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Reg and Joan Luckie Gladys Moncrieff and servicemen - AWM 029617

ABC's wartime trickery

Just before Christmas 1943, thousands of Australian radio listeners fondly imagined they were hearing Gladys Moncrieff singing in a frontline concert for Australian troops in the muddy, sweaty, dangerous New Guinea jungle.

"Our Glad," as the nation's favourite musical comedy star was called, was in New Guinea all right, but she was performing in the comparative safety and comfort of the Port Moresby headquarters of the Army newspaper, Guinea Gold.

"It was a terrible swindle," soldier/journalist Sergeant Reg Luckie (right) wrote to his Sydney girlfriend Joan Hackett (whom he later married).

Their eldest son, Michael, now living in England, has posted the letter on the internet, disclosing a radio hoax that has remained secret for 62 years.

The letter (reprinted with Michael's permission) reads:

By the way, we had noises off for "Our Glad" yesterday. If you listen carefully to your ABC programmes, you may hear it; it's a terrible swindle, though.

It purports to be a broadcast of a camp concert "somewhere in New Guinea" - actually it was recorded in our hut.

They had microphones all over the place and the announcer read some blurb about:

"It is a tropic night in New Guinea. I can see the thousands of eager, upturned faces. The glow of cigarettes is like the flash of fireflies. The stars shine from the mantle of rich black above."

Actually it was broad daylight and I've never seen anything so lacking in glamour.

We all had to cheer and laugh at the direction of the cheer leader and poor Glad's makeup was running all over her face. She sang (of course) "My Hero" and we all joined in, lustily.

When they played the record back it sounded most convincing, so I suppose quite a few people in Australia will get all wet-eyed about the "dear boys in New Guinea".

But don't you believe a word of it. I tried to clap louder than anyone else so that I could hear myself, but it all sounded a hell of a mix-up, anyway.

It was quite a diverting morning, though, and we enjoyed ourselves thoroughly.

I had a "few words" with La Moncrieff and she made the following statement which I record for your edification: "It has been wonderful. The boys are wonderful. We all love working for you all. New Guinea is wonderful."

Peace, it's wonderful. As one of the boys with inimitable good humour and piercing cynicism said when the announcer was gushing about the black mantle of night and the soft scented breeze stirring through the palm tops: "My God!" War is hell!

My love, Joannie.

Port Moresby Base Sub Area 18 Dec 43

Gladys Moncrieff was born in Bundaberg in 1892 and as a child toured with her parents' theatrical company. She made her first stage appearance in Brisbane's Empire Theatre in 1912 and later toured Australia and South Africa.

She starred in many Gilbert and Sullivan operas and was affectionately referred to as Our Glad and Australia's Queen of Song. Retiring in 1963, she lived on the Gold Coast until her death in 1976. A Canberra suburb is named in her honour.

As for Reg Luckie, the Australian Army transferred him from Guinea Gold to Melbourne in 1944. He married Joan Hackett in Sydney in December of that year. Returning to Melbourne with his bride, he was mistakenly arrested for having gone AWL (Absent Without Leave) and was imprisoned for a brief period.

On August 17, 1945, hundreds of emaciated Australian troops were released from Japanese captivity in Singapore's notorious Changi jail. Luckie, as correspondent for the Army magazine Salt, was one of the first to interview them about their ordeal.

"Like all good reporters, he wrote well, was observant and had a healthy suspicion of authority," his eldest son, Michael, wrote on The Luckies' website.

"Reg left school at 15 to sell papers outside the Sydney Morning Herald's office...[After the war, he] became chief sub-editor on the Australian Women's Weekly. He wrote their book commemorating the 1954 Royal Tour. The money from that enabled the Luckie family to travel to England, originally for two years." They remained there for the rest of their lives.

Historian and author John Laffin and Reg Luckie were mates since their army days in New Guinea. They worked together on Sydney newspapers and visited each other when they both moved to England.

When Luckie died in 1994, Laffin wrote to Reg's family:

So another Digger is dead - and one of the most gentle, thoughtful and sensitive.

I was interested to read that you have only recently understood just how proud Reg was to have volunteered. That was the whole essence of being an AIF man and, yes, we were proud of it and proud we remain.

Nobody forced Reg and me to join the army and be ready to fight and die, if necessary, abroad. We went into it with our eyes wide open and of our own free will.

We were the only wholly volunteer army in the world, and distinctive even in our own country because the militia units did not volunteer to be sent abroad.




Story first posted January 2006

Copyright 2006

Eric Shackle

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