Friday, October 31, 2008

Army Newspaper Scooped the World

Guinea Gold veterans recall wartime in jungle

This story was first published by OhmyNewsInternational. To read their version, with interesting illustrations and live links, please cut and paste this address:

Giant air transports dropped food, tobacco and copies of Guinea Gold. If anything, this little newspaper was more eagerly sought than rations. To troops practically marooned in the thick of the jungle swamps this link with news of the outside world came almost as tidings from another planet. - From the book "Jungle Warfare" (1944).

Newspaper scoops are no longer possible. Today's instant worldwide communication means that any important newsbreaking story is immediately copied, rephrased or translated, to be posted on thousands of news websites in dozens of languages within minutes.

But 66 years ago, in World War II, in the tropical jungle of Papua-New Guinea, where Allied troops were fighting Japanese invaders, a unique newspaper called Guinea Gold published a record number of world scoops.

That was because US General Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in the South-West Pacific, had given Guinea Gold permission to publish his communiques 20 hours before the news was released for the rest of the world's media.

New Guinea was the only war zone where the US armed forces did not produce a local edition of their own newspaper, Stars and Stripes. Guinea Gold, with separate American and Australian editions, fully met their needs.

Earlier in 1942, Melbourne Herald war correspondent Reg Leonard had suggested that the Australian Army should produce its own daily newspaper. Promptly crowned a major, he became Guinea Gold's foundation editor.

Years after the war had ended, Mr R.B. Leonard, O.B.E., managing director of Queensland Newspapers Pty. Ltd., said that Guinea Gold's success was due very largely to dedicated people below officer rank - men who toiled uncomplainingly and for long hours in the ramshackle buildings that housed its overworked plant.

He spoke of soldiers intercepting radio news by matchlight during bomber raids, some who set type by hand when mechanical equipment broke down, and others "whose brawny arms provided power for the presses when the electrical power failed."

That was the memorable occasion when Japanese bombers attacked Port Moresby powerhouse at 2am.

Horace ("Chis") Chisholm, the paper's last editor, also recalled the event: "Officers and men and natives toiled and sweated together as they turned the heavy press over by hand, but every unit received its share of the 5000 copies they produced.

"Overcoming incredible production problems, the newspaper came out seven days a week without missing a single day, from November 1942 to June 1946. Its 1,320 days' continuous publication was easily a world record for service publications. At its peak in 1944, it produced 64,000 copies (US edition 37,000, Australian 27,000). Maximum readership was estimated at 800,000.

"The front and back pages concentrated on up-to-the-minute news from around the world, including coverage of major sporting events on the back page. Page 2 was devoted to extracts from Australian and US newspapers published a few days previously, which air transport crews delivered to Guinea Gold.

"Soldiers with newspaper experience, who had been transferred from other units when Guinea Gold was established, wrote news stories by taking shorthand notes of shortwave radio bulletins from Australia, the US Armed Forces station in San Francisco, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), All-India Radio, and others.

"At Lae, the second-hand Miller high-speed flatbed press ran 20 hours a day, printing 34 million copies in little more than two years. When it was retired after the war, it had 50 welds. It's now an exhibit at the National War Museum in Canberra."

You can see a photograph of th sturdy press in action here:

Writing in Sydney's Weekend Australian Magazine in 1982, Chisholm recalled:

The worst crisis in Guinea Gold's life was the day that the Port Moresby linotype and the Dobodura press broke down simultaneously.

The problem was overcome by having the type set in Dobodura, flying the type 100 miles over the Owen Stanleys [mountains], and the paper printed on the Moresby press. Papers for the northern edition were then flown back over the Owen Stanleys.

It was a good example of the co-operation received from the air forces. RAAF pilots flew almost daily over the Japanese lines to drop small bundles to forward fighting areas, and the day after the American forces landed at Cape Gloucester, New Britain, Flying Fortresses dropped Guinea Golds to them.

Always we thought of the men we served: men fighting in the lonely, dank, rugged, slimy jungle depths, hauling guns up steep mountainsides, repairing shell-torn signal wires under fire.

