- How the Progress of the War Was
- 'Chronicled by Pen and Camera'
- by Basil Clarke
War Reporters on the British Fronts
- a number of British war reporters
- the author of this article - Basil Clarke - is at the left in the top row standing
Threats of War and Newspaper Preparations for Recording It A Fleet Street Example How Correspondents were Despatched Old Correspondents Rush Back to Harness Changed Conditions of Work How the Government Made Difficulties Their Policy of Secrecy Press Retaliation Establishment of Press Bureau How it was Worked The First Correspondents in the Field . The First War Photographs Hunting Down and Expulsion of Correspondents Begun Harsh Treatment of Correspondents Sir John French's Despatches Public Demand for More News Press Correspondents at Last Officially Recognised in the Zone of the Armies Press Camps Established in the Field Correspondents Licensed The Chief Field Censor and his Staff Correspondents' Obligations and Uniform Life and Work of Correspondents in France A Correspondent's Diary, Describing Quarters, Work, and Colleagues Pen Sketches of War Correspondents Famous Visitors at the Press Camp Correspondents on Other British Fronts and with Other Armies Diplomatic Value of Their Work Correspondents on the Fringe of the War ? Dangers of the Work The Files of the British Press and Their Place in War History.
a sad duty - attending the burial of a colleague
As soon as war became imminent machinery for reporting it was hurriedly prepared, and the moment war was declared that machinery went into motion with a whir. From that day it never ceased. New wheels and cogs and driving-belts were added until it became a mammoth compared with the minnow of August, 1914. Reporting the war became, in fact, a new industry, as distinct and definite in its way as the making of shells, an industry with a story and romance of its own well worthy of a place in any survey of the war which aims at being comprehensive. War reporting at its birth was an "unofficial" babe. It was not christened and sanctified by the Government until months after its birth. The newspapers fathered it; editors, news editors, and proprietors were its doctors and nurses. Circumstances on almost every big newspaper were much the same.
One example from Fleet Street will suffice. Imagine a news editor sitting in his solitary chair, almost without break throughout the Bank Holiday week-end of August, 1914. A tape telegraph machine was spinning its monotonous thread of printed messages in a corner of the room; boys were bringing that thread, length by length, for him to read. The situation grew worse hour by hour. The editor went home at last, but the news editor still sat in his chair passing on to the editor by telephone the, more important messages. Some of them found him at dinner, some of them woke him up in the small hours, till finally one message brought him hot-foot to the office. Germany had declared war on Russia.
It was Sunday, but every man of the staff was in the office. The reporters were in their own room awaiting the tinkling of the bell that should summon them to their fate. One by one men were called in to the editor to receive their orders. A grey-haired senior was despatched forthwith to Petrograd; another hot-foot to Marseilles, to be ready there to proceed to any Mediterranean port on instructions by cable; another to Paris, with similar orders; another to Brussels, another to Venice. The trend of war was not yet clearly manifest,. but men were being posted at favourable jumping-off points ready to get into the heart of things the moment fighting developed. Half the reporting staff received no marching orders that day. They were the reserves awaiting the development of events.
France joined in. Belgium was ruthlessly violated. That showed the trend of things. One by one reporters were hurried off to Flanders, Holland, Italy, the Balkans to every country in which war threatened to create events worthy of chronicling.
Stirring newspaper times these were, fraught with suspense and excitement for every journalist. Old journalists and war correspondents who had left the hurly-burly of daily journalism flocked back to besiege editors with requests for war commissions, every one of them as anxious as the youngest reporters to be "in" at the greatest of journalistic ventures that had presented itself since newspapers existed.
And from those early days of the war began ups and downs of fortune for newspaper writers such as none of them could have foretold or even imagined.
Reporting the Great European War presented problems utterly different from anything in the history of war reporting. Some experienced war correspondents, men with great reputations, failed, in some cases utterly, while men of whom nothing had been heard, some of them quite young in journalism, succeeded. "Form" was no guide, as a racing expert expressed it. Prime favourites were beaten by "outsiders" almost new to the work of journalism.
