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WHEN YOU HAVEN'T GOT A GUN - The whimsical adventures of an official war photographer 



 when you havent got a gun
David Leslie Rintel was born in Western Australia, the son of pioneer farmers.  He left the farm in his late teens and made the quantum leap to become apprenticed to a movie photographer.  Later in Melbourne he became a newsreel photographer, meeting and marrying Frankie on her 21st birthday. At the beginning of World War II the couple opened their home as a hostel for newly enlisted servicemen, housing and feeding up to 40 men a night. This continued until David enlisted and the ‘Army Leave Club’ had to close. His son, Derek, was only five or six years old and his job was to leap upon their beds in the morning to awaken the soldiers. 
This story follows the author’s time spent in the army as cameraman, rolling his camera alongside the soldiers who were fighting the Japanese during World War II. From the fighting in Egypt to the sweltering unforgiving jungles of PNG and the horrendous Kokoda Track, his diary captures the soldiers’ daily challenges and courage. David kept his camera rolling and wrote his story with a sense of larrikin humour even though he was going through bouts of terrible dysentery and hardship. Finally the Japanese surrendered—a moment in world history that David witnessed and recorded firsthand.
After arriving home, young Derek joined his father in the city to film the celebrations when official surrender was announced. With a collection of charming and humorous illustrations Derek Rintel brings his father’s story to life and gives us all insight into a time in the not-too-distant past that is precious all Australians.

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ISBN: 978-1-921919-96-1    
Format: Paperback
Number of pages: 156
Genre: Non Fiction

Cover: Clive Dalkins

Author: David L. Rintel
Publisher: Zeus Publications
Date Published: 2014
Language: English
Transcribed by
Francesca Rintel
Edited by
Derek Rintel

 

 

About the Author

 

David Leslie Rintel was born in Wickepin, Western Australia on 30 August, 1904, second son of Immanuel and Florence Rintel, pioneer farmers.  He left the farm in his late teens and became apprenticed to a movie photographer in Perth. From there he moved to Melbourne and became a newsreel photographer, meeting and marrying Frances Dane on her 21st birthday. At the beginning of World War II the couple opened their home as a hostel for newly enlisted servicemen, turning out several tenants, housing and feeding up to 40 men a night. This continued for about two years until David enlisted and the ‘Army Leave Club’ had to close for lack of money.

David Rintel joined originally as a truck driver-private and was sent to Egypt, but when the army decided to use his other skills he was immediately promoted to warrant officer, sent to New Guinea and given command of a small photographic unit. He filmed army landings, tramped over the Kokoda trail and filmed a number of battles and finally, several surrender ceremonies.

During the war he returned to Melbourne headquarters several times with loads of sometimes gruesome souvenirs.

David’s wife, Frances, had written and published several short stories and assisted him in turning his war diaries into a small book. 

 

Prologue

 

The year is 2002 and I am sorting through my parents’ papers after moving into our fourth house in two years. Upon retiring we moved to the Gold Coast with a mountain of hoarded material from four generations of the Rintel clan. The first Rintels in Australia arrived circa 1845 and naturally there is a lot to tell. My parents led full and interesting lives and I feel a bit ordinary in comparison. Mother was a musician and composer as well as a published writer. She wrote short stories that were published in the Women’s Weekly, New Idea and Pertinent, as well as a weekly children’s radio slot that ran for over two years. My father was a movie photographer, farmer, entrepreneur and army officer.

World War II was a stressful interruption in the lives of our family although we gratefully survived without major loss. Never one to waste material, my mother decided to utilise the memories she pulled out of Dad both as a novel and unconsciously as a means of overcoming the trauma of six years of separation. The book is really too short for a commercial novel so I have woven in some of her unpublished stories. Now I have this mountain of paper and if I don’t do something about it, all this wealth of material is likely to be lost. My brother, David, is collating Mother’s musical achievements and putting them onto CDs so the rest of the family can have access to our legacy.

My son arrived back from the USA yesterday where he is studying for his PhD.

“Sean, can you help me set up the document scanner so I can put Mum and Dad’s writing into the computer?”

“Sure, no trouble, Dad. You just have to put the docs ups here and then transfer them into a data file and label them.”

While I fumble through the steps on the computer I recall my mother laboriously typing her way through realms of paper with spoiled carbon copies fluttering in the wastepaper basket.

At least when I have put it in the computer the editing and copying is a cinch but somehow I feel that the value of her typed stories far outweigh whatever I can do. I faced another problem when tidying up the copied material. Some of the language is dated, even in the fifty-odd years since it was first written.