On a lighter note, "Chis" recalled that when the newspaper promoted a "Girl I Left Behind" contest, 1700 photos of wives, sweethearts and baby daughters swamped the editorial office.

It was a beauty contest, with full-page portraits of gorgeous girls on the front pages of a Sunday supplement, and smaller photos daily. It proved so popular that it ran for more than four months. An Australian/US judging panel decided the winners were (Australian) Miss Dorothy Faull, Federal Capital Territory, friend of Leading Air Craftman M.J. Jones, RAAF and (US) Mrs G. B. Osmun, wife of Captain G. B. Osmun, US Army.

Among his other memories, "Chis" wrote: "On one occasion a consignment of crossword blocks and clues failed to arrive from the mainland. Staff-Sergeant E. Shackle (the Telegraph, Sydney) solved the current one and compiled one on a pattern previously used."

A few years after the war ended, one of Guinea Gold's printers, Paul Jefferson Wallace, of Sydney, compiled and published a 32-page history of the newspaper, which is now one of my most prized souvenirs. It also provided useful material for this article.

Wallace reported that on moonlight nights in its early days, production of the newspaper was often interrupted by air raids, but deadlines were still met. Blow-lamps were used to melt linotype metal during frequent power supply breakdowns.

Because the hand-set type was so badly worn, it had to be packed with layers of gummed paper underneath, to raise it to type height. On one occasion, the printers ran out of T's. A native Papuan chiselled some out of wood. When there was a shortage of R's, editor Reg Leonard added tails to P's by cutting them from L's.

Wallace also explained why an Army newspaper was needed in New Guinea. "In 1942, isolation was a morale-destroying disease in New Guinea" he wrote. "Radio sets were few and far between, men were cut off from day-to-day news.

"The result was a flood of false rumours which swept along the Owen Stanley trail when Australian troops were just starting to push the Japanese back from their mountain strongholds.

"From the first edition on November 19, 1942, until the presses rolled to a stop on June 30, 1946, with the enviable record of 1,320 days of continuous publication, Guinea Gold daily brought to the news-hungry men of the Australian and American forces serving in the steaming jungle, topics of interest to allay their boredom and boost their morale."

In all, 237 Australian soldiers worked on Guinea Gold for varying periods. Not one of them was there for the full three and a half years' life of that unique and vital newspaper.

FOOTNOTE. Greg Ray described OhmyNews reporter Eric Shackle's army career, in a 2004 feature story in the Central Coast Weekend Herald

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Queen WAS amused!

She giggled at a laughing baby clip

This story was first published by OhmyNewsInternational. You can view it (with better links) at

Britain's grandmotherly Queen Elizabeth II giggled when she watched a video of William Nilsson, Sweden's famous laughing baby, while visiting Google's London office last week. If she had been shown a video of Ethan, America's famous laughing baby, she would have laughed out loud.

If you doubt that statement, try to keep a straight face when you watch Ethan's hilarious but brief YouTube clip Little things please little minds, and Ethan had tremendous fun tearing magazine pages.

"You can tell that he is going to be one of those guys that falls out of his seat in laughter at movies," one online viewer commented.

Ethan's father, Greg, shot the film in 2004, before anyone had heard of YouTube. " I was at home playing with Ethan when he ripped an old magazine and started to laugh," Greg recalls on his web site "I wanted to get him laughing on film for his mom, who was at work, so I grabbed the camera and started to tape. The result is the 'Laughing Baby' video."

Greg put a clip on the internet in January 2007. It won YouTube's 2007 "most adorable" award, and has received almost 20 million hits. It has inspired thousands of other proud parents to post similar clips on the web.

Ethan is now four years old.
Asked how Ethan was coping with his world fame, his father told OhmyNews: "Ethan was born in September 2004. He has no idea about the 'world fame.' I think it will be a few years yet before he can grasp that reality. 'Internet famous' is about as far as I would stretch his actual level of fame.

"As for other info, since Ethan is only 4, we try to keep as much privacy as possible with respect to our names, jobs and location. Obviously, we didn't expect this level of attention for our kid when we posted him on YouTube, so we try to be as careful as possible."

Ethan's parents are both in their mid-30s and Grag has been a stay-at-home Dad since Ethan was born.

