Sons of the Anzacs
Fiction pictures can achieve, at best, only a certain realism. Sons of the Anzacs is not “realistic”; it is reality. And yet it is not a horror picture, but the actual unfolding of the work of our men and women along the lines of communication in battles that are now famous.
Program for Sons of the Anzacs
By 1943 the role of film in reporting on and promoting Australians during the Second World War had been firmly established. The newsreels produced by Cinesound and Fox Movietone were screening before features and in their own theatrettes. But the board of the Australian War Memorial felt that the larger narrative of the war was being lost. This, along with the success of the Memorial’s first feature length documentary We of the AIF (see Wartime 102) led to the development of a sequel, Sons of the Anzacs.
ABC war correspondent Chester Wilmot was employed to write the script and work with producers Mervyn Scales and Arthur Higgins to edit the film from the archive of footage shot by the Department of Information and the Military History and Information Section. Wilmot had been in the Middle East and the Pacific himself, reporting on the war. He knew the events personally, and had often stood next to the cinematographer as they filmed. Wilmot’s aim was to avoid the dramatic tone of the newsreels, aiming for historical fact and refusing to use any footage that had been staged. Wilmot himself recorded the film’s narration but felt his voice alone was not enough, so Peter Finch was brought in to perform part of the voice over. Finch had initially enlisted and served as an anti-aircraft gunner, but was given leave to star in propaganda shorts and feature films.
In making the film Wilmot was also acknowledging the work of the cinematographers who he had served beside in the field: Frank Hurley, Bill Carty, Frank Bagnall, Roy Driver and most notably, Damien Parer. Parer even spent a week working with the production team, editing the film and reading over Wilmot’s script, voicing opinions on the tone and language used – particularly in relation to Parer’s footage from Salamaua campaign. So strong were his insights that it was decided it would be more authentic if Parer delivered them himself. Their first attempt at recording had to be abandoned – because Parer was wildly excited about getting married the next day. He suggested they wait until after the nuptial mass at 9.30 am; he was duly in the studio at midday, recorded his voice-over in one take, and then they all headed off to the reception.
The film released in early 1945 to great acclaim, screening in cinemas across the country and raising funds for the Australian War Memorial and the Returned Sailors’ Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia. It was the only feature- length documentary to be released about the Second World War while it was still being fought.
In 1968 the film was re-edited to include the final 18 months of the war; but it does use some footage that was staged, and does not credit any of the cinematographers who had worked so hard to gather the film. It clearly lacks the strong lived experiences of Wilmot, Finch and Parer in telling the story.