Chester Wilmot was blessed with the professional reporter’s principal virtues, talent, self-confidence, resilience, and luck. While his skills as a broadcaster took him to the various fronts of World War II, it was luck, as much as planning, that put him in Tobruk, Greece, and on the Kokoda Track at the precise moments to witness Australia’s armed forces in their first critical tests of the war. Yet if luck played its part in gifting him proximity to the action, it was his artistry, his ability to inform and enthral his listeners, to bring them to the ‘tip of the spear’, that transformed his accounts of, respectively, a siege, a rout, and a fighting withdrawal into epic adventures of the nation at war. When, at General Thomas Blamey’s insistence, Wilmot was stripped of his accreditation and sent home from New Guinea in November 1943, he turned this personal and professional crisis into a triumph, resurrecting his career in London where he reported on the fighting in Europe for the BBC’s nightly War Report.
Here he earned lasting fame with memorable broadcasts from, among other places, the D-Day invasion of Normandy, recorded in a glider ferrying combat troops across the Channel; the liberation of Brussels; Operation Market Garden (with its bridge too far at Arnhem); the Battle of the Bulge; and the tent at Luneburg Heath when the German plenipotentiaries signed the surrender documents on 4 May 1945. On hand to record the great events in North Africa, New Guinea, and Europe, Wilmot in his books was among the first influential analysts of its battles, their strategies, and the men who fashioned and implemented them.