Beryl Bonser's Autograph Book ; c1944; 12


Camden Haven Historical Society


Beryl Bonser's Autograph Book

About this object

This simple bound autograph book records Laurieton’s unusual association with World War II. It was used to obtain the autographs of Bob Hope’s American entertaining troop and their aircraft crew in 1944 after an emergency landing in the Camden Haven River. Bob Hope and his entertainment group were part of the United Service Organization, a private American organisation that provided entertainment to US troops during World War II. Bob Hope was a well known American film actor, with many films and Oscars to his credit and he would go on to be a household name in the English speaking world after the war.

It was during a flight to Sydney on August 14th 1944, that Bob Hope’s Catalina Flying Boat, “Spare Gear”, developed trouble in its starboard engine causing Pilot James Ferguson to make an emergency landing in the Camden Haven River. The landing aircraft aroused the locals who flocked down to the river bank to see this rare event, including young resident Betty Bonser. The Catalina eventually ran aground on the sand bank between Bunny’s corner and the Dunbogan boat shed from where its occupants were rescued by local fishing boats.

An impromptu show in the Laurieton School of Arts that same evening, was Bob Hope’s first performance in Australia. It was a big event for Laurieton and as a measure of his popularity over two thirds of the local population of around 600 people jammed into the hall to see the performance. It was during the dancing after the show that Beryl Bonser, Molly Twomey, Rita Eggins and others taught Bob Hope the Hokey Pokey dance which he would later introduce to America and this is also when Beryl Bonser produced her autograph book to the group for signing.

The first two pages of the Autograph Book contain the autographs of the entertainers, Patty Thomas, Frances Langford, Tony Romano, Bob Hope, Jerry Colonna and Barney Dean. The last two pages of the Autograph Book contain the autographs of the Catalina Flying Boat Crew, Pilot James Ferguson, Co-Pilot Robert Scott, Radio Operator Bill Ward and Mechanic R. Babcock. It is the only known autograph book containing all the signatures of Bob Hope’s Entertainment Troop.

Bob Hope and his troop departed the next day in nine cars while the Catalina crew remained until the aircraft was repaired sufficiently to fly south to Rathmines at Lake Macquarie for permanent repairs.

This autograph book is one of few surviving reminders of Bob Hope’s unscheduled visit to Laurieton and his troop’s impromptu performance. It had lasting happy memories for Beryl Bonser and is an enduring keepsake of a very special day in Laurieton’s history during World War II.

Phillip Bowman
10 October 2014

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