Typewriters Behind Enemy Lines

Posted on November 10, 2017 by Bruce Walker

By Robert Messenger
Alan Wood was a World War II correspondent who became immortalised in print in Britain and his native Australia, online by Wikipedia, in plastic in China and, even as lately as this year, in a "war correspondent's reenactment" performance in Arnhem in Holland.


Wood was famously photographed using his Remington Model 2 portable typewriter in a ditch astride the Utrechtseweg near Oosterbeek on September 18, 1944. The photo was taken by Dennis Smith, one of three official photographers with the British Army Film and Photographic Unit who, with Wood, were parachuted with the 1st British Airborne Division behind enemy lines, into Arnhem in September 1944.
Smith's photograph was later used by the Ningbo Weijun Plastic Mould Co Ltd to make a 1:35 scale plastic model of Wood for Bronco Models, to form part of its "WWII British & Commonwealth War Correspondent Set".


Wood was working for the London Daily Express when he covered the Battle of Arnhem, part of Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery's ill-fated and hugely costly Operation Market Garden. This was an attempt to make a single thrust north over the branches of the Lower Rhine, to bypass the German Siegfried Line and attack the Ruhr. The 1st Airborne Division lost almost three-quarters of its strength and did not see combat again. The Allies suffered 17,200 casualties in the operation. In his tribute to Wood in The Times of London on November 5, 1957, philosopher Bertrand Russell said Wood "Had the distinction of being the only newspaperman to send dispatches from Arnhem ..."


It wasn't easy for Wood to get his typewriter into Arnhem. Captain Geoffrey Forde of the No 2 Forward Observation Unit with the Royal Artillery volunteered to serve in the Airborne Forces in 1944. After the war he wrote about his part in the Rhine crossing operation: "One rather interesting thing happened to me ... A tall, fair, rather quiet looking war reporter had asked me if I would bring in his typewriter in my jeep and deposit it at brigade headquarters as he had no room for it. He was going in by parachute. I accepted the typewriter, and after taking off I fixed it firmly in the jeep against the shock of landing. Well over two years later I saw a film, Theirs is the Glory, of the 1st Airborne Division at Arnhem, and there was my quiet-looking war reporter telling all England that when they met an airborne type to 'bring him a drink'. He was there at Arnhem and I hope sometime I shall have the chance to buy him a drink. They were very brave men at Arnhem and he was with them. His name was Alan Wood."
In 1944 Wood wrote a book called The Falaise Road, a harrowing account of the end of the German 6th Army in Normandy.
Alan Wood lost a leg from wounds suffered in Operation Varsity on March 24, 1945. This was a successful airborne forces operation launched by Allied troops which involved more than 16,000 paratroopers and several thousand aircraft - the largest airborne operation in history to be conducted on a single day and in one location.
In 1949 London Daily Telegraph correspondent Leonard Gander wrote his autobiography, After These Many Quests, and in chapter 16, "Airborne Ballast", named all six war correspondents who were involved on the British side in Operation Varsity. Of these, three went in by glider: Gander, Canadian Stanley Maxted and Geoffrey Bocca. The other three, who elected to parachute, included Seaghan Maynes, Wood and American Bob Vermillion. Gander wrote, "All my colleagues turned up one by one, except Bocca and Wood. Bocca had been captured, but was released after a few days none the worse. Unluckily Wood, the bravest war reporter I ever met, was wounded in the leg and lost the limb."
Alliott Alan Whitfeld Wood was born in Sydney on October 6, 1914. He was the son of George Arnold Wood, a brilliant English-born Australian history professor, and a nephew of Hubert Edwin Whitfeld, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Western Australia. George Wood is best remembered for having the extreme courage to be an ardent opponent of British tactics in the Boer War, publicly protesting against "a policy that is bringing everlasting infamy upon the English name".
Alan Wood graduated in arts from Sydney University and was a member of the Australian Christian Student Movement. After attending a movement conference at St Peter's College in Adelaide in late August 1935, he left for England, where he studied Modern Greats at Oxford University and became president of the Oxford Union in 1938. At the time he used a Corona 3 portable typewriter. As president of the union he succeeded Philip Toynbee and was succeeded by future British Prime Minister Edward Heath.
After the war Wood became head of the Overseas Food Corporation's Information Division, but left after exposing lies about the Tanganyika groundnut scheme (about which he wrote a book, The Groundnut Affair, in 1950). In September 1946, he married fellow journalist Winifred Mary Seaton, with whom he wrote books, including Islands in Danger (1955), a history of the German occupation of the Channel Islands. On his own Wood wrote biographies of philosopher Bertrand Russell, filmmaker J. Arthur Rank and newspaper owner Lord Beaverbrook, as well as Flying Visits, a 1956 work critical of Australia. Alan Wood died of an incurable brain disorder at the Atkinson Morley Hospital in London on October 27, 1957, aged just 43.
Earlier this year, a US "WW2 War Correspondent Re-enactor" called Paul Watson contacted me to say he was headed to Arnhem "to continue to try to bring further understanding and appreciation amongst WW2 re-enactors and [the] public to the role played by such correspondents [as Wood]. Armed with nothing but their wits and writing implements, they recorded the foundation of the modern world."


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