There have been major changes in customary spelling and grammar since the beginning of the 20th century. Some of this is due to the Microsoft spell check that unifies spelling in the American way. Some of it is because the language of WWII is no longer appropriate. So to make it more readable by the following generation I have modified both spelling and grammar in minor ways. 

Introduction

 

"Shut up,” said my wife, beginning to type furiously. I obediently closed my mouth and thumbed the dog-eared pages of the battered diary. The typewriter’s clatter ceased abruptly. “What sort of day was it?” she asked, hands poised above the keys. I hastily racked my brain, trying to project myself back into the past.

“Was it hot? Were your hands sticky?” “They certainly were.”

I could remember the clammy patches under my arms, on my back under the weighty camera pack. “That’ll do,” she said, resuming the clatter. This was the way we worked on the diary. I would turn on the flood of reminiscence, like a tap, until something of consequence came out, when Frankie would shut it off quickly and pound away at the typewriter until she had exhausted all the possibilities. Meanwhile, I would sit reading the old diaries, living again the past.

Every now and then one or both of our two children would burst into the room accompanied by the boisterous and exuberant pup, and after they had gone we would search fruitlessly for some vital letter sent flying off the desk and now lost in the welter on the floor. We had no domestic help and the difficulties attending the compilation of this book would have sent gray the hair of any ordinary woman. But then, Frankie is no ordinary woman.

 Read a sample:

Chapter 1

When You Haven’t Got a Gun

 

That was the trouble, neither of us had a gun, and there we were, Syd and I, crouched amid the flanged roots of a tall tree on the side of the narrow muddy trail. The day was hot and muggy as usual in New Guinea, and underneath the cine camera on my back my shirt was wet and sticky. The real shooting was due to start at any moment. Other troops clad in jungle fatigues lay sprawled on the damp earth underneath a canopy of leaves. My watch said 2.30. According to the officers, the battle had been timed to start an hour ago. We waited, tense with expectation ... it was on!

The echoing crack of a .303 shattered the heavy, pregnant silence and was answered by a Japanese woodpecker light rifle only 200 yards away. Then absolute bedlam followed. Our .303s, Tommy guns, mortars; the Japanese woodpecker, grenades, mortars and finally, their mountain guns. Shells screeched overhead and we heard them burst behind us. Above us bullets zipped through the branches, nicking off leaves and plunking into tree trunks.

The dense jungle prevented us from seeing the source of the action and we could only gauge what was happening by the various noises. After twenty minutes of this my ears ached from the shock waves of the nearby explosions. It was our first taste of battle and candidly, we were scared! Our training, good though it had been, had not prepared us for the fury that now seemed to be unleashed. We marvelled at the apparent unconcern of the seasoned veterans around us.

The idea of filming a battle did not, at first, seem to involve too much personal danger. I was soon to learn differently. I had the little DeVry movie camera at the ready and Syd was clutching the heavier Eyemo, waiting for a chance to photograph something. Unfortunately in PNG there were no open fields and grand panoramas, our vision was limited and the battles were up close and personal. A uniformed officer, whom I had noticed prowling around a bit, and who seemed to have some authority—although none of the fighters were wearing official insignia—called softly.

“Hey! You two!”

I turned my head in his direction.

“Are you blokes here for anything special?”

I shook my head. “Just pictures.”

“Well, I think you’d better get back a bit,” he advised. “It doesn’t look too healthy.”

Just then, one of our ammunition carriers, drenched in sweat, ran past as fast as his mud-laden boots would carry him. He slipped over and slid a few feet on his backside on the muddy track. Hoarsely he told us that the Japanese were counterattacking. Quietly cursing, he hurried on. A tall chap, from a higher vantage point on the ridge, said, “I think you’d better stop where you are. The Japs have probably crossed the track down below.”

So we sat tight while all around us hell crashed and banged until our ears rang. Unlike Egypt, from where I had recently come, there were no roads, no open spaces allowing easy movement. Just steep and slippery mountain tracks, twisting and turning with hidden pitfalls around every turn. Here everything had to be carried on our backs or dragged painfully through the mud. Ammo carriers scurried back and forth bent double under heavy loads, appearing and disappearing in the green jungle. Syd and I, for the umpteenth time, bemoaned the fact that we had left our .45 pistols behind in our endeavour to travel light.

Finally, word was passed that the counterattack had petered out, and Syd and I started back along the trail, following a stretcher party. The wounded man was pretty badly hurt, and I wouldn’t have given much for his chance of survival. He was unconscious, which was just as well, for getting a stretcher through this country is not my idea of a picnic. Steep slopes and deep ravines, the track twisting and turning, and the jungle blocking the way at every step. Two chaps with axes walked ahead, pushing aside and holding back thick bushes, to let the party pass through, sometimes chopping a passage. The trail was not nearly as bad as the Kokoda one had been, however, although in parts we had to rely on the newly laid signal wire to tell us where to go, for there was no recognizable path whatever.

