F. S. Burnell war reporter and radio host

Machine gunners and soldiers of the first Australian Expeditionary force

Machine gunners and soldiers of the first Australian Expeditionary Force, HMS Berrima, Papua New Guinea, 1914, F. S. Burnell, State Library of New South Wales, PXA 2165

Frederick Spencer Burnell worked for many years as a radio host on ABC Radio in Sydney. But his most significant assignments was as 'special correspondent' with the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force. This was sent to seize and destroy the wireless stations in German New Guinea in 1914.

Frederick Spencer Burnell was born in Melbourne in 1886  but later moved to Sydney with his family. He published a book of poetry in 1912 and in 1914, after being rejected for active service, was assigned by the Sydney Morning Herald as 'special correspondent' with the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force. This was a small volunteer force of approximately 2,000 men, raised in Australia shortly after the outbreak of the First World War which was sent to seize and destroy German wireless stations in German New Guinea in the south-west Pacific.

The force left Sydney on the 19 August on board the P. & O.  Company's steamer the "Berrima" and was historically significant as it was the first to engage in fighting on Australia's own account. On the morning of the 11 September, the Berrima unloaded troops at Herbertshohe, in German New Guinea, and finding no opposition raised the Union Jack later that morning.  But as the force advanced into the surrounding bushland they came under fire and G. W. Williams was mortally wounded. When medical officer Captain B. C. A. Pockley went to help him he was also mortally wounded. These were the first two of Australia's armed forces killed in World War One.    

Burnell's photographs were used in his illustrated record of the events which was published by Angus and Robertson in November 1914. Burnell's publication covers life on board ship on the way to New Britain, the actions of the forces under William Holmes and the surrender signed at Herbertshohe (Kokopo) by Dr Haber.

After World War One he visited Capetown, Daka, Dunkirk, Ypres, Hull and then London where he attended a dinner given by the P.E.N. club which was in honour of the 70th birthday of H. G. Wells. Burnell and his wife also toured England and Scotland in a car. Over this period he also worked as a reporter for the Manchester Daily Dispatch, the London DailySketch, and the Evening Standard. After this, he travelled through Italy and Greece and lived in Rome for a number of years.

From the early 1930s Burnell and hosted a Sunday afternoon show of 'armchair chats' titled "Ships, Shoes and Sealing Wax" for the Sydney radio station 2BL. These stories often related to his travels in Europe.

Geoff Barker, Senior Curator, Research and Discovery

Further reading
F. S. Burnell (1912). Before dawn and other poems. William Brooks &, Sydney.

F. S. Burnell (1914). How Australia took German New Guinea: An illustrated record of the Australian Naval & Military Expeditionary Force. Australasian News, Sydney, Q940.423/2.

F. S. Burnell, (1914). Album of Photographs Used in the book"How Australia Took German New Guinea, unpublished, State Library of New South Wales, PXA2165

F. S. Burnell (1915). Australia versus Germany: The story of the taking of German New Guinea. G. Allen & Unwin, London.

F. S. Burnell (1931). Wanderings in Greece. E. Arnold, London.

F. S. Burnell (1908–1950). Frederick Spencer Burnell papers, 1908-1950. unpublished held at A 6958-A 6961 State Library of New South Wales.