Obituary: Edward Ward

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The Independent Online
Edward Henry Harold Ward, broadcaster, journalist and writer; born 5 November 1905; succeeded 1950 as seventh Viscount Bangor; books include 1940 Despatches from Finland 1946, Give Me Air 1946, Chinese Crackers 1957, Oil is Where They Find It 1959, Sahara Story 1962, Number One Boy 1969, I've Lived Like a Lord 1970, (with Marjorie Ward) The US and Us 1951, Danger is our Business 1955; married 1933 Elizabeth Balfour (marriage dissolved 1937), 1937 May Middleton (died 1969; marriage dissolved 1947), 1947 Leila Beaton (died 1959; one son; marriage dissolved 1951), 1951 Marjorie Simpson (nee Banks, died 1991; one son, one daughter); died London 8 May 1993.

EDWARD WARD was one of the very best of the BBC's war correspondents, although he had to spend the greater part of the Second World War silenced in a German prison camp. The first action he saw was in Finland. From January to March 1940, during the 'phoney war' phase of the struggle between Germany and the Allies, Ward broadcast a vivid series of dispatches about the battles in the snow between the small but heroically brave Finnish forces and the Russian troops which had attacked them on 30 November 1939. Hitherto there had been few precedents in the field of radio war reporting.

He completed that assignment with a world scoop. On 12 March 1940 the BBC's Six O'Clock News carried exclusively the news that peace had been agreed between Finland and the Soviet Union, and the gallant, foredoomed struggle was over. In those days, long before satellite communication and with strict military censorship, the main problem for a correspondent working abroad was less to find out what was happening than how to transmit it home. Ward had acquired his exclusive story in Stockholm from the Finnish Ambassador. His only route was to share his news with the New York Times correspondent in return for the scoop being sent on to London a few hours before the paper went on sale in New York, and a day before the ceasefire was formally announced.

Eddy Ward was well qualified to become a radio war correspondent. He was at school at Harrow and went on to the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, where he learnt about soldiering. Working as a Reuters correspondent in China and the Far East had taught him about fast reporting. Announcing for the BBC, which he had been doing since January 1937, had perfected his technique at the microphone. He was adventurous and very good company.

By 1940 BBC recording equipment no longer needed a laundry van to transport it. Mobile models could fit on to the back seat of a car and could work off a 12-volt battery, though they could not make a continuous recording longer than four minutes, the duration of a single disc. In Finland, Ward also made radio history by being the first to take a microphone and recording gear into a front line.

From Finland, Ward was sent to cover Belgium and France. The phoney war yielded to the Blitzkrieg. All too soon he listened in a cafe to the radio announcement by Marshal Petain, the revered hero who had saved Verdun in the First World War, that he had taken over political power in France and would sue for peace. 'The effect of his words was terrible,' Ward reported. 'A Frenchman lunching at the next table broke down and covered his face in his hands.' Soon Ward was describing his own dramatic escape from Bordeaux and heading for Egypt to replace Richard Dimbleby.

He covered the oscillating fortunes of the fighting in North Africa until November 1941 when he was captured by the Italians at Tobruk. The next three and a half years were spent in Italian and German POW camps, finally at Oflag XII B near Limburg. On the last day of March 1945 troop-carriers of the American First Army arrived at the opposite side of the river. The German prison guards had already decided to throw down their guns.

Ward reported: 'Two men jumped out and came down to the far bank of the Lahn river which separated us from them. I ran down the steep bank on my side. By the greatest piece of luck there was an old barge tied up there. 'How's things over there with you?' the Americans asked. 'Fine,' I said, 'do you want to come across?' 'Yeah, can you get that boat over?' 'You bet your life I can.' And with three others, including the only American POW in the camp, I poled the rickety old craft across. 'How are your guards?' the Americans asked when we were about midstream. 'Like lambs,' I said, 'you needn't worry about them.' 'Oh, we are not worrying,' said one of the Americans, fingering his gun. We nearly upset the boat on the return trip, but we got our deliverers safely and drily across. They forced their way through a cheering crowd of POWs and foreign workers. Relief lit up the faces of even the Germans. No more bombs - no more alarms for them.'

Liberated from his irksome imprisonment, Ward immediately returned to work, describing the last stages of the war in Europe. When the Russian and American troops finally met at Torgau on the Elbe, with a lot of mutual kissing, he made a recording of the Red Army band playing 'The Star Spangled Banner' and 'The Red Flag' before going to a celebratory lunch which largely consisted of brandy and vodka. Ward subsequently recalled, 'I started to make what I thought at the time was the most brilliant series of commentaries of my broadcasting career. From then on I remember nothing. The next morning with great misgivings I went to play back the discs I'd made. They were awful.'

Peacetime broadcasting, which had been suspended during the war, was revived in 1946. Television was restarted in June, just in time for the Victory Parade. In December Laurence Gilliam, the head of the radio Features department, revived the pre-war round-the-world link-up of Christmas Day greetings which preceded the annual message from the Monarch. It seemed a good idea to remind listeners that Christmas was not much fun for lighthouse keepers. So Ward and an engineer set off for Bishop's Rock, the lonely most westerly part of England, some 40 miles off Cornwall and seven from the Isles of Scilly.

The Bishop's Rock contribution to the Christmas round-up included Ward's statement that a gale was blowing and heavy seas were dashing against the lighthouse. The BBC men had expected to stay on the lighthouse for four or five days. Nearly a month later they were still marooned there. Supplies of fresh food began to run out. The lighthouse keepers radioed Trinity House for permission to break into the stock of emergency rations - bully beef and ships biscuits. Eventually, after wearing the same shirt for 29 days, Ward was lowered by a thin rope towards a lifeboat which had at last managed to make its way through the seething surf. 'It took just 10 minutes to leave the lighthouse in the breeches-buoy and reach the lifeboat,' he recalled, 'but it was the longest 10 minutes of my life.'

In 1947 Ward was sent as a special correspondent to India, following Partition. Again he contributed excellent dispatches. He then retired from the BBC staff and became a freelance, working until 1960 for the features department on assignments all over the world. He also wrote a number of books about his travels, some in collaboration with Marjorie Banks, his fourth wife, who had been an outstanding BBC features producer. She died in tragic circumstances in 1991.

In 1950 Eddy Ward succeeded his father as the seventh Viscount Bangor. The title now passes to his bookdealer son William, who is married to Sarah Bradford, biographer of Disraeli, Princess Grace and King George VI.

(Photograph omitted)

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