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Blunden, Godfrey Verge (Geof) (1906–1996)

by Fay Anderson

This article was published online in 2020

Godfrey Verge ‘Geof’ Blunden (1906–1996), journalist, war correspondent, and author, was born on 19 March 1906 at St Kilda, Melbourne, eldest of four children of Verge Cyril Blunden, merchant, and his wife Annie, née Gibson, both Victorian born. The family lived at Caulfield for the first five years of Blunden’s life, before moving to Perth and then Adelaide, where Geof was educated (1921–23) at Scotch College. His mother died in 1921 followed by his father in 1924, shortly after the family had moved to Sydney. Blunden then moved to Melbourne and was partly responsible for supporting his younger siblings, who were cared for by relatives in country Victoria.

Blunden’s literary ambitions and sense of adventure drew him to journalism. After a cadetship with the Herald and Weekly Times Ltd, he returned to Sydney and became the editor (1926–38) of Wireless Weekly. He befriended the artist Norman Lindsay, about whom he later wrote a biographical survey (1939) for a book of Lindsay’s watercolours. On 3 September 1930 at the North Sydney registrar’s office, he married Merle Eileen ‘Mick’ Carter, a clerk. His first novel, No More Reality (1935), was published in Britain and depicted life in a Victorian country town. In March 1938 he joined the staff of the Daily Telegraph, the next year becoming a columnist for the Sunday Telegraph when it was established under the editorship of Cyril Pearl. The Telegraph newspapers gained a reputation for being progressive and liberal, with a strong focus on world events. For Blunden, it was a fortuitous and timely appointment.

After the declaration of World War II, Blunden wrote feature articles for the Sunday Telegraph before becoming one of the few roving Australian war correspondents. In April 1941 the Telegraph sent him to Washington, DC, to cover American politics and foreign policy. He proceeded to London in May and, after a series of delays, departed for Moscow in February 1942. One of only four Australian journalists based in the Soviet Union during the war, he travelled with the Red Army to Volokolamsk in September, Rjev in December, and Stalingrad in January 1943. He was not permitted to cover any actual battle or interview Russian soldiers or German prisoners without a minder; that privilege was restricted to the Russian and German correspondents. From Kharkov, Ukraine, in March he was the only Australian to report from the front line on the Nazi regime’s systematic mass murder of the Soviet Jews.

In the spring of 1943, Blunden left the Soviet Union, ‘thin of body and with chronic dysentery, but richer than I had ever been in experience’ (Blunden 1945, 10). By mid-year he was again in North America, where he attended President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s press conferences and then covered the meeting of Allied leaders at the First Quebec Conference in August: ‘We were’ Blunden said of the Allies, ‘getting ready for the kill’ (Blunden 1945, 10). Back in London in October, he was posted to Stockholm in April 1944, to report on the occupied European territories, and then to recently liberated Paris in September. He returned to the front line in October and was attached to United States forces on the Western Front. Crossing the Rhine on 9 March 1945, he was one of the first Allied war correspondents to set foot in Nazi Germany.

Blunden’s output during the war was prodigious, and his copy was widely syndicated. The power of his journalism came from his astute political insight, literary writing style, and his courage. A deeply compassionate man, he had an innate fascination with the human dimension of a story. Accompanied by Maria Craipeau, née Rothenberg, a Polish-born journalist and former Marxist he had met in Paris, he moved to New York in 1945. After obtaining a divorce in Mexico, he married Maria in Virginia in 1947. Having left the Daily Telegraph, he was a correspondent (1946–49) for the Sydney Morning Herald, then an associate editor (1950–57) and foreign correspondent (1957–64) for Time magazine. He returned with his family to Paris in 1957, later moving to Vence in the south of France.

Identifying more as an author than a journalist, Blunden returned to fiction with A Room on the Route (1947). Praised by the American author John Dos Passos as ‘moving and brilliant’ (West Australian 1947, 5), the novel was a savage indictment of communism in wartime Russia. The Time of the Assassins (1952), which depicted the fascist and communist forces in Kharkov, was republished as a Bantam Classic edition in 1968 with a glowing introduction by the American literary critic Lionel Trilling. Both books were revered by a small group of disenchanted left-wing intellectuals who, through observation or experience, did not hesitate to equate the Soviet regime with Nazism. Blunden’s fourth novel, The Looking Glass Conference (1956), was a satire on international diplomacy and espionage.

Later in life Blunden drew inspiration from Australia, although he never returned home after the war. He was ‘a permanent expatriate’ (Buckridge 2002, 111), but he never relinquished his close bond with his extended family, and he retained his Australian citizenship. Lean and laconic, he kept his Australian accent. He authored The Land and People of Australia (1954), a textbook for non-Australian readers, and based his last novel, Charco Harbour (1968), on Captain James Cook and his journey along the Australian coast in 1770. He also wrote Eastern Europe: Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland (1965) and co-authored Impressionists and Impressionism (1970) with Maria. Survived by his wife and their daughter and son, he died on 15 March 1996 in Paris.

Research edited by Samuel Furphy

Select Bibliography

  • Anderson, Fay. ‘“They Are Killing All of Us Jews”: Australian Press Memory of the Holocaust.’ In Aftermath: Genocide, Memory and History, edited by Karen Auerbach, 65–85. Melbourne: Monash University Publishing, 2015
  • Anderson, Fay, and Richard Trembath. Witnesses to War: The History of Australian Conflict Reporting. Melbourne: Melbourne University Publishing, 2011
  • Blunden, Betty. ‘The Blundens.’ Unpublished manuscript, 1981. Papers of Betty Blunden, 1853–1985, MS 7769. National Library of Australia
  • Blunden, Godfrey. ‘Godfrey Blunden Looks at Europe, Declares—“This War Has Added Nothing to Civilised Life.”’ Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 16 May 1945, 10
  • Blunden, Ronald. Personal communication
  • Buckridge, Patrick. ‘Gifted Writer Forged Career in Europe.’ Australian, 28 June 1996, 21
  • Buckridge, Patrick. ‘A Kind of Exile: Godfrey Blunden—An Australian in Paris.’ Journal of Australian Studies 26, no. 73 (2002): 111–18
  • West Australian. ‘“Room on the Route.” Godfrey Blunden’s Novel Praised.’ 8 April 1947, 5

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Citation details

Fay Anderson, 'Blunden, Godfrey Verge (Geof) (1906–1996)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/blunden-godfrey-verge-geof-27611/text35012, published online 2020, accessed online 22 June 2021.

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