As the first batches of correspondents sent over to the war zones showed their quality, and failed or succeeded according to their merits the successful ones going up in the scale, the unsuccessful ones being withdrawn many new correspondents were sent to try their skill. Among them also were successes and failures, so that by the second year of the war the list of successful war reporters differed utterly from the list of those sent out at the beginning of the war. New names were at the top; old and in some cases famous names had dropped out.
Before going on to describe war reporting in the field it is necessary for clearness' sake to give some idea of the state of things at home, and of the conditions and official regulations that prevailed to govern and make difficult the collecting and publication of war news. It is clear that at the beginning the Government regarded the reporting of the war as quite one of the minor considerations, as perhaps it was compared with the many great problems confronting the nation. But though no one claimed that publicity for war happenings should occupy anything but its right and fitting place in the scheme of things, the Government of the day was loath and even unwilling to give it any place at all. Prompted by the myopic view of certain military advisers, the Government began the war with the idea of keeping its details closely to themselves. They failed to recognise that if a war is to be successful it must be waged not by a nation's army and Government alone, but by the whole nation in spirit, at least, if not in actual participation. The Army leaders quite openly argued that the Army alone was concerned in the subject of war, and that the nation (who supplied the men and muscle and means for that Army, and upon whom future supplies of these things depended) need no more be informed as to how the fortunes of war were going than consulted as to how war should be waged.
They succeeded in impressing this singular view on the Government, and for a time every attempt was made to keep the war as secret as had been the diplomacy and the treaties and the unpublished agreements that had led to it. To extract from the Government news of the war was, at the outset of things, like drawing teeth. Government departments and officials were besieged with questions by the Press, who received only snubs for their pains. Officialdom raised its eyebrows at merely being asked questions, and gave replies which indicated that it was regarded as a piece of presumption on the part of editors (and the British public for whom they were, of course, acting) to want to know anything about the war at all.
This may seem, perhaps, an exaggerated view of the position, but to anyone who was engaged in the collecting of war news at the outbreak of the war it will be recognised as a fair statement of the position. It was not until the newspapers actually forced the hand of the Government that any attention whatever was paid to the duty of informing the nation of the position of affairs and of seeking to engage their interest, sympathy, and support for the war. Such was the darkness in which affairs were shrouded that a portion of the Press of the country, especially the Radical and Labour Press, was even at the outbreak of war itself hatching an anti-war policy. "Peace" and anti-war advertisements were occupying full pages of newspapers. A group of Radical editors met and were, in fact, deciding to oppose the war, before the Government woke up and in a flutter of concern supplied them with the diplomatic facts of the case. It is probable that never in history had the Government of a democratic nation so failed to realise the importance of reasonable publicity.
By this means were the Government first brought to some glimmering of its duty to give the nation news. But the lesson was not enough. Under pledge of secrecy they had given the editors of the country certain facts, and had prevented a revolt and the starting of an anti-war campaign in certain political journals. At this they rested on their oars, and carried on the war as secretly as before, in total disregard of a nation that clamoured for war news. Their communications to the Press were of the barest and most meagre kind, and were few and far between.
Again the newspapers forced their hand. For by this time special correspondents and war correspondents were in the field of operations and in prominent centres all about it. They were sending news by telegraph and by couriers from the fountain-head of war, and as yet there was nothing to stop these messages from being printed. Government officials and Army leaders who had formulated the official scheme for keeping the war and all news of it to themselves, saw their plans defeated by correspondents whose messages right from the seat of war were thrilling the nation. Newspaper editions, published at all hours of the day and night alike, began to lend shape to war and its actuality. The policy of secrecy was proving as futile as it deserved to prove.
But even now the Government did not see their mistake. Their first measure that had any bearing on the subject of war publicity was negative rather than positive ; it was designed to prevent the dissemination of news rather than to further it; to decide what should not be published rather than that what could be published.
