Rambling Reporter

The Pittsburgh Press (April 5, 1941)

By Ernie Pyle

Ernie Pyle returned from London recently by Clipper. Following is one of several articles based on material he gathered while there.

One night in London I sat in with Ed Murrow on hsi late broadcast to America. You realize that when you listen to Murrow at 6:45 p.m. at home, it’s actually a quarter to 1 the next morning in London, and we’ve stayed up half the night for you. We hope you appreciate it.

The American Broadcasting room is one shared by CBS and NBC. It is in the basement of the BBC building, three floors down, and there are still basement levels below that.

Many of the BBC people live down there; the place is full of cots, and smells of cooking cabbage, and is very homey. The building has been bombed twice, and people have been killed in it, but it still stands.

The American broadcasting room is small, not more than 8 by 15. The walls are draped, to deaden the sound. A small table covered with green felt sits in the center. A microphone stands on the table, as though it were a table lamp.

Censor ready to cut broadcast

Before every broadcast there is a two-minute conversation period between the London and New York offices of CBS. They discuss plans for future broadcasts, and test the reception. It is all so casual you’d think they were talking to someone around the corner. You can’t hear bombs or guns down there in the basement.

Murrow wears earphones during this conversation. I sat across the table, and listened through other earphones. Ed kept watching the clock, a big one on the wall with a red second-hand. Finally the time arrived, and Ed started reading from his script.

Right behind him, along the wall, is a small table stacked with papers. The British censor sits there. He had read the script beforehand, and passed it. He listens through earphones throughout the broadcast. Should Murrow start to ad-lib something the censor didn’t like, he could cut him off instantly. But that never has happened.

There were only four of us in the room – Murrow, the censor, myself, and Arthur Mann, of Mutual, who just dropped in for sociability’s sake.

Many fan letters sent

There are three censors to take the 24-hour broadcasting shift. Before the war one was a bandleader and one a composer. And Roy Trouncer, who was our censor, used to be an antique dealer.

Murrow’s belief in the necessity of a British victory is almost devout. When he hears good news about the German side, he gets low and gloomy.

A great many fan letters are addressed to Murrow in New York. These are not forwarded to him. But every incoming mail from America brings several dozen letters directly from radio listeners. Murrow makes no attempt to answer them. It would take too much time, and anyhow he can’t think of anything to say.

Murrow’s opening line, “This is London,” is something that just happened. It didn’t have especial significance until the Blitz started and brought days when Americans wondered if there really still was a London.

It was then that Ed Murrow’s reassuring voice built those three words into a great nightly sense of relief for them.

Occasionally Murrow varies his broadcasting fare by turning over his time to some American newspaperman in London. Some of you may wonder why he didn’t seize the golden opportunity of putting such a masterful expositor as myself on the trans-Atlantic airwaves.

Well, the truth is, he did. He asked me if I wouldn’t make a whole broadcast for him some night. We were standing in front of his office fireplace at the time. The mere suggestion brought on such an extreme case of fright that I fell coldly upon the couch, and Murrow’s secretary, Miss Campbell, had to grab the stirrup pump and squirt water on me, as though I were an incendiary. Bombs, yes; microphone, no. That’s where I stand.


The Pittsburgh Press (April 7, 1941)

By Ernie Pyle

New York –
As you know, the literary find-of-the-century who produces these imperishable columns has been back on American soil now for more than a week.

He has spent that week catching his breath and pondering the fate of the returned traveler who never hets a chance to sleep. In the meantime, the week has been filled up with those spare-tire columns he carried back from London with him.

But now that the breath is caught and the body in repose, the first thing I want to do is get myself written back to America. I don’t think it either sensible nor economical for a writing fellow to whip off 10,000 miles and then not say anything about it. So we’ll consume a few days telling you about the trip home.

It is not easy to leave England. There are a great many goodbyes to say, and your favorite girls bring you such enchanting farewell gifts as tiny porcelain pigs. And them the floor maid at the hotel – the one with no chin who mothered me almost to distraction – had to start weeping when I told her goodbye.

Begin four false starts

We went by train to a coastal city, and stayed that night at a hotel. We were to leave by flying boat for Lisbon the next morning.

They had us up at 5 a.m. We drove through pitch darkness to the marine base. For three hours, the immigration and customs men questioned us. And then, when everything was finished and we were all ready to start, they announced a half hour’s delay.

And then an hour.

And then – I knew all the time it was coming – a delay of 24 hours!

We all drove gloomily back to the hotel we had never expected to see again.

And that, my children, went on for four straight days.

There were 10 of us altogether – two women, a baby, and seven men. Only two besides myself were Americans. One was Albert Y. Gowen, of Cleveland, a cement man who has lived in England many years. The other was Dr. Louis Wolfson, a Boston plastic surgeon who had been helping in British hospitals.

