Rebels to Reels – A biography of Combat Cameraman Daniel A. McGovern USAF, Joseph McCabe

Rebels to Reels – A biography of Combat Cameraman Daniel A. McGovern USAF, Joseph McCabe

Daniel A. McGovern was born in Ireland before the First World War, where he lived through the Irish War of Independence. After Ireland gained her independence his family emigrated to the United States, where he became an expert cameraman, joined what became the USAAF, and ended up serving as a Combat Cameraman. During his career he helped raise the first Combat Camera Units, then accompanied one of them to Britain, where he went on several raids with the 8th Air Force. After the end of the war in Europe he was sent to Japan to help document the impact of the US bombing campaign, and ended up producing an invaluable record of the aftermath of the atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

I must admit when I read the brief synopsis I automatically assumed that McGovern’s experience of the fighting in Ireland would have been from the Republican side (as most are), so I was pleasantly surprised (for the historical variety) to discover that he had seen the IRA campaign from the other side, as the son of an member of the Royal Irish Constabulary.

Each phase of McGovern’s life would have made a fascinating story in its own right. His time with the Eighth Air Force in Britain saw him flight on several raids, and although the cameramen tended to fly in the middle of formations, he was present on some very costly missions. On two occasions his aircraft crashed at the end of a mission, in both cases because of a lack of fuel, and he actually managed to film both! Once his time in the air was over, he was involved in filming many of the sequences that went into the film Memphis Bell, which looked at the story of one of the first crews to complete 25 missions (although the aircraft he was following weren’t selected for the film).

McGovern was then sent to Japan, arriving with some of the very first troops of the occupation force. He was amongst the first outside witnesses to reach Hiroshima and Nagasaki, rather going against the official rules at the time, and played a major part in saving the work of an existing Japanese team that had been documenting the impact of the bombs before the Japanese surrender. We get a stark view of the devastation caused by the atomic bombs, and by conventional bombing, and the first signs of some recovery. Sadly the films McGovern and his Japanese team produced were promptly suppressed by the US military, who still saw the Atomic bomb as a viable weapon, and this didn’t want people to see just how devastating it was (one of McGovern’s post war pictures shows US infantry advancing towards a mushroom cloud as part of training for the atomic battlefield). Thankfully McGovern created a backup copy of the films, which were declassified in the 1960s, and many extracts from them have since become famous.

This is an excellent readable biography of someone who had a fascinating and varied life, and who played a significant role in recording the world shaking events he lived through. 

Author: Joseph McCabe
Edition: Paperback
Pages: 450
Publisher: Gallowglass
Year: 2021

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