Many reporters have complained down the years about editors spiking their copy. Naturally enough, the stories then vanish for ever. But Betty McIntosh has just seen one of her rejected pieces published after a 71-year wait.
She wrote an article in December 1941 for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin a week after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour. It warned the women of Hawaii what lay ahead of them and, in their wisdom, her editors thought the graphic content would be too upsetting. So it went on the spike.
Now the Washington Post has finally run her original. And it turns out to be a first-class piece of descriptive reportage. Here are a couple of extracts:
“I saw a formation of black planes diving straight into the ocean off Pearl Harbour. The blue sky was punctured with anti-aircraft smoke puffs.
Suddenly, there was a sharp whistling sound, almost over my shoulder, and below, down on School Street. I saw a rooftop fly into the air like a pasteboard movie set.
For the first time, I felt that numb terror that all of London has known for months. It is the terror of not being able to do anything but fall on your stomach and hope the bomb won’t land on you.
It’s the helplessness and terror of sudden visions of a ripping sensation in your back, shrapnel coursing through your chest, total blackness, maybe death.”
That vision was transformed into reality when McIntosh – then 26, now 97 – arrived at the hospital to witness the arrival of the victims of the bombing:
“Bombs were still dropping over the city as ambulances screamed off into the heart of the destruction. The drivers were blood-sodden when they returned, with stories of streets ripped up, houses burned, twisted shrapnel and charred bodies of children.
In the morgue, the bodies were laid on slabs in the grotesque positions in which they had died. Fear contorted their faces. Their clothes were blue-black from incendiary bombs. One little girl in a red sweater, barefoot, still clutched a piece of jump-rope in her hand…
There was blood and the fear of death — and death itself — in the emergency room as doctors calmly continued to treat the victims of this new war.”
McIntosh then describes her return to the city of Honolulu to see bombed-out buildings:
“Seven little stores, including my drugstore, had nearly completely burned down. Charred, ripply walls, as high as the first story, alone remained to give any hint of where the store had been.
At the smashed soda fountain was a half-eaten chocolate sundae. Scorched bonbons were scattered on the sidewalk. There were odd pieces lying in the wreckage, half-burned Christmas cards, on one, the words ‘Hark the Herald’ still visible.
There were twisted bedsprings, half-burned mattresses, cans of food, a child’s blackened bicycle, a lunch box, a green ravelled sweater, a Bang-Up comic book, ripped awnings.
I ran out of notepaper and reached down and picked up a charred batch of writing paper, still wet from a fire hose. There was, too, the irony of Christmas tinsel, cellophane, decorations. A burned doll, with moving eyes, singed curls and straw bonnet, like a miniature corpse, lay in the wreckage.”
More bombing followed and she reported that the newspaper office received “frantic calls from all sorts of women — housewives, stenographers, debutantes — wanting to know what they could do…” McIntosh concluded:
“It was then that I realised how important women can be in a war-torn world. There is a job for every woman in Hawaii to do.
I discovered that when I visited the Red Cross centres, canteens, evacuee districts, the motor corps headquarters.
There is great organisation in Honolulu, mapped out thoughtfully and competently by women who have had experience in World War I, who have looked ahead and foreseen the carnage of the past seven days and planned.”
After her career in journalism, Betty (more formally, Elizabeth P. McIntosh) went on to serve in the Office of Strategic Services and the CIA. She also wrote four books and, says the Post, “she’s still sharp as a whip.”
A videoed interview on the Post site proves the point.
This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk