Rupert Charlett of the Melbourne Argus types his story about the Australian 7th Division landing at Balikpapan in Borneo on July 1, 1945. In the Battle of Balikpapan, the 7th Division, composed of the 18th, 21st and 25th Infantry Brigades, with support troops, made an amphibious landing after heavy bombing and shelling by Australian and US air and naval forces. The Japanese were outnumbered and outgunned, but like the other battles of the Pacific War, many of them fought to the death. The battle was one of the last to occur in World War II, beginning a few weeks before the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki effectively ended the war. Japan surrendered while the Australians were combing the jungle for stragglers.
John Scarlett of The Sydney Morning Herald and the Melbourne Age with Ralph Treatsorth of United Press and Arthur Veysey* of the Chicago Tribune writing their first stories in the jungle for dispatch from Saidor after the successful landing by US forces on January 10, 1944. The Landing at Saidor was an Allied amphibious landing in Papua New Guinea. In Allied hands, Saidor was a stepping stone towards Madang, the ultimate objective of General Douglas MacArthur's Huon Peninsula campaign. The capture of the airstrip at Saidor also allowed construction of an air base to assist Allied air forces to conduct operations against Japanese bases at Wewak and Hollandia. But MacArthur's immediate objective was to cut off the 6000 Imperial Japanese troops retreating from Sio in the face of the Australian advance from Finschhafen. Following the landing at Saidor, the Japanese elected to retreat rather than fight, and withdrew over the foothills of the rugged Finisterre Range. During March 1944, B-24 Liberator bombers staged through Saidor for night attacks on Hollandia. *See a tribute to Veysey here.
Like so many Australian and New Zealand war correspondents, Melburnian Rupert Stanley Charlett and Sydneysider John Richard Scarlett were incredibly brave, resolute and resourceful journalists. But they also wrote wonderfully evocative stories, some of which can be seen below.
Charlett was born in South Melbourne in 1908 and died in South Caulfield, Melbourne, on June 6, 1984, aged 76. He continued to work as a journalist into the late 1970s. I believe Scarlett may have been born in Cooma in Southern New South Wales in 1903 and that after the war he lived in England and was a press representative for travelling English theatrical companies such as the Shakespeare Memorial from Stratford-Upon-Avon and the Old Vic.
This photo of Scarlett caused quite a stir in military circles. Described as a "notorious example of dubious photographs from the Second World War", it was one of a series of images taken by the Department of Information photographer James Fitzpatrick of the Australian’s landing at But, in north-western New Guinea, on March 31, 1945. The army’s field censor refused to release some of these photographs because they appeared to have been staged. Consequently, those that were approved for circulation were considered something of a “scoop”. One photograph of Australian soldier Jack Redd, one of the first soldiers to land, was published in Australian newspapers during April and May. The photograph showed Redd crouching beneath a shrub, carrying a camouflaged backpack and a rifle. Its caption read, “One of the first Australians into But was Private Jack Redd of Sydney, here seen searching the area of But Jetty with a wary eye before advancing into enemy-held territory.” A few days later, however, General Thomas Blamey announced that the figure was not Private Jack Redd; indeed, no such soldier existed. Jack Redd = John Scarlett, get it? “Jack Redd” was in fact Scarlett. Fitzpatrick had taken the photograph while he and Scarlett were following a patrol: “Swinging my camera I noticed Scarlett intently concentrating on the movement of the patrol. Although it was a backview of Scarlett, it looked tense and a good news picture.” But the photograph required a context. Using a synonym of Scarlett’s name and a few loaded terms - “first,” “searching,” “wary,” “advancing” - Fitzpatrick created this dramatic context. Fitzpatrick’s photograph became highly controversial. On the one hand, it appeared to support one side of a long-running debate over equipment supply for Australian troops, and the commitment of the Curtin Labor government to Australian troops fighting in the south-west Pacific. When the Melbourne Herald published the photograph, for example, it asked why Redd’s clothing and accouterments were American. On the other hand, it undermined the public expectation that an official photograph would faithfully represent its subject.
In the Aitape Sector in New Guinea in March 1945, Scarlett helps out troops in a river crossing on the advance up the coast near But. First across the flooded Ninahau River, he strains heavily on a rope, to ensure a safe footing for weary troops and native supply carriers.
On Cam's Saddle in the Finisterre Range of New Guinea, Scarlett ploughs through mud between Crater Hill and Mainstream Junction.