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Remembering Simon Dring

Simon Dring, a former foreign correspondent who has died at the age of 76, wrote his first dispatch for Reuters in Laos where he ended up after following the hippy trail from Europe to Asia. I hired him as a stringer in Vientiane in 1963.


Over a couscous lunch at the Hotel Constellation, young Dring would talk longingly about his Mum’s Sunday roasts. In those days the only way you would know if your cabled story had hit the wire was to listen to the shortwave broadcasts of the BBC or VOA or read the Bangkok newspapers which arrived the next morning. His first story landed on the front page of the Bangkok World but to his dismay and mine the dateline was Exdring, Laos. A desk editor in Singapore or London had mistaken his name for a Laotian town. 


He joined me as my Number 2 in Saigon in 1964 when I took over the bureau from Nick Turner who resigned after failing to persuade Reuters to spend more money on additional staff and better communications.


Dring took enthusiastically to reporting the war, once disappearing for several days without contacting me. I remember scolding him for returning with a pistol tucked under his belt. “Journalists should not carry guns,” I said.


I sent him to Danang when the US started bombing North Vietnam. Using an improvised code to avoid being cut off on the US military communications network, he phoned me each time US planes took off for a bombing mission and I would send out an urgent story. We had to stop the practice after the US military complained that we were endangering the pilots’ lives. 


We both ended up at Reuters head office in London and in 1966 he married a British diplomat’s daughter he had met in Vientiane. But he found desk work boring. He resigned and bought a Land Rover for an overland journey to Bangkok with his wife.


In 1971 he was in East Pakistan for the Daily Telegraph when all foreign correspondents were rounded up “for their own safety” during the Bangladesh liberation war. Dring hid in a Dacca hotel roof and became world famous for his witness accounts of atrocities by the Pakistani Army which killed more than 7,000 unarmed civilians and students. ■