Norman Brown, centre, the former Herald war photographer singled out for personal praise by Douglas MacArthur. Photo: Supplied Australian troops moved in behind Matilda tanks for the dawn attack on the Japanese held village of Sattelberg in 1943 during the New Guinea campaign. Photo: AWM/Norman Brown
The Beaufort aircraft in which Brown was travelling after its crash landing Photo: Supplied
Brown’s shoulder title badge. Photo: Janie Barrett
It would be satisfying enough for a war photographer to see his work from the front line published in print.
Better still: your work is noticed by the Supreme Commander for Allied Powers.
Sydney Morning Herald lensman Norman Edson Brown was enlisted by the Department of News and Information as a still photographer in February 1943.
Leaving behind wife Elisbett and two-year-old Norman, he was immediately dispatched as an official war correspondent to New Guinea where Australians were battling the advance of the Japanese. Among his personal effects to be auctioned in Sydney this month is a remarkable letter from no less a figure than General Douglas MacArthur.
The ‘Big Chief’ who arrived in the war zone to lead American forces, it seems, was something of a fan of the Herald’s man on the spot.
At the end of the war a letter arrived at the Australian Department of Information.
“It is a real pleasure to me to award you the Asiatic-Pacific Service Ribbon in view of your long and meritorious service in the Pacific Area with the forces of this command,” he wrote.
“You have added lustre to the difficult, dangerous and arduous profession of War Correspondent.”
It was personally signed by MacArthur.
The photographer’s son, Ian Brown says in a letter among the auction items: “I was four years old at the end of the war and I’m told I didn’t know who this stranger kissing my mother was.”
The items to be sold by Noble Numismatics including his medals, ‘Official War Photographer’ metal titles for shoulders and belt and a photo album of personal pictures, is estimated to be worth $5000.
Locations covered by Mr Brown, armed with only his camera, included assignments in Port Moresby, the Kokoda Track and following the Matilda tanks into the Battle at Satelberg, where after four days of conflict, Australians troops were “beginning to sense victory in the air” according to newspaper reports.
On one occasion a Beaufort aircraft in which he was travelling crash landed when its undercarriage failed but Mr Brown escaped serious injury. He did, however, contract malaria and on several occasions was sent home for treatment, always returning to the front.
His son adds that his father survived and returned home to continue his life as a press photographer moving to Melbourne in 1951. He followed in his father’s footsteps in 1958 as a cadet photographer.
John O’Connor of Noble Numismatics said war correspondents would frequently put their lives at risk.
“He was embedded with American forces, both army, navy and air force and his photographic records obviously impressed General MacArthur,” he said. “You would get the news a week later and if it wasn’t for these people there wouldn’t have been any news.”
In a sad postscript Mr Brown faced a jury in Melbourne in 1972 charged with the murder of his wife, shooting her in the head with a rifle. The prosecution alleged Elisbett, who was chronically ill, had begged her husband to shoot her.
Said to be devoted to his wife, he was found guilty of manslaughter and released on a three-year good behaviour bond after the jury made a strong recommendation for mercy. Mr Brown died in 1990.
Douglas MacArthur letter to Norman Brown
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