Slouch hat, Damien Parer: Major Theodore P. Wagner, Fifth Air Force, USAAF

Accession Number REL/18202
Collection type Heraldry
Object type Headdress
Physical description Copper, Fur felt, Rabbit hair
Maker Unknown
Place made Australia
Date made c 1940
Conflict Second World War, 1939-1945

Australian Army khaki fur felt slouch hat, crushed and mishapen, but relatively intact. The felt is in good condition. It is missing the pugaree.

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History / Summary

Australian Army slouch hat worn by combat cameraman Damien Peter Parer. Parer had established a reputation as a front-line cameraman and covered the RAN in action in the Mediterranean, the AIF in action at Derna, Greece, Syria and Tobruk during 1940-41. When the AIF changed focus to the South West Pacific Area, he covered operations on the Kokoda Trail and at Salamua, with the commandos on Timor, and the RAAF in the Battle of the Bismark Sea in 1942- 3. He always had a great desire to film ahead of the troops and frequently placed himself in danger.

In August 1943, after almost 12 months of a bitter relationship with his employer, the Australian Department of Information, he resigned and joined Paramount News, covering the Americans in the Pacific. His 'handler', censor and guide was Major Theodore P. Wagner, the Public Relations officer for the 5th US Army Air Force. Wagner was variously stationed at Brisbane, Port Moresby, Nadzab, Owi and Leyte.

Despite his reputation as a cold-natured man, Wagner developed a close bond with Parer and the two would share jokes and banter regularly. Wagner was impressed by Parer’s intelligence and sense of humour.

Parer had already covered the invasion of Guam in July/August 1944, and in September was preparing to accompany the Marines to cover the invasion of Pelileu. The following scene was witnessed by Theodore C. Wagner of the 375th Troop Carrier Group (USAAF), the son of Major Theodore P Wagner: 'I was visiting dad’s office [at Nadzab] one evening when I detected that the mood of those present was rather sombre. There was no laughter, little conversation and I could feel that something was wrong. Damien sat on the floor surrounded by his worldly goods and was slowly packing his rucksack for what was to be his final trip.

'As he fondled each personal item he would pause for a moment, reach out and say "Here Jack – this is for you." He picked up his Anzac hat, placed it on his head jauntily and then tossed to my dad, saying "Here Teep [his nickname for the Major] this old cap is too much to carry."

'An official message detailing Damien’s death reached my dad late one afternoon. As he read, his lips began to tremble and tears ran down his cheeks. The message crumbled in his hands and fell to the floor. He lowered his head to his hands and [he] sobbed audibly "Damn!" '

Damien Parer was killed on 17 September 1944 covering the Marine invasion of Pelileu. He was targetted by a Japanese machine gunner. Parer had been filming Marines following in the wake of a Sherman tank, and as always, he was ahead of the troops. The footage in his camera was ruined when troops pulled it from the case and exposed it.

After his parents had died (Theodore in 1976 and his wife in 1987) their son Theodore found this hat amongst Wagner’s most treasured possessions.