The Swedish Laughing Baby video that so amused the Queen was posted on YouTube in August 2006, and quickly became one of its top clips. So far it has attracted an amazing 64 million hits.

William's father shot the film in his kitchen, apparently getting his son to laugh by saying "boo" to him. Comments range from a sweet "isn't he cute" to a sour "this baby sounds as if it has asthma."

Not everyone is happy about the spate of laughing babies. "Look Who's Laughing: Giggling babies have taken over YouTube. Next stop: Madison Avenue" was the heading over a story by Janelle Nanos in Slate online magazine on Dec. 31, 2007.

"Turning found video into good advertising is harder than it looks," Janelle wrote. "The danger of using YouTube footage in a television ad is that if the spot isn't well-executed, viewers feel shortchanged, since they know they can see the same spot online without a corporate logo tacked onto the end of it."

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Rain Man Inspires London Stage Play

This story was first published by OhmyNewsInternational. You can view it (with better links) at

Twenty years after his moving story was told in the Oscar-winning film The Rain Man, Utah's modest prodigy Kim Peek, who will turn 57 on November 11, is again being impersonated in an updated stage play with the same title at London's prestigious Apollo Theatre.

British stage actor Adam Godley has won critical acclaim for his sympathetic portrayal of the autistic Raymond, a character inspired by Peek and played in the film by Dustin Hoffman (who won an Oscar for the Best Actor in a Leading Role).

Thanks to the film and countless TV, radio and press interviews, Peek has long been the world's favorite and best-known savant (learned scholar).

"Described as a confounding mixture of disability and brilliance, Kim is in love with knowledge," says the Multiple Sclerosis website Extraordinay People.

"... Kim was diagnosed as being mentally retarded at birth, but with father Fran's unflagging support he has developed a memory that is without equal.
"Born and raised in Salt Lake City, Utah, Kim has lived there all of his life. The local library is Kim's favourite place in the world. Kim devours books on anything and everything, as many as eight in a day.

"He reads at a phenomenal rate, a page that may take you or me three minutes will take Kim about 10 seconds. He reads the left page with his left eye and the right page with his right eye and will retain about 98% of it.

"He has 15 subject areas but about the only thing he can't do is, he can't reason out mathematical problems."

Another autistic savant, who can reason out mathematical problems, is Britain's Daniel Paul Tammet (29). Born in London, the first of nine children, he has written in a memoir, how having epilepsy, synaesthesia and Asperger syndrome all deeply affected his childhood.

He can calculate huge sums in his head in seconds and instantaneously recognize prime numbers, but he finds emotions difficult to understand and has trouble telling left from right.
He says he sees numbers as complex synaesthetic shapes with color, texture and motion. Thirty-seven, he says, is lumpy like porridge, while eighty-nine reminds him of falling snow. Sequences of digits form visual landscapes in his mind.

In March 2004, Tammet set a European record when he recited the famous mathematical constant Pi from memory to 22,514 decimal places in five hours.

He has been studied by scientists at California's Center for Brain Studies and at the Cambridge (UK) Autism Research Centre, and has been described as "autism's Rosetta Stone".

You can read about his life and achievements in his regularly updated blog, Optimnem to Wikipedia, Tammet and his domestic partner, software engineer Neil Mitchell, live together in Kent where they have a quiet regimented life at home with their cats, prepare their meals from their garden, and prefer their privacy.

They operate the online company Optimnem, where they create and publish language courses. Tammet has publicly discussed his relationship with Mitchell, his savant abilities, and his sexual orientation.

On the other hand, Kim Peek and his father, Fran, who is now 81, have spoken to five million people and traveled more than two million miles, sharing their story. Last Saturday, they were in Portland, talking with autistic children and their parents and friends at a function arranged by the Autism Society of Maine.

Earlier this year, they entertained a packed house in their home state of Utah. Nexy day, the Provo Daily Herald published this interesting report :

Has Utah's Kim Peek ever met Britain's Danial Tammet? Yes. You can view their meeting by playing this YouTube video:

In another video, Peek hugs Tammet and tells him “Some day you will be as great as I am.”