They were the Knights-errant of our time; rescuers of nations in distress, champions of the downtrodden and the oppressed who smote the offending dragons hip and thigh with breathless words rattled off on their typewriters …
This was British journalist Malcom Muggeridge’s take on the foreign correspondents of the 1930s and 1940s, and it was during these same years that several such journalists became some of Lorraine Murray’s closest friends and lovers.
One of these was her mentor Emily Hahn, the ‘China Coast correspondent’ for the New Yorker. But Lorraine had affairs with at least four other journalists, and one of these was the American Norman Alley (1895-1981) best known for his output of newsreels – short films on current affairs shown in cinemas. Alley made his mark as a cameraman, but in his 1941 memoir I Witness he also displays a mastery of the ‘breathless’ prose style that Muggeridge spoke of.
We don’t know when Lorraine and Alley first became an item. They certainly did have an affair in Sydney in 1942-43, when Alley was based in Australia. But they probably first met in Shanghai in 1937, when Alley was one of the many foreign journalists who flocked to cover the opening clash of the Sino-Japanese War, the Battle of Shanghai.
A turning point in the Battle came on the night of 26/27 October when the Chinese units in the northern part of Shanghai, who had been holding back the better-equipped Japanese for weeks, withdrew westward. Many thousands of Chinese civilians, desperate to escape the Japanese, followed the soldiers. On the morning of the 27th October Alley went to the Jessfield Bridge, which spanned the Suzhou Creek, the boundary between these threatened northern suburbs and the neutral, foreign-controlled International Settlement. There, he filmed
… a comfortable closeup of a hellish panorama. With the banzai-shouting Japanese practically at their shuffling heels, there were literally hordes upon hordes of Chinese refugees struggling frantically to get across this small railroad bridge spanning Soochow Creek … Bombs, artillery and machine guns heckled their path as they ran the gory gauntlet. Old men and women, dead tired from fleeing, and scared to a living death. Women shouldering double-basketed bamboo poles bearing precious cargoes of babies and food.
Alley was staying in The Cathay Hotel, a tower block which stood, safe in the neutral International Settlement, on the Bund facing onto the Huangpu River. In his memoir Alley described the daily round of the foreign press corps: breakfast at The Cathay, followed by a trip to the front line and then a viewing of the bombardment of the Chinese city from the comfortable setting of a hotel balcony, punctuated by attendance at press conferences. They drank in a nightclub called The Tower at the top of The Cathay which was, Emily Hahn noted, a favourite watering hole because of the panoramic view it gave of the ‘general shooting and excitement’.
In I Witness Alley takes note of some of his fellow journalists covering the Battle of Shanghai, and two of these in particular stand out. One was the Englishman Phillip Stephens, reporting for London’s Daily Telegraph, another was Stephens’ nemesis, a journalist Alley simply calls ‘Oruna’ – who was in fact the Japanese journalist Horiguchi Yoshinori. Horiguchi combined his job as a correspondent for the official Japanese news agency Domei with that of a spokesman for the Japanese army, occasionally donning uniform and carrying sidearms. Alley regarded Horiguchi’s dual role as a blatant violation of the notion of journalistic objectivity.
Alley and Horiguchi got off on the wrong foot. The American cameraman tells how he had met Horiguchi while he and Philip Stephens were watching the fighting from the balconies of the Cathay Hotel. Alley made a joke about the poor aim of Japanese anti-aircraft gunners, which drew from Horiguchi ‘a dirty look that packed more dynamite than any shell that ever hit Shanghai’.
Two weeks after Alley filmed the refugees crossing the Jessfield Bridge, Stephens was dead, killed by Japanese machine gun fire: Alley was convinced that Horiguchi was complicit in his death. And in late 1938, Lorraine would embark on an affair with Horiguchi – one which would severely strain her friendship with Emily Hahn.