It was just about here, I thought, that I had caught up with the troops that morning. We had chased them over the Kokoda Trail, passed them on the descending slope, and then while we messed about Kokoda, photographing the arrival of General Vasey and the hoisting of the Australian flag, they had overtaken us again.  

The Boongs (Papuans to you) had travelled with us to Kokoda, and their joy upon entering it was wonderful to see. They had bedecked themselves with flowers from the plantations, mainly hibiscus, orange and white, and some of the woolly heads were literally covered with the blooms. Many of them had worked on this plantation and to them it was like coming home. To us, the homestead was the first sign of civilization we had had since leaving Moresby, many miles away on the other side of the island, and many days walk.

Here on this tortuous mountain track, impassable even to the ubiquitous jeep, travel is counted by how fast you can walk. For not even mules can survive in this part of the country, where no grass grows in the jungle-covered mountains. But I was telling you about the troops. When setting out that morning, I had told the cook where we were going, and he gave us each a tin of bully and several thick slices of bread, the first we had seen for weeks, and which had been landed by plane. When we encountered the troops on the trail (they were the 2/3rd Battalion, by the way, 6th Divvy chaps) I handed out some of the bread. They stared at it incredulously.

“Bread!” “Real bread!” They tore it into fragments and made so much noise at the sight of it that the lieutenant in charge tried to hush them.

“Hey. Cut it out, you blokes!” he shouted, trying to muffle his voice. “The Japs’ll hear us!”

We ended up by passing out all the bread we both had, breaking it into small pieces and distributing it like lollies. Some fellows put it away carefully to eat with their bully beef later on, while those who ate it immediately, rolled it over and over their tongues, savouring every morsel.

It was getting late. We left the stretcher party and pushed on. About half a mile back from the front line we came to brigade HQ, a huddle of dirty brown tents amid the dense jungle green. Here we spent some time photographing a ‘woodpecker’, a new type of Japanese machine gun. (New to us, that is—the Japanese had been using them in China for some time). It was the first to be captured in this campaign.

I sighted again the brigadier to whom we had been presented ourselves earlier in the day. When I had introduced myself and said we were from Military History Section and wanted to get some pictures, he had stared at me penetratingly. “How do I know that?” he demanded suddenly, and followed this up by saying as if to reassure himself. “You don’t look like a Japanese, anyway!”

We also took a few shots of ammunition being distributed to fresh troops. They were all very young, none being more than 19 or 20, but every one an experienced campaigner. We had no camping gear with us at all, but we thought we would be able to stay the night at the Army Service Corps (ASC) dump, about halfway back to Kokoda. On the trail we kept overtaking wounded men, some walking, some stretcher cases, carried by sweating natives.

They were all very tired and nearing the end of their tether, so we delved into our pockets and found some malted milk tablets and some pieces of dried apple, and these we distributed as far as they would go. A bit further on, a tree blown down by shellfire blocked the steep track, necessitating a detour.

We stopped for a breather, cursing our luck. When you are very tired, the road is full of pitfalls, even for the strong and well. For the injured a misstep can jar a painful wound, or a slip in the mud starts a bullet hole bleeding anew, every step a fresh straw added to your already heavy burden. The trail went on and on. The cameras bumped heavily against our backs and our shirts were sticking to our bodies. The interminable heat and the constant climbing sapped our energy.

The ASC dump up ahead looked like the Promised Land, but for us it proved just about as inaccessible. We found that we were unable to stay there as it was full of wounded and there was no room for us. There was nothing for us but to push on to Kokoda. We were damnably tired, but that seemed to be a permanent condition of this jungle war. We knew that we could keep going for quite a long time.

The only drawback was that it was getting dark, so on we stumbled. Then to add to our miseries, it began to rain. “Oh, Lord!” groaned Syd. “Our blankets are out in this. They’ll be sopping wet again”.

“Unless someone thinks to put them inside the tent,” I said. “George Peppin might.”

I was trying to remember, as I spoke, whether I had a clean shirt back at camp. We wore only shirt and shorts during the day, and since we were either wet with sweat or wet with rain, putting on a clean shirt to go to bed really meant putting on a dry one. We came into a stretch of track which, for about two miles, ran through jungle so thick that the foliage met overhead and the track was like a dark tunnel.

The ground was slimy, for the sun never penetrated here. Scattered along this part of the trail were dozens of broken Japanese bicycles, and some dead mules—very dead, and stinking to high heaven. We had seen them on the way up, just a seething mass of black insects, about three inches long, something like a cockroach in appearance. We could not see them now, of course, but we could smell them. I came back this way about four days later, and there was nothing left but a few bones, not even the smell.  