This was undoubtedly the first function of the official Press Bureau which was established, under the Defence of the Realm Act, on August 7th, 1914, under the direction of Mr. F. E. Smith, M. P. Clear indication of its character is to be had in the nickname given to it after it had been at work for a few days and its methods had been seen, for instead of "Press Bureau" it became known among men who had dealings with it as the "Sup-press Bureau."
handing in copy at a field-censor's office
Outwardly, of course, the duty of the department was made to appear less mediaeval in character than this. In official parlance its function was described as the official medium by which all information relating to the war was communicated to the Press. Its secondary function was the censoring before publication of all matters relating to the war which newspapers collected on their own account. The amount of news issued to the Press was of the smallest; its news value of the poorest. Most of the Government departments used the Press Bureau only as a means of getting gratuitous publicity for their needs and requirements for which announcements at ordinary times they would have been charged at advertisement rates. These announcements were solemnly distributed to the Press through the Press Bureau as "news". Some of them were denied publication by newspapers, of less amenable character. A few outstanding items of news which could not possibly be kept dark were given out at rare intervals. But the Press Bureau's staff of six naval officers, nine military officers, and nine clerks was far more concerned with the mutilation of war news proofs submitted by the newspapers than with providing adequate war news for the nation.
As the first department of its kind in British history, the original Press Bureau is worthy perhaps of a more detailed description. Its home was a battered and mildewed old house, No. 40, Charing Cross, a few doors away from the Admiralty. A policeman guarded its door, and no one but newspaper representatives and the bureau staff was admitted. On the ground floor were two lime-washed rooms containing long tables, made of deal boards, and forms. The walls were mottled with damp, and industrious spiders busied themselves in most of the corners. Small as the rooms were, they held from twenty to thirty Press men, day and night alike.
Filling up half the ground-floor passage outside the first room were telephone boxes, ten or a dozen in number, connected by special wires to the leading newspaper offices and news agencies. Each box was labelled with the name of the newspaper or newspapers jointly to whom it belonged. At the head of a flight of stairs, worn and dirty, were the censors' rooms and the director's room. They were little better than the rooms below, except that the crowding was not so intense. Table telephones in these rooms connected the director and the censors with the various Government departments. As in the Press rooms below, men were on duty day and night. The censors had no easier time than the journalists below.
The working of the place was curious and complex, At the street door were many newspaper messengers. There was no room for them inside.. They raced along the streets with messages to or from the bureau. If a despatch arrived at a newspaper office from a correspondent in the field, it was hurried by messengers to the Press Bureau for censorship, and was in due time returned censored. Statements issued by the Press Bureau, if too long or too unimportant for telephoning, were carried also by messengers, so that the place was generally beset by them and their bicycles and taxi-cabs. A newspaper representative on duty at the bureau had to act as go-between to the censors and his paper, and to act as counsel for his paper. He was allowed in those days to argue with the censors as to whether "copy" should be passed or not, and often by skilful debate and diplomacy he could save a good despatch from destruction. If was his duty, of course, to get as much "copy" passed as possible. One or two of the censors were pompous people who sought to cut down war news by every pretext. Others were quite reasonable men who tried, each according to his lights, to deal fairly with "copy" so far as the curious and ill-defined rules which had been given to them allowed them to do so. It is actual fact that news deleted totally by one censor would often be passed without question by his successor on the censors' rota.
Chaos reigned. The whole of newspaperdom was amazed at the vagaries of the Press Bureau ; editors marvelled and wondered what the Press Bureau would do next. Sometimes they visited the bureau to remonstrate in person. Seemingly the explanation of it all was that the Government, instead of considering how much news of the war could fittingly be given to the public, gave the matter no attention at all, and left it to chance and the whims of a few half-pay Army and Navy officers to determine what news collected by the papers should be published. The Press Bureau, its appearance, and its methods, alike reflected the Government's early policy as regards the Press and publicity for the war.
A change for the better came when the bureau was transferred to the Royal United Service Institution, Whitehall, in the middle of September, 1914. The quarters and accommodation were better, and slightly more businesslike methods were adopted for dealing with war news submitted for censorship. But the Government's opinion of the Press was still manifested in queer little ways. Thus, while the censors and officials used the front door of the new bureau, the Press representatives were instructed to use the back door (in Whitehall Gardens).
