For this weeks Wednesday with the Author, we got in contact with John Tring, author of The Pacific War Uncensored: A War Correspondent’s Unvarnished Account of the Fight Against Japan. Here’s what he had to say about his book, his grandfather, and his life.
It had always been a life-long ambition of mine to write the book about my grandfather’s experiences in the Pacific War. As a child I spent many holidays with my grandparents, and during these my grandfather would recount the many amazing stories he had to me. As a youngster the significance of these was not apparent, but as I got older I began to develop an interest in modern history and I began to realize the importance of his tales. During these holidays in my childhood, he would often show me the contents of a black metal trunk that he had which contained his telegrams, newspaper cuttings and photos. He used to indicate to me that I could find out more information if I wanted amongst these, and I believe that he was laying the foundations for me to write the book that he was unable to complete due to failing eyesight in his old age.
What is it about writing that appealed to you?
This project has been very satisfying for me, as it has been a life-long ambition to complete the writing the story of my grandfather’s experiences in the Pacific War. I have always been of the opinion that it is important that such tales are published, otherwise we only have the history books to rely on as a reference to the past. This is particularly true of my grandfather’s story, as he was able to present an alternative view on the defensive strategy used by the British government in the protection of Singapore.
How much research did you do for the book? Can you give us some tips on this?
Most of the book’s contents were already in place within my grandfather’s legacy of audio tapes, telegrams and photos; they just needed formulating within a cohesive whole. I did need to cross-reference the names of places, people and things on many occasions, and for this I found the internet to be a valuable tool and starting point for investigation, as further detail can be clarified from here.
How long did it take you to write it?
I had to work on the book in my spare time, as I am in full time employment as a teacher. I began the work in September 2002, after my grandfather’s audiotapes and papers came into my possession. I had originally thought of using speech recognition software to get the bulk of the book recorded onto paper, as there were in total 28 cassettes (each one an hour in length). After further consideration, though, I thought that the quality of the recordings might not necessarily be good enough to record the information accurately, and that the spoken word would, in the end, require a lot of editing.
So, I basically took dictation from the tapes, stopping and starting each of the tapes, as my keyboard skills are good but not quite up to secretarial standard. This process obviously took a long time, but it was fascinating to hear my grandfather’s story again and to listen to his voice. His delivery is entertaining, and there were some aspects to his tales that I had forgotten.
The next task was to sort through my grandfather’s telegrams and try and attribute them to the various parts of his tale. This was not exactly straightforward as many of the cables had no date on them, and they were all written in cabelese (a short hand version of English). I sorted through and categorized the telegrams on more than one occasion, and then transcribed their contents after which I cut and pasted them into the relevant parts of my grandfather’s story.
This process involving the tapes and telegrams was more than just a ‘copy-and-paste’ type of operation. The spoken word does not always present well in a written format, and so a great deal of editing was required. Making a smooth transition in parts of the book between my grandfather’s recollections and telegrams also required care, and sometimes I needed to write a short passage myself in order to make these sections meaningful. The whole operation was like working on a very large historical jigsaw puzzle, and needed a lot of cross-referencing with books and websites to check the names of people, places and objects. This is why my name appears on the dust cover as being the editor of the book, and my grandfather is the author. It is a partnership that I am entirely comfortable with, and I know that if he were aware that his story was going to be published at last he would be very pleased.
I was lucky to have the help of a friend of my mother, called Barbara Anslow, who lives near to my mother and who had lived in Hong Kong during the 1930s before being captured and imprisoned by the Japanese. She read through one of my drafts and made some detailed notes for me, which was something she is very adept at, having published her mother’s story about her experiences of being imprisoned by the Japanese.
I completed about ten drafts in total, before finally ‘whittling’ the content down to its final version. I would estimate that this took about eight years, although as I mentioned before it was on a part-time basis. It was a very interesting and satisfying project though, and I discovered a lot of tales involving my grandfather that he had not told me. Reading through his telegrams in which he reports on the low level bombing operations that he got involved in was a very exhilarating and ‘jaw-dropping’ experience and I hope that this the same experience for the reader.
What do you like most about your book? Why should we read it?
I think the book is packed with a lot of interest, and has a good pace to it. It is essentially a military memoir, but I believe that there is also interest for a wider audience, with details regarding what life was like in Singapore and Hong Kong during the 1930s. It also contains details of what had to be done in order to set up a news agency during that period, as well giving as an insight into the terrific efforts by the U.S air force in establishing airbases in the undeveloped northern territories of Australia.
How do you relax? Do you have any hobbies or interests?
I like gardening, cooking, watching sport and spending time with my family. Most of my spare time though in the past 10 years has been spent researching and producing the book.