They shall grow not old as we that are left grow old, age shall not weary them nor the years condemn, at the going down of the sun and in the morning we will remember them.
The famous Australian war photographer, Damien Parer, was killed on the afternoon of 17 December 1944 by Japanese machine-gun fire, while walking backwards and filming the faces of advancing American marines on the small Pacific island of Peleliu. He was subsequently buried in the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetary in Ambon where we found his gravestone. Parer’s short life was the stuff of legend. He was good looking, talented, fearless and deeply religious. With an infectious laugh, he was everybody’s friend.
Parer was the first official Australian photographer of World War II. In January 1940 he sailed for the Middle East with elements of the Australian Imperial Force. From the gunboat, H.M.S. Ladybird, he filmed the bombardment of Bardia, Libya, on 2 January 1941. With Frank Hurley, he covered the Australian assault on Tobruk on 21-22 January. Three days later he accompanied ‘C’ Company, 2nd/11th Battalion, in its attack on the aerodrome at Derna, and shot his first film of infantry advancing under fire. His work was seen in war newsreels and his name became well known across Australia.
When Japan entered World War II Parer returned to Australia. After covering operations with Kanga Force around Wau and Salamaua, New Guinea, in 1942-43, he filmed the Australian withdrawal along the Kokoda Track in Papua. On 18 September Cinesound Productions Ltd released the newsreel, ‘Kokoda Front Line’, which used his footage. This film was one of four films that won the inaugural award for Best Documentary at the 1943 Academy Awards and an Oscar was presented to its producer, Ken Hall, ‘for distinctive achievement in documentary production’.
In 1943 Parer’s footage was used in the Cinesound newsreels, Men of Timor, The Bismarck Convoy Smashed and—arguably his finest work—Assault on Salamaua. Disgruntled with his salary and allowances, and convinced that the Department of Information had victimized his colleagues George Silk and Alan Anderson, he resigned in August and joined Paramount News. Thereafter he covered American operations. On 17 September 1944, the second day of the invasion of Peleliu Island in the Palau group, Parer was killed by a Japanese machine-gunner and was subsequently buried in the Ambon war cemetery.
Lest we forget