Some of them objected, and once there was trouble on the subject. It was all very petty, but it is worthy of mention as showing the feeling of the authorities towards the Press at this time, and the irritation this feeling caused. Their censoring of despatches and their general attitude towards the newspapers and their representatives were in much the same tenor an attitude of lofty superiority, which, coupled with an utter disregard of public anxiety for news of the war and an abysmal ignorance of newspapers' needs and methods to supply that want, was no less ludicrous than many of the mistakes made in the handling of affairs in the early days of the war.
Before leaving the subject of the Press Bureau, the centre of censorship and the dissemination of British official news, its later history may be completed in a few lines. Mr. F. E. Smith resigned the directorship immediately after the famous episode of the "Times " despatch. To this message, giving in dark colours details of British defeats in the field in France, Mr. Smith added a few pungent lines of his own in like tone of warning to the British public.
It is possible to see after these years that that "Times" despatch of Black Sunday, 1914, did more to arouse the British public to a sense of the gravity of affairs at the front than any measure the Government had taken. Through their policy people at home were regarding the war more in the light of a picnic than as a matter of life or death. The "Times" despatch woke them up. They turned on the Government, and it was not until a deluge of official "eyewash" had been outpoured and till Mr. F. E. Smith had resigned, that public opinion settled sufficiently to allow the Government to remain alive and continue on their inefficient way.
Mr. F. E. Smith went to the front as a soldier. Sir Stanley Buckmaster went in as director of the Press Bureau. And he went in by the "back door" in Whitehall Gardens !
This mode of entry was regarded as indicating a policy of conciliation. And so it proved. The Government had been wakened to the fact that the Press, much as they, disparaged it, might nevertheless upset them yet. They became more amenable, less dictatorial. War despatches were treated more sympathetically, though unfavourable facts were still rigorously deleted from messages from the field of war. Editors still protested, of course. The Press became divided. One half, headed by the Northcliffe Press, argued that the nation should be told the truth, good or ill, and that, by the truth alone could they be roused to war effort and brought to treat the war with the seriousness that it deserved. The other half held that the nation "should not be alarmed" ; that the Government must be left to carry on the war as they thought best, without criticism even for their mistakes and failures.
The country at large undoubtedly favoured the Tell the truth" policy, though the "Hide the truth" party, composed largely of strong party men of the Government side, also made themselves heard. Demands for more news and a less sweeping censorship began to be made on all sides. Hints of bad news that the censors had held back began to leak out; members of Parliament peppered the Government with questions, and their position became a wobbling one.
Then a "wily" measure was taken. Press Bureau reforms were readily promised and actually carried out. Sir Frank Swettenham and Sir Edward Cook (who six months later, when Sir Stanley Buckmaster was made a peer, became joint directors) were put in as assistant directors, the latter an experienced journalist and editor of repute, who was able to put the management of the place on lines more calculated to meet the needs of newspapers for which it was established. Censorship was speeded up by a great increase of the staff, and a greater uniformity of the treatment of "copy" was brought about, though anomalies of censorship never quite ceased to exist. All this looked most promising to the outside world, and criticism at home was lulled.
But while doing these things at home the Government took another step less apparent to the country at large. They saw that once the truth about affairs at the front which were then in a most dangerous position reached England, it. could not be effectually suppressed. The censors might keep it from the public at large, but members of Parliament and others learnt it, and did not hesitate to demand explanations. The Government, therefore, while taking steps to improve the Press Bureau and giving all signs of an eagerness to meet the demand for more news, took steps to cut off the newspapers' news supply at the source namely, in the field of war.
