Killed in action
Damien Parer was one of Australia's best-known war correspondents and camera operators.
Parer had been brought up in a devoutly Catholic household and was expected to enter the priesthood. However, his plans changed after he was given a camera. Instead, he wanted to become a photographer or film-maker.
After being advised to make stories 'out of trivialities', Parer developed his own style. He worked first with the photographer Max Dupain.
In 1935, Parer moved from Melbourne to Sydney and worked as a 'rouseabout' for the film director, Charles Chauvel.
Official war correspondent
In August 1940, Parer joined the Department of Information Film Unit as an official war correspondent and photographer. He was sent to the Middle East to film the Australians serving in the Second Australian Imperial Force (AIF).
While he was there, Parer filmed in the Western Desert in Libya and later in Greece during the ill-fated campaign in April and May 1941.
In an ABC interview he recorded with Chester Wilmot during the war, Parer admitted that his hands sometimes shook too much to film effectively. He said he shot his 'first decent war pictures' in Greece when he just set his camera up and filmed the 'heartrending images'.
Parer returned to Australia in March 1942. By then, he was well-known for his documentaries of Australians fighting in the Middle East. His films were featured on newsreels throughout Australia.
Later in 1942, Parer went with Australian troops into the Pacific campaigns. He spent almost 10 months with Australian troops in Papua and New Guinea.
On assignment along the Kokoda Track, Parer was caught up in the Australian retreat after Isurava (26 to 31 August 1942). He had to abandon a lot of his equipment, but he kept the rolls of film he had shot.
That footage became the basis for his documentary, Kokoda Front Line!
Parer's footage brought the war home to Australia. For the first time, people could see what conditions were like for their soldiers in the New Guinea jungle.
Later, Parer filmed the Australian guerrillas fighting at Timor and Salamaua. He also flew in Australian Beaufighters to record the Battle of the Bismarck Sea.
Parer's other films can be seen in the Cinesound newsreels:
Parer's Oscar award
Parer's newsreel footage of the fighting on the Kokoda Track was used to produce the award-winning film Kokoda Front Line!. The film was edited by Terry Banks and produced by Ken Hall, the head of Cinesound productions.
In 1943, Kokoda Front Line! won one of four Hollywood Academy Awards presented for wartime documentaries.
Paramount work in the Pacific
Kokoda Front Line! brought Parer international fame. However, he was dissatisfied with the conditions and rules at the Department of Information.
Parer resigned from the department in August 1943 and joined Paramount News to film American troops in the Pacific. Less than a year later, he was killed 'in action' while filming US Marines.
His first assignment for Paramount was to film the US Army Air Force in action in New Guinea. He returned to Australia in 1944 and married Elizabeth Marie Cotter on 23 March. (Their son, Damien, was born in February 1945.)
Parer's next assignment was with the US Marines. He landed with them on Guam and Peleliu.
During 1944, Peleliu was an important link in the Japanese defensive line flanking the American Central Pacific advance towards the Philippines.
When the US 1st Marine Division landed on Peleliu on 15 September, it suffered heavy casualties from the well-defended beachhead. Damien Parer was killed 2 days later.
Parer's last reel
To capture images of the faces of men in battle, Parer believed he needed to be close to the front line. Sometimes even in front of it. He was doing this when he died. With his back to the enemy, Parer filmed the marines advancing and was killed by Japanese fire.
Chester Wilmot, war correspondent and friend of Parer, wrote to his widow:
He was such a fine man as well as a brilliant photographer. He made the camera speak as no other man I've ever known and his films gave an immortal portrait of the Australian soldier of this war.
The Commanding General, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific, has received a report of the interment of one "Parren Damien", who was killed in action 17 September, 1944, by multiple mortar fragment wounds and was buried 19 September, 1944, in Grave 78, Section 2, U.S. Armed Forces Cemetery No. 1, Peleliu Island, Palau Islands
[IC45/88/2/1 A1066, NAA]
On 7 May 1945, General Alexander Vandergrift, Commandant of the US Marine Corps wrote to Sir Frederic Eggleston, Minister for External Affairs in Australia. He believed that the report might refer to the Australian Paramount News photographer, Damien Parer. It did.
Parer's grave and his remains were removed from the US Armed Forces Cemetery on Peleliu Island in 1945 to Morotai, in 1946 to Macassar and finally in 1961 to Ambon War Cemetery.