BOOK REVIEW: Valiant for Truth – The Life of Chester Wilmot, War Correspondent by Neil McDonald with Peter Brune

BOOK REVIEW: Valiant for Truth – The Life of Chester Wilmot, War Correspondent by Neil McDonald with Peter Brune

NewSouth Books
January 2017
Hardback, $49.99
Reviewed by Natalie Salvo

Non-Fiction/Biographies & True Stories/True War & Combat Stories

8.5/10

 

Valiant for Truth is the first complete biography of Australian war correspondent, Reginald William Winchester (“Chester”) Wilmot. It’s a meticulously-researched and comprehensive look at Wilmot’s life. It covers his studies in Melbourne through to his passage into the world of journalism as well as the important stories he covered during the Second World War before his untimely death in 1954.

Neil McDonald with Peter Brune are no strangers to writing about Australian military history. The former previously penned Kokoda Front Line, a book about war cameraman Damien Parer, while the latter has written numerous books about the Kokoda Track and Papua during World War II. To say they are qualified to write about Wilmot’s life is an understatement.

Wilmot studied politics, history, and law at the University of Melbourne during the 1930s. His father, Reginald was a well-renowned sports journalist and was a key influence on his son. Chester Wilmot worked at the university’s student newspaper he also served on the university’s debating team. In 1936 Wilmot went on an international debating tour which included a stop in Germany. He attended a Nuremberg Rally and was mortified by the conduct of the Nazis.

At the outbreak of the Second World War ,Wilmot joined the ABC and after a feud with the Australian Commander-in-chief General, Sir Thomas Blamey, he joined the BBC. Wilmot’s journalistic work was in the field of broadcasting, and he would pen and deliver scripts for the radio. He would also write several books about his work.

Wilmot covered just about every kind of military confrontation: the rapid mobilised advance in the Western Desert and France; set-piece defences, notably at Tobruk (the subject of his first book); the fighting withdrawal; open and jungle fighting; and, most spectacularly, airborne assaults.

Wilmot’s work would see him cover the involvement and bravery of the Allied Forces in Tobruk and Bardia, the struggles along the Kokoda track (a place that was promised a road in 1942 yet remains unchanged), the invasion of Normandy and the defeat of Nazi Germany. It was a difficult time to be a reporter, but Wilmot battled his asthma and strove to be on the frontline, making sure everything was well-researched and verified:

At a time when reporters were expected to be patriots and propagandists, Wilmot was unique. Although a patriot to his bootstraps, he strove to be objective, always seeking the underlying causes of the events he was reporting and always prepared, within limits, to criticise. The BBC admired his skill at analysis but he was equally adept at straight description.

Valiant for Truth is a comprehensive look at Wilmot’s life. McDonald and Brune have done a stellar job of threading their own explanations of the events that transpired with maps and other primary sources like photographs and extracts of transcripts of Wilmot’s reports. Wilmot was documenting history being made, and most of the transcripts of his broadcasts now reside in the National Archives, however his only surviving film is Sons of the Anzacs. These artefacts show how Wilmot progressed from war reporter to renowned war historian.

Chester Wilmot was ultimately a steadfast journalist and historian who remained committed to documenting all facets relating to the Second World War. Today he is still held up as an exemplar of journalism and books like Valiant for Truth are testament to this. This biography shows this man’s exceptional life and unbridled dedication and courage to Australia’s involvement in the war effort, an inspiring and valiant feat no less.

BOOK REVIEW: Valiant for Truth - The Life of Chester Wilmot, War Correspondent by Neil McDonald with Peter Brune

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