943 in a B-17 takeoff crash at Port Moresby. He was accredited to the Brisbane Telegraph (Queensland).

John Elliot and William Smith, Australian Department of Information reporters, were killed on July 3, 1944 by a burst of Japanese machine gun fire as they rested by a building in the ruins of Northern Balik Papan. American officers told an Associated Press reporter that Elliott and Smith wandered 700 yards ahead of the Australian lines to within 300 yards of the enemy. When their bodies were recovered, Smith's notebook was open, and his pen was still in his hand. Before the war William Smith edited a farm journal in western Australia. He was an acknowledged authority on agriculture. Elliott had been doing a daily news commentary from the sector for the Australian Broadcasting Commission. George Mulgrue of the Australian News and Information Bureau said Smith was survived by his mother, Mrs. Mildred Martha Smith. Elliott's wife and parents died prior to World War II.

One of the Australian accredited correspondents was a native of England. Thomas Normal McLeon Fisher was employed by Fox Movietone News. Shortly after receiving his accreditation in May 1942, he left Australia for India and later returned to New Guinea where he met his death on October 1, 1942. He was survived by his mother, Mrs. Katherine Rose Fisher of London.

Keith Palmer

A Japanese bomber demolished a press tent on Bougainville at 2:30 a.m. on November 7, 1943. Thirty-seven year old Keith Palmer was left dead; five others were wounded. Palmer had been filing stories for The Melbourne Herald in addition to Newsweek magazine.

Of the five wounded Rembert James of the Associated Press suffered shrapnel wounds in both feet and legs, arm abrasions, and a ruptured eardrum. The four others were less seriously injured. They included Capt. Patrick O'Sheel of Englewood, New Jersey, press relations officer; Technical Sergeant Ted Link, former St. Louis Post-Dispatch writer who was a Marine combat correspondent at the time; Pfc. Paul Ellsworth of DeKalb, Illinois, a Marine artist; and Willard (Wink) Hess, then of OWI (Office of War Information) and later with Scripps-Howard in Columbus, Ohio. Ted Link gave account of the attack that cost Keith Palmer his life:

Palmer made the landing with the Marines, but I didn't meet him until several days after the landing, which was on November 1, 1943. I made the landing with the Ninth Marine Regiment at the far left of the beach while Palmer landed with the headquarters units of the Third Marine Division in the center of the line. After a few days of pushing forward through the jungle and after the wiping up was through, I returned to headquarters company, and we started to put up a tent for press headquarters. Palmer, who seemed head and shoulders above most correspondents in his grasp of things came to the press headquarters in a group with William Jones of United Press, Rembert James of Associated Press, John Brennan of a Sydney paper, and several other correspondents. They began to gather about November 5th or 6th around the press headquarters. Captain Patrick O'Sheel, press officer of the Third Division, had them in tow.

Jones left the night of the sixth to go elsewhere. His bed was vacant when the tent was bombed. Palmer was sleeping in the press tent with several other marines and correspondents (Marine combat correspondents.) O'Sheel was in a jungle hammock near the tent with James alongside him in another hammock. Paul Ellsworth and I were sleeping about ten feet from Palmer in the open. Vicious air attacks continued all night-so fast and furious we didn't get a chance to more than start our foxholes. The attacks got worse after midnight and one Jap plane, about a block from us came over low and dropped a 500 pound bomb about 40 feet from the press tent. It blew a hole 12 feet deep and 30 feet in circumference killing some marines in the nearby Signal Corps camp. James' feet were perforated with pieces of shell; O'Sheel got hit in the leg. A piece of shell struck Palmer in the forehead-just a tiny piece-but he was dead within a few minutes. O'Sheel reached him first with me right behind. He was dead when I got there. My helmet saved me from worse injury. Palmer had not put on a helmet, and I could observe him under the side of the tent, crouched on his bunk which he had made of jungle ferns and Australian style and peering out under the tent sides which had been pulled up for ventilation. The fireworks show from the 90-mm guns, the Jap bombs, the machine gun tracer bullets the Marines were firing at them, all made a terrible night show of flares, etc. Like most any newspaperman, Palmer seemed to be trying to observe it the best he could.

I had to hug the ground closer, being on a slight elevation above the tent and in line of a machine gun emplacement nearby which might have fired wildly so we had to watch it. The bomb landed on a still lower elevation in the jungle than the tent, and its force went slightly upward, taking the tent and all contents with it and just going over Ellsworth and my bodies. Ellsworth got a hit in the leg, and I got it in the right leg, left knee, and back.

James Mundell, a Marine photographer, was also present, but not hit. He was sent for a Naval doctor about 800 yards away while the rest of us aided in digging out a Marine whose legs were blown off. No lights could be used because the attack was still on. As I recall it, the doctor arrived within a few minutes but quickly pronounced Palmer dead and turned to the badly injured.

O'Sheel tended to the burial of Palmer as we had to move on in the push. Later I saw the white cross on his grave in the cemetary-the cemetery near the beach, and not the one on the Piva trail. The cemetary at the beach was called Torokina Cemetery by the Marines. Palmer was buried among the dead Marines of the Third Regiment of the Third Division. The Third Regiment and the Raiders, along with some Navy personnel, suffered the most casualties that time on the far right end of the line at Torokina Point.

I got to know Palmer in the two brief nights we spent together in or around the press tent. He was a fine chap and immediately liked by all of us even under those trying circumstances. There was no waiting on him like some correspondents.

Keith Palmer was survived by his wife, Mrs. Mary Edith Palmer, and two children.

Pendil Arthur Rayner

Pendil Arthur Rayner, Brisbane Telegraph war correspondent, was killed in an air crash at Port Moresby on December 26, 1943. He was one of the best known and most brilliant journalists in Queensland. Joining the staff of the Telegraph in 1928 as a cadet (cub) reporter, Rayner had reached the peak of his profession at the time of his death.

Rayner had wide experience in all branches of journalism. In view of this and the military training which he had voluntary undertaken in pre-war days, he was accredited as a combat correspondent in June, 1942 for service with U.S. field forces then operating in the Pacific. He covered New Guinea operations for the group of afternoon Australian newspapers and wrote a brilliant and vivid account of the Bismarck sea battle. An American feature service syndicated his story throughout the United States. Rayner also covered the occupation of the island of Kiriwina by American forces and the landing of American paratroops in the Markham Valley sector. Raynor followed the Australians through the Markham Valley and covered the attack on Lae. He was with the first combat troops to enter that Japanese stronghold.

pendil arthur rayner
Pendil Arthur Rayner

One of Rayner's most outstanding stories dealt with the landing at Arawe in New Britain. He had lost his equipment and personal belongings in the initial wave of troops which went ashore. However, he continued inland and later filed the first story from the island stating that the operation was a success.

After completing this assignment, Rayner returned to Australia for a short rest and a Christmas visit with his wife and children. (11) Before dawn on the day after Christmas, Rayner and three other Allied correspondents (12.) took off at Port Moresby for reconnaissance of the landing of United States Marines on Cape Gloucester in New Britain. The B-17 in which they were riding crashed. Left dead were Rayner; Brydon Taves, United Press manager in Australia; and two air force enlisted men.

Rayner had attended a briefing session before takeoff and had written a graphic and detailed account of the operation as planned. He handed the copy to a fellow reporter. It ended with the cut-off slug, "lead to follow . . . "

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PROTECTION: Filed with Writers Guild of America, 2003.
Renewed Copyright Pending