Parer's last reel
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 United States 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 subsequently removed in 1945 to Morotai, in 1946 to Macassar and finally in 1961 to Ambon.
Damien Parer, Australia's most famous official war photographer, had been caught in an action fought between American and Japanese troops on Peleliu in the Pelau island group in the central Pacific Ocean. Parer, who had left the Australian Department of Information in 1943 to join the American Paramount company, was filming an attack on the island by US Marines when he was killed by mortar fire.
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 they suffered heavy casualties from the well-defended beachhead. Damien Parer was killed two days later.
More than a month of heavy fighting followed the US landing but Japanese resistance finally finished on 13 October. Peleliu continued to hide a number of Japanese soldiers during the next years, men who refused to believe that the war was over.
Damien Parer had been brought up in a devout Catholic household and was expected to enter the priesthood. However, his plans changed after he was given a camera and instead he chose to become a photographer. He was advised to make stories 'out of trivialities' and so developed his own style. He worked first with the photographer Max Dupain and later in 1935 as a 'rouseabout' for the film director, Charles Chauvel. During an ABC interview he recorded with Chester Wilmot during the war Parer admitted that at times his hands had shaken too much to film effectively and that he shot his 'first decent war pictures' in Greece when he just set his camera up and filmed the 'heartrending images'.
Damien Parer joined the Department of Information Film Unit in August 1940 and was sent to the Middle East where he remained until March 1942. By the time he returned to Australia, he was well-known for his documentaries of Australians fighting in the Middle East and his films were featured on newsreels throughout Australia. In 1942 he accompanied Australian troops into the Pacific campaigns. He visited Timor in November 1942 and filmed the Australian guerrillas there and then spent most of the next ten months with Australian troops in Papua and New Guinea.
His Academy Award winning documentary – Kokoda Front Line! brought Parer further international fame but his continued dissatisfaction with the regulations imposed on him by his employers at the Department of Information led him to resign in protest. He was immediately invited to join Paramount News to film American troops in the Pacific. Less than a year later he was killed 'in action'.