a number of war correspondents
At the outset of hostilities the newspapers, as mentioned earlier, had sent out correspondents to various war centres to be ready to concentrate upon whatever places should provide scenes of war activity. As soon therefore as the Germans rushed Flanders and France, British newspaper men were ready on the spot. Two days after the outbreak of hostilities Mr. J. M. N. Jeffries, a brilliant young correspondent of the "Daily Mail," was riding about the Belgian front in his own motor-car, and getting long and graphic messages through to London from Brussels, by telephone to Amsterdam or Paris, and thence by cable or telephone. Mr. Philip Gibbs ("Daily Telegraph"), Mr. George Ward Price ("Daily Mail"), the late Alphonse Courlander ("Daily Express"), Mr. Martin Donohoe ("Daily Chronicle") and others were transmitting messages via Paris from the field itself; Mr. H. R. Wakefield ("Daily Mail"), Lucien Arthur Jones ("Daily Chronicle"), Mr. Raymond Coulson ("Daily Dispatch" and "Sketch"), Mr. Douglas Crawford ("Times"), and others were working via Ostend. Maastricht, in Holland, Dieppe and other points on the fringe of war were being used as bases by correspondents moving in the hinterland of the armies, gathering details of the war's progress. Mr. George C. Curnock ("Daily Mail") was at Boulogne ready for the arrival of the British Army ; Mr. Beach Thomas ("Daily Mail"), Mr. Percival Phillips ("Daily Express"), Mr. Perry Robinson ("Times"), with roving commissions, were already posted well in the heart of things.
Now, all these men and many others were at first free to move very much as they liked. The French Government and the Belgian Government put no hindrance in their way. In fact, there were many cases in which both these Governments went out of their way to give special passes and privileges to British newspaper men. For weeks this state of things existed, and British correspondents were in the field with the armies themselves, picking up close details of the fighting. Others acted as "long-stops" in the big administrative centres farther back, learning the broader details and policy of the war. Photographers and cinema men alike were in the field. The first photographs of actual fighting were sent to the British newspapers on August 22nd, 1914. They were taken by Mr. Herbert A. Maunder.
Then came a sudden change. The hunting down and expelling of correspondents began. It started in the neighbourhood of the British Army. Newspaper correspondents were arrested and sent home on parole, not to come out again. They were not badly treated, except in one or two cases, where younger officers, feeling, no doubt. rather big in their new army boots, were. perhaps more officious in manner than they need have been. Arrest usually meant being taken before a general, ordered to remain in one's quarters until perhaps the following morning, and then sent to a port of embarkation under escort. Press correspondents and photographers found in the British Army zone were sent home thus in great numbers. Soon the French Army followed suit in this measure, and here the treatment was not always so gentle as with the British, for the ordinary French soldiers had been led to believe that possibilities of espionage lurked in the correspondents they were ordered to arrest and, after all, to a simple uneducated Frenchman an Englishman may look very like a German. Some correspondents- were quite harshly treated, and lingered in gaol for periods up to three or four days before they were shipped home or sent to the British Army to be dealt with by their own countrymen. Some of them were stripped stark naked to be searched. Cameras were in some cases smashed or confiscated. In several cases British correspondents on being taken through the streets by guards were mobbed by French crowds in the belief that they were spies.
The Belgians were the last of the Allies and the most reluctant to trouble correspondents. First they withdrew the privileges and permits they had given them, leaving them to manage as best they could without them. Later, with much politeness and diffidence, they asked such correspondents as came to them for official news to withdraw but they did not insist on withdrawal, nor did they hunt down correspondents who did not come to them. So long as a correspondent wrote reasonably and guardedly they turned a blind eye to his existence in the zone of the armies, and though no information was given him officially, he was allowed, nevertheless, to roam in the war zone and pick up what information he could. If he obtruded himself, however, or wrote foolishly, he was brought to the notice of the British Staff officer who worked with the Belgian Staff, and through him the correspondent was either arrested or was told in clear terms to leave the war zone.
As one of the last correspondents to be hunted down and expelled from the Flanders war zone, the writer can supply from personal experience details of how anyone occupying this curious and invidious position of a correspondent "tolerated but not recognised" did his work.
Three bases were used one in Furnes, which is in Flanders, another in France in a Dunkirk hotel, a third in quiet rooms in Dunkirk. Different "bases" were necessary, because to stay in any one place for more than a day or so at a time brought visits and inquiries from police and others, and once the rank and file, police or soldiers, brought a correspondent officially to the notice of their superiors, these officers, who might themselves have been willing to leave him alone, had to take action. The only official action they could take was to expel him.
