Printing the first draft of history from frontline of war

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From global wars to the Falklands conflict, as The Yorkshire Post celebrates its 260th anniversary, Chris Bond looks back 
at the way wars have been reported.

THE weapons of war have changed a great deal since 1754, when The Yorkshire Post first came into being.

The bayonets and muskets used during the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763) are a far cry from the precision drone strikes we hear about today.

War reporting, too, has changed a great deal. In 1815, news of Napoleon’s defeat and surrender at Waterloo took weeks to reach the public. In those days, of course, there were no satellite links or embedded journalists reporting from the frontline.

During the Second World War reporters sent back vivid accounts of what was happening. From 1943, Joe Illingworth saw some of the main action and the historic events that followed for the Yorkshire Post.

He later recounted some of what he had witnessed. “I rode into Paris and Brussels alongside the tanks, I watched the crossing of the Rhine and the German army turning into a rabble. I was in the little tent on Luneberg Heath when Montgomery accepted their surrender. Himmler, conveniently for me, committed suicide within half a mile of the camp in which I was billeted and I saw him lying under a grey army blanket. After the war there was the long stay in Berlin,” he wrote.

“Then came Nuremberg. I saw the beginning of it and the end when that bold ruffian Goering was, as I like to say, sentenced to death twice. He stood there in his baggy uniform in the twilight of the court while the words were being spoken. Suddenly the court was electrified. Goering was holding up his hand and pointing at his headphones. One gathered from his gestures that he could hear no sound on them. Then, coolly and deliberately before his guard could interrupt him, he bent down and began to re-adjust the plug to which his headphones were connected. It was if he were tying his own noose. When this had been done, Goering looked across the court-room with a faint sardonic smile and gave a nod. He could hear again. Then, slowly and solemnly, his sentence was repeated.”

Nearly 40 years later Derek Hudson, the Yorkshire Post’s chief reporter at the time, found himself going ashore with British troops at Port San Carlos during the Falklands conflict. He later wrote: “We’ve all seen those newsreel shots of D-Day 1944, with the soldiers going ashore in Normandy towards that abandoned cafe. At dawn on May 21, I struggled down the ladders of HMS Intrepid with A Company of 3 Para just as a shout went up, ‘Air raid red!’ We’d all been given two mortar bombs and boxes of ammunition. I couldn’t say, ‘I’m a reporter’ – everyone had to do it as part of the logistics of getting things ashore.

“I found myself chest high in cold water wading ashore on Green One Beach with all this stuff under my arms and an Olympia portable typewriter round my neck. After a dash across the pebbles of the beach and over the ridge-line, I lay sprawled among half a dozen other men, hoping the ground would open up and let us wriggle out of sight of a Pucara.

“People a generation older than me knew about regular combat. They’d endured years of warfare, they’d been prisoners of war. Like nearly every man, you wonder how you will react these circumstances. In the Falklands, I never charged alongside men going into action. But facing attack from the air, or under artillery barrage on Mount Kent, I was frightened.”

He had no idea if his despatches were getting through to the Yorkshire Post and several disappeared without trace, but his pooled report of how the Paras spearheaded the dash towards liberating the capital travelled widely and was seen by friends as far away as New Zealand.

“The climax for me was walking into Port Stanley being cheered by the Falklanders. I’d protest, ‘I’m not a soldier, I’m a reporter,’ and they said, ‘It doesn’t matter, you’re British.’”

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