It grew darker still, and every now and then Syd would slip and fall into the mud, sometimes on his knees, sometimes full length, but always trying to swing the camera up out of it. Both he and the Eyemo were mud from hell to breakfast time. I have never heard anyone swear like Syd could. He cursed the mud, the country, the Japanese, the war, himself and anything else he could think of. His vocabulary was extensive, too. He hardly repeated himself at all. The trail went on and on, but we knew at last we were nearly there.

Clay-surfaced and slippery with rain, the last steep little slope was almost too much for us. We were like learners on ice, struggling to keep our balance. We would go up two steps and slip back one, but we made it at last. We left word at the hospital about the wounded men coming along who would never be able to climb that slippery slope, and told them to send out helpers.

Then we stumbled to our little pup tent and dumped our gear. George had put our blankets inside as we had hoped. This was a great relief, for we were soaked to the skin, and it was still raining. We were totally exhausted, wet and muddy and longing for sleep. However hunger drove us on, for we had given away all our food. Syd went to interview the cook, and such were his powers of persuasion that we were soon gorging ourselves with meat loaf and mashed potatoes (dried variety), followed by bread, butter and jam.

This was real luxury indeed. Supplies of bread, however, petered out next day. Every camp had its peculiarities, and this one was no exception. We were just inside the rubber plantation, where the trees stretched in rows as far as we could see. These trees are bare of vegetation until about 25 feet up, and then they branch out suddenly, umbrella like. The vista through the plantation was not unlike a pillared hall, roofed over with leaves.

Wind could be heard rustling and tossing above our heads, but no wind could be felt at ground level. Planes could be heard, but not seen. When it rained, which was often, it did so with great gusto, drumming on the canopy above, and the thick foliage would hold up the rain for quite a while then, suddenly, down would come a deluge in huge buckets-full.

It was doing this as we crawled into the little two-man tent. It was barely three feet high in the middle and it sloped sharply to the sides. To raise it a bit we had, perforce, left the sides a few inches from the ground. Puddles formed here, and rain dripping from the edges had a habit of splashing up inside, so I had surrounded the tent with palm leaves, which seemed quite effective.

Tired though we were, we found it impossible to go to sleep straight away. I was worried about the film position. My task as a photographer for the Military History Section of the Australian Armed Forces was to film any and all battles, landings or preparations for military action. As a WO2 (Warrant Officer Class 2) I was in charge of a unit of just two people, myself and my sergeant. Without film there was nothing for us to do.

“How much film have you got left?” I asked Syd.

“About sixty feet in the camera,” he said.

“Well, I think you’d better go back to Moresby as soon as possible.” I told him. “I’ve sent signals for film, but none has arrived, and it’s no good hanging around here without any.”

“I’d better finish up what I’ve got left hadn’t I?” he asked, yawning mightily.

“You’ll be able to do that tomorrow,” I said. “You’d better send me the 100-foot rolls, and keep the 400-foot rolls for the Eyemo.”

“Y-a-a-w!” he agreed, stretching and yawning, and was asleep almost before he had closed his mouth. I lay awake, turning over in my mind the difficulties of our position. As a two-man unit we were dependent for support upon the goodwill of other unit commanders. We were the only cinematographers in this field of operations and apart from Lieutenant Tom Fisher, whose whereabouts we did not know.

Later, it turned out, he had been killed soon after we arrived in New Guinea. So we were the only members of the Military History Section in New Guinea at that time. The military photographers job was to get as close to the action as possible without getting killed. Unfortunately, many good men, keen to get that extra bit of footage, unwittingly exposed themselves while their eyes were glued to the camera. I was determined to do the best job I could but not to have that happen to me.

It rankled that we did not have commissioned rank. At this time I was a WO1 (Warrant Officer Class 1) and Syd a sergeant, not even officer status. Unlike the photographers of the Department of Information and the newspapermen, who were granted honorary commissions or at least status, we were constantly coming up against frustrating obstacles. Although we had left Melbourne together, I had arrived in New Guinea two days earlier than Syd, who as a sergeant, had had to give way to higher priorities.

Now in the field of activity we were hampered by not being able to eat with the officers and so be in on the discussions affecting our work. We were entirely ignorant of what was afoot, so we probably missed many good stories. Also, as the Military History Unit was not involved in prosecuting the offensive, we had nobody back in Moresby to watch our interests or send us supplies, which was why it was necessary to send Syd back. ‘Could I get transport for him,’ I wondered, and still cudgelling my brains, I slid into oblivion.


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