To get to the front one could not use a motor-car or a bicycle of one's own. For a motor-car an official pass was required. A pass obtained one month was mysteriously withdrawn next month and never renewed. A bicycle was forbidden to civilians.
Journeys to the front, therefore, had to be made either on foot and the front was fourteen miles from Dunkirk or by getting a "lift" unofficially on some vehicle bound for the front. The writer travelled at different times in bread-carts, motor-lorries, ammunition-waggons, and even in officers' limousines and armoured cars, for many officers and men were only too glad to give a correspondent whom they knew a "lift" on the quiet.
But to send despatches home to England one had always to return to French territory. There was no means of getting messages away from Flanders. Unable to travel on trains for to enter a station one needed an official "laissez passer" a correspondent's only method was to engage some Frenchman as courier. A young Frenchman thus engaged used to make regular journeys carrying the writer's despatches to another courier in Calais, who in turn carried them to London. Occasional short and important messages one might venture to telegraph, but this was risky, because the post-office censors might at any moment have drawn the attention of the authorities to the existence of a Press correspondent in the war zone.
The writer might have gone on indefinitely in this outlaw way so far as the Belgian authorities were concerned, but in January, 1916, on a return to French territory to send home a despatch, he received an official summons to the Prefecture of Police in Dunkirk, where it was given him to understand that the British authorities had sent over special instructions that both he and Mr. Lumby, of the "Times," the last remaining British correspondents in the war zone, were to be hunted out and expelled. There had been previous "round-ups" of correspondents which they had managed to evade, but this one they could not evade.
At the Prefecture and at the Army Permit Office they were told that, however willing the French authorities and the Belgian authorities might have been that they should continue their work, the British authorities were unwilling. The names of the British generals from whom the orders had come were also given.
There is little doubt that the British Government, advised by the then Controller of the Army, Lord Kitchener, who had singular views (views shared by none of his successors) with regard to the Press, was at the bottom of this joint allied arrangement for excluding newspaper representatives from all work in the zone of the armies. The earlier attitude of both France and Belgium showed clearly that no such policy had been contemplated by them at the outset. The persistence of the British Government in putting difficulties in the way of newspaper correspondents, while other allied countries were but lukewarm in the matter, tends to confirm the view that the British were the leaders in this crusade.
For some months after this the British newspapers had virtually no first-hand accounts of affairs in the field save those from little parties of selected correspondents who at rare intervals were taken for motor tours in the war zone under the guidance of officers. These war tours were begun by the French Government, who seemed to regard he newspapers more tolerantly than did the British Government, even though their censorship was closer, stricter, and more intelligent. The British Government, under public pressure at home, followed suit. But, good is were the accounts of doings in the field written by these selected correspondents, they covered too narrow a field of time and place to be anything like a complete and satisfactory service of war news. There was another source of official "war news" at the time namely, the despatches from the field of "Eye-Witness," but few people took them seriously. They began in the middle of September under the style of "Descriptive accounts of operations in the field compiled by an officer of Sir John French's Staff." Not many weeks later they were issued under the pen-name of "Eye-Witness." Each despatch set out to cover a definite period of operations in the field, and might have been made a most valuable and informative history of the vital events then taking place. Instead of this they were, as one editor expressed it, "charmingly futile descriptions which used to tantalise the British public more than absolute silence would have done always literary, always elegant, and always magnificently uninformative."
One exception to the Government's plan of war secrecy stands out clearly in the history of this period namely, Field-Marshal Sir John French's despatches from the field. Sir John's despatches were models of hard fact and plain statements. As such they were splendid. They contained little, however, of the colour and atmosphere and emotion of war. They were also too few in number and too long delayed after the events with which they dealt adequately to fulfil the function of a war news service.
The British newspapers persisted, therefore, in their efforts to obtain greater facilities. They were now backed by politicians and public alike. Members of the Government and even of the Cabinet had begun to rail against the extraordinary attitude of repression which had been adopted against the Press in its collection of- war news.
