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Page 22

Humour the best weapon

Here's a transcript of the rest of Greg Ray's story, since the newspaper image is not suitable for display.

From Page 21

Looking back, Eric describes his wartime life as "a charmed existence".

"The 1st Field Squadron always seemed to be a few weeks behind the heavy fighting and, although we were at places like Milne Bay, Aitape and Wewak, it was always after the Australian and American infantry had done the hard work."

As a journalist and self-confessed "compulsive writer", Eric churned out a series of mostly humorous articles about army life in the tropics. These were published in the Army Education journal, Salt, and in civilian newspapers and magazines such as Pocketbook Weekly.

"I wrote to break the monotony of the war," he said.

During his two 18-month periods in New Guinea he said he spent many hours "spine-bashing" in his tent.

Eric says he doesn't like to dwell on his war service.

If he's proud of any part of it, it's his stint working on Guinea Gold, the famous Australian soldiers' newspaper. Yellowing and fragile copies of Guinea Gold are rarely seen these days but, in its heyday, the little four-page news-sheet was a precious commodity to fighting men in the New Guinea war zone to whom airlifted copies were almost as sought-after as food rations.

The paper's name is said to have been devised as a reference to "good guts", the slang term for unofficial news and rumour. Its first issue appeared on November 19, 1942, and Guinea Gold consistently scooped the world's media on many war stories before it stopped publication on June 30, 1946.

That was because US General Douglas MacArthur, supreme Allied Commander in the South West Pacific, gave the paper permission to publish his communiqués 20 hours before release time for the rest of the world's media. With separate US and Australian editions, Guinea Gold's beaten-up old presses churned out tens of millions of copies.

When the main press was retired from duty after the war it sported more than 50 welds. It's now an exhibit in the national War Memorial.

His roles included editing, sub-editing, taking notes from radio for news reports and making up crossword clues when the proper ones failed to turn up in time from the Cairns Post

AT 85, Eric is used to being held up as an example to "seniors".

He's retired a few times but he just can't stop writing.

After the war he went back to journalism becoming The Telegraph's Canberra-based political writer.

He quit newspapers and spent a number of years in public relations for BP. When he moved to the Central Coast he kept up the PR career for some time before commuting wore him down.

"I went into recess until I discovered the internet in 1999," he said.

In fact retirement was a terrible shock to his system, accustomed as he was to a very busy life.

Now he's found the web it seems there's no stopping him. Eric has begun an "e-book", titled Life Begins at 80 ... on the Internet, and he's constantly updating this work-in-progress with all manner of yarns drawn from his own life and from those of his ever-widening global circle of friends.

"I know most people my own age are frightened of the net. I want to persuade them that it's a new magical world which could interest them in their dotage," he said.

"What I've discovered is that the internet is unlimited. It really is the world's largest library."

Eric estimates that he spends about five or six hours a day surfing the net: "I have a lot of spare time. A lot of people do, at my age.

"At first I had great difficulty understanding a computer for about month. After the first month it gradually came together."

He's received many letters from older people whom he has put in touch with the wide world of the web.


Story first posted May 2004

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