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Eric Shackle

A former member of its editorial staff remembers a great little paper

Sixty years ago, on November 19, 1942, Australian and US troops fighting Japanese invaders in the New Guinea jungle during World War II read the first issue of Guinea Gold, a unique four-page Australian army newspaper which day after day thereafter published a record number of world scoops.

Eric Shackle

It was able to do so because US General Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in the South-West Pacific, gave it permission to publish his communiqués 20 hours before the release time for the rest of the world's media.

New Guinea was the only war zone where the US armed forces did not produce their own newspaper, Stars and Stripes. With separate American and Australian editions, Guinea Gold fully met their needs.

Earlier in 1942, Melbourne Herald war correspondent Reg Leonard had suggested that the Army should produce its own daily newspaper. Promptly crowned a major, he became Guinea Gold's foundation editor.

Years later, Mr R.B. Leonard, O.B.E., managing director of Queensland Newspapers Pty. Ltd., said that Guinea Gold's success was due very largely to dedicated people below officer rank - men who toiled uncomplainingly and for long hours in the ramshackle buildings that housed its overworked plant.

US and Australian soldiers fraternise in Aitape, New Guinea, in 1943.  From left: John Hershey (US), Norm Terrey (Aus),  Fred ("Nis") Nisley (US), Eric Shackle (Aus) and Lloyd Thomson (Aus).


He referred to soldiers intercepting radio news by matchlight during bomber raids, some who set type by hand when mechanical equipment broke down, and others "whose brawny arms provided power for the presses when the electrical power failed."

That was the occasion when Japanese bombers had attacked Port Moresby powerhouse at 2am. Quoting Horace Chisholm, another former editor, "Officers and men and natives toiled and sweated together as they turned the heavy press over by hand, but every unit received its share of the 5000 copies they produced.

"Overcoming incredible production problems, the newspaper came out seven days a week without missing a single day, from November 1942 to June 1946. Its 1,320 days' continuous publication was easily a world record for service publications. At its peak in 1944, it produced 64,000 copies (US edition 37,000, Australian 27,000). Maximum readership was estimated at 800,000.


Giant air transports dropped food, tobacco and copies of Guinea Gold. If anything, this little newspaper was more eagerly sought than rations. To troops practically marooned in the thick of the jungle swamps this link with news of the outside world came almost as tidings from another planet. - Australians in New Guinea


The front and back pages concentrated on up-to-the-minute news from around the world, including coverage of major sporting events on the back page. Page 2 was devoted to extracts from Australian and US  newspapers published a few days previously, which air transport crews delivered to Guinea Gold.

Soldiers with newspaper experience, who had been transferred from other units when Guinea Gold was established, wrote news stories by taking shorthand notes of shortwave radio bulletins from Australia, the US Armed Forces station in San Francisco, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), All-India Radio, and others.

At Lae, the second-hand Miller high-speed flatbed press ran 20 hours a day, printing 34 million copies in little more than two years. When it was retired after the war, it had 50 welds. It's now an exhibit at the National War Museum in Canberra.

Horace ("Chis") Chisholm, the paper's last editor, recalled some of his favourite memories in an article in The Weekend Australian Magazine 20 years ago (October 30-31, 1982).

"The worst crisis in Guinea Gold's life was the day that the Port Moresby linotype and the Dobodura press broke down simultaneously," he wrote. "The problem was overcome by having the type set in Dobodura, flying the type 100 miles over the Owen Stanleys [mountains], and the paper printed on the Moresby press. Papers for the northern edition were then flown back over the Owen Stanleys.

"It was a good example of the co-operation received from the air forces. RAAF pilots flew almost daily over the Japanese lines to drop small bundles to forward fighting areas, and the day after the American forces landed at Cape Gloucester, New Britain, Flying Fortresses dropped Guinea Golds to them.

"Always we thought of the men we served: men fighting in the lonely, dank, rugged, slimy jungle depths, hauling guns up steep mountainsides, repairing shell-torn signal wires under fire."

