Normandy, 1944 – by Barbara Wace

Written by Barbara in April 1995:

When rumours of an allied invasion began to circulate in London, our boss at the A.P. realized how important it was for the A.P. to be the first with the news. A second or two in relaying the first bulletin could mean the media would carry the A.P. report and not the U.P., I.N.S. or Reuters. In the big A.P. office, just behind the america desk – who would issue the first news – sat the censors, who passed on everything which was sent out. Behind them were three or four machines which relayed the A.P. news, manned by attractive young machine operators. To one of these girls, explained Bob Bunelle in a pep talk to junior staff, would fall the honour to pass on this dramatic news to the world. She must be ready at all times for this momentous moment, which nobody knew exactly when, but everybody knew would be soon.

One particularly attractive little blonde cockney operator took this warning particularly to heart. It may be me, she said to herself. I must practice – and she started typing out the message “Allied troops landed today in Normandy”. Nobody knew at all where the landings would be – not the censors, nor Bob Bunelle and certainly not the little blonde machine operator but in a second the damage was done. The plug which released the machine to operate was in and the message that Allied troops had landed in Normandy was out. The whole Allied command was alerted to a false D-day message and my boss was in terrible trouble even though the false flash was countermanded within seconds.

I was not in the office when all this happened but went in about twenty minutes later. I remember Bob was not exactly arrested, but certainly now allowed to continue in charge of his bureau. The censor was in charge and supervised everything, and there seemed to be a whole crowd of service V.I.P.s running everything.

After some time the A.P. service started rolling again, but Bob was suspended for several days, A.P. reports were strictly supervised and sadly, I believe the little blonde machine operator was sacked.

This false invasion flash was bad luck for the A.P., which actually had a much better record for accuracy and dull facts that it’s competitor I.N.S. and even United. We were generally thought of as bigger and duller but more accurate.

We had another bad moment over the announcement of the end of the War. I don’t think I was in the office at the time but I believe Ed Kennedy, one of our best correspondents, and a veteran staffer phoned Bob from Paris with the news before it was actually announced from S.H.A.E.F. headquarters. I believe he was suspended and Bob got into trouble again.

Ed who was an excellent correspondent – one of the very best – was later transferred to the West Coast of the U.S.. I saw a lot of him there where he worked, rather sadly I think, still under a cloud and unfortunately very often the worse for drink. It was a sad ending to a brilliant career and he was remembered by those who had worked for him as a brilliant correspondent and lovely guy.

Barbara Wace