They say the English have no sense of humor, but it was an Englishman’s humor that kept us all from going nuts. He was with the Foreign Office, and his humor was of the deadpan, cynical variety.

Each morning we’d make up a pool of bets on whether we’d get away that day or not. Being a hopeless fellow, I always bet we wouldn’t go. So I won three days, and lost only on the last day. But as one of my fellow passengers said:

I was never so glad to lose a shilling in my life.

Even on the last morning we almost didn’t go. We were all in the plane, and had taxied far out into the bay for the takeoff. And then the plane turned around and taxied back.

We had had about all we could take. It had been engine trouble before. What now, we thought? It turned out to be a small matter – merely an air raid. The captain said there were German planes all over the first 100 miles of our course.

We finally did get clearance at 11 in the morning. The captain didn’t even taxi out into the bay for the takeoff. He just started taking off right from the buoy.

We were 7 hours and 10 minutes on the trip. It was smooth and delightful all the way. The steward took the blackout panes off the windows when we were two hours out.

We saw a couple of fishing boats off the Spanish coast, but never saw any planes.

Believe planes are immune

There is much conjecture over whether or not there is an agreement between the warring nations about immunity for these airliners that run to Lisbon. I think there must be. The British pilots say they have seen German planes but have never been shot at.

But none of us was concerned about danger, and we were a happy and contented 10 who landed on the muddy waters of the Tagus River in Lisbon larte that sunny afternoon.

We walked up the long pier to the customs building, and as we walked a factory whistle in the distance started its quitting-hour wail.

Three of us, walking together, all started to say it at the very same instant. We started to say “There she goes…” and then we three remembered, and stopped suddenly, and grinned sheepishly at each other. For they don’t have air-raid sirens in Portugal – at least not yet.


The Pittsburgh Press (April 8, 1941)

By Ernie Pyle

New York –
In London, people were always saying:

Won’t you feel funny when you see street lights again?

I heard it so many times that I put down a mental note to be sure and remember my emotions the first night I should be in a peacetime country. That night, of course, was in Lisbon, after flying down from England.

But I’m afraid I’m not a proper guinea pig; maybe I’m a guinea pig who is just too dumb to react. At any rate, my first sight of street lights didn’t turn out to be one of those great high moments you remember for a lifetime.

True, I was a little startled when I stepped out of the hotel in Lisbon that first night, and saw light all about me. But the sensation lasted only a second or two, I hadn’t gone 50 yards until the lights seemed perfectly natural, and I never thought of them again.

Much more incongruous to me than street lights was the fact that you could publicly use all the sugar you wanted. Even now, weeks after leaving England, I still feel guilty and hope nobody is looking when I put two and a half spoonfuls of sugar in my coffee.

Buys juicy steak first

That first night in Lisbon, I made a beeline for the Negresco Restaurant and ordered a big juicy steak. Nobody goes hungry in England, but there is a shortage of certain things. In my last six weeks there I had only one seat.

There was just one more item in my restoration to peacetime living. That little item awakened me at dawn my first morning in Lisbon, and almost scared me to death. It was a church bell.

And with those few trivial exceptions, I came back to peaceful living as easily as though my emotions had been soaked in oil for the passage. Sorry to be such a dope.

Going to England last fall, I was stuck in Lisbon for 13 days. Coming back, my Lisbon odyssey resolved itself into only eight days of torture.

Lisbon is actually a charming place. But when your only purpose in life is to get on to where you’re going, and when every hour’s delay is an hour of strain and impatience, then even a nice a place as Lisbon becomes a straitjacket upon your desires, and you finally come to think of yourself as though you were in jail.

Truthfully, the hardest part of this whole winter’s trip to the wars was the total of 25 days that I spent just fuming and waiting to get out of one place and on to the next.

The authorization for me to go on the Clipper came in a trans-Atlantic phone call just four hours before the plane was to leave. Somewhat in the state of a headless chicken, I rushed back to the apartment to pack up. And there found Maria, the maid, face to face with a dilemma of her own.

My clothes being washed!

For unknown to me, she had got into my bag that morning and washed all my dirty clothes. And there they were on the line, wet, and me due to leave in a few minutes.

Maria was dismayed. But boy it didn’t faze me. What are a few clothes compared to getting home in a hurry? We just left most of them hanging there. Maria put two shirts in the oven and dried them out in a few minutes, and I brought them unironed.

When we landed in New York, I had been wearing the same shirt for six days. These two shirts finally got ironed by my Aunt Mary out in Indiana. Washed in Lisbon, ironed in Indiana – a life like that doesn’t seem to make much sense, does it? But I like it.