On a lighter note, "Chis" recalled that when the newspaper promoted a "Girl I Left Behind" contest, 1700 photos of wives, sweethearts and baby daughters swamped the editorial office.
[It was a beauty contest, with full-page portraits of gorgeous girls on the front pages of a Sunday supplement, and smaller photos daily. It proved so popular that it ran for more than four months. An Australian/US judging panel decided the winners were (Australian) Miss Dorothy Faull, Federal Capital Territory, friend of Leading Air Craftman M.J. Jones, RAAF and (US) Mrs G. B. Osmun, wife of Captain G. B. Osmun, US Army.]

Among his other memories, "Chis" wrote: "On one occasion a consignment of crossword blocks and clues failed to arrive from the mainland. Staff-Sergeant E. Shackle (the Telegraph, Sydney) solved the current one and compiled one on a pattern previously used."

A few years after the war ended, one of Guinea Gold's printers, Paul Jefferson Wallace, of Sydney, compiled and published a 32-page history of the newspaper, which is now one of my most prized souvenirs. It also provided useful material for this article.

Wallace reported that on moonlight nights in its early days, production of the newspaper was often interrupted by air raids, but deadlines were still met. Blow-lamps were used to melt linotype metal during frequent power supply breakdowns.

Because the hand-set type was so badly worn, it had to be packed with layers of gummed paper underneath, to raise it to type height. On one occasion, the printers ran out of T's. A native Papuan chiselled some out of wood. When there was a shortage of R's, editor Reg Leonard added tails to P's by cutting them from L's.

Wallace also explained why an Army newspaper was needed in New Guinea. "In 1942, isolation was a morale-destroying disease in New Guinea" he wrote. "Radio sets were few and far between, men were cut off from day-to-day news" (I can vouch for that).

"The result was a flood of false rumours which swept along the Owen Stanley trail when Australian troops were just starting to push the Japanese back from their mountain strongholds.

"From the first edition on November 19, 1942, until the presses rolled to a stop on June 30, 1946, with the enviable record of 1,320 days of continuous publication, Guinea Gold daily brought to the news-hungry men of the Australian and American forces serving in the steaming jungle, topics of interest to allay their boredom and boost their morale."

In all, 237 Australian soldiers worked on Guinea Gold for varying periods. Not one of them was there for the full three and a half years' life of that unique and vital newspaper.

To see Guinea Gold's special VP (Victory, Pacific) World War II edition, click on IT'S OVER


Before Guinea Gold started, the only source of news to the troops came from a news sheet called MANS (Moresby Army News Sheet). This was a single sheet printed on two sides letterpress and was produced by the Army Educational Unit.

The unofficial news going the rounds was known in the slang of the time as the "G.G." ("Good Guts"). The [Australian] Commander-in-Chief was not so isolated from his troops that he did not know. He played with the letters "G.G." and produced the title for the paper - "Guinea Gold."

General Blamey also decided its transport priority - after ammunition, but equal with rations.
- From Guinea Gold History (Paul Jefferson Wallace).

A hundred years ago, Guinea Gold was the name of a popular brand of British cigarettes which were five a penny. In each packet was a card, which today may be worth hundreds of dollars (or pounds) to a collector. You can read about them at FRANKLYN CARDS.

In the 21st century, Guinea Gold is better known as the name of a gold-mining company, a climbing vine, several other species of plants, and many other objects.

How did that name Guinea Gold come about? Webster Dictionary, 1913 explains how the term was er, coined, 339 years ago. Here are its definitions of the word GUINEA:

  1.  A district on the west coast of Africa (formerly noted for its export of gold and slaves) after which the Guinea fowl, Guinea grass, Guinea peach, etc., are named.
  2. A gold coin of England current for twenty-one shillings sterling, or about five dollars, but not coined since the issue of sovereigns in 1817.
    The guinea, so called from the Guinea gold out of which it was first struck, was proclaimed in 1663, and to go for twenty shillings; but it never went for less than twenty-one shillings.

In World War II, Guinea Gold newspapers were free. Today, like the cigarette cards before them, they have become collectors' items.


Copyright © 2002

Eric Shackle

Story first posted November 2002

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