This pressure at last broke down the resistance a resistance as stubborn as the military chiefs in whom it centred. Early in May of 1915 the Government at last consented to the sending out of permanent British Press correspondents to the zone of British operations in France to supply a regular service of war news. The French Government and other the field allied Governments followed suit, and from the beginnings thus made grew a great organisation for the supply of war news. "Press Camps" were instituted with each army's headquarters in the field. Correspondents, quite representative in the journals and agencies they represented though themselves limited in number, were duly licensed by the War Office and allowed facilities for working with the armies in the field. The British Army established its Press Camps for British journalists and American, for Canadian journalists and Australian, and also for French journalists. Official army photographers were also appointed with commissioned rank ; army cinema operators were also chosen. The French Army established similar camps.
All these new activities, specially designed to meet the loud demands from home for closer and more intimate news of the war than the official communiqués could give or attempt to give, were placed, so far as the British Army was concerned, under the control of an experienced officer, having the title of Chief Field Censor. The officer chosen for this post (General Charteris) had both the necessary military knowledge and the knowledge of Press work to equip him for the post. Under him was an officer holding the rank of Staff Colonel, who acted as "Press officer." Lieut.-Colonel Hutton Wilson, D.S.O., filled this post for many months, and was succeeded, when he left it to take up other work, by Lieut.-Colonel J. C. Faunthorpe. Under him again were assistant Press officers, some of whom had charge of special departments of Press work, while others acted as conductors in the field to Press representatives. Thus one officer had control of the official photographers and cinema men; another had charge of the French correspondents posted with the British Army; others would go day by day with the correspondents themselves to the front lines or elsewhere, helping them to collect information and seeing, incidentally, that they did not exceed the limits of discretion.
The excellent arrangements made by the British Army in France for recording the progress of the war may be taken as typical of those that existed in all the many fields of war in which British armies were engaged, and they may be described in closer detail.
First as to the obligations of the correspondents who were admitted to these facilities. Each had to obtain from the War Office an "accredited correspondent's" licence, nomination for which was made by one or other of the five papers or groups of papers which alone of all the British Press were privileged to nominate correspondents for the British front. This licence, containing details of the correspondent and a photograph, was issued by the War Office, but had to be countersigned by the Chief Field Censor before it was valid within the "zone of the armies." With it were issued two green brassards, the distinguishing mark of a Press correspondent in the field. These he wore on the sleeves of a khaki uniform of the same cut and kind as a commissioned officer, but without regimental badges or rank badges. A service cap, a Sam Browne belt, field-glasses, and a typewriter completed his equipment, though, on arrival in the fire zone, it was increased by the addition of a shrapnel helmet of green painted iron and a gas-mask in a canvas knapsack. Without these two things no correspondent was allowed in the fire zone.
The following extracts from notes taken by the writer during time spent as an "accredited correspondent" on the British front in France may help to give some idea of the life and work of correspondents in the field :
Upon arrival at the British base, Boulogne, I had to report to the Acting-Provost Marshal of the port and obtain from him my "field pass," which had been forwarded to him from Headquarters to await my arrival. This pass was in English and French. Guards and sentries would recognise no other. A motor-car had met me at the boat and in this, after my call on the "A.P.M." I was driven straightway to the advanced Headquarters of the British Army. The car was one of five official Press cars provided by the Army and driven by soldier drivers, though paid for, of course, by the Press.
The advanced base at this time was in the city of -----, at which we arrived after a run of about four hours. The Press correspondents' mess, which moved from town to town, whenever advanced Headquarters moved, was at this time in a chateau off the main street of that city. In the chateau worked not only the correspondents, but also the Press officer and his assistant officers, a major, captains, and lieutenants, and a staff of typists, orderlies, servants, and others. The correspondents had a room apiece upstairs and shared writing-room, dining-room, and "salon" downstairs. Most of them preferred to do their writing in the quiet of their own room, and at the close of a busy day on the front the polished wooden corridors of the chateau echoed to the merry patter of industrious typewriters.
My own room was a cheerful little place at the tar end of the corridor with a primitive French bath-room attached. My window looked out on the back garden of the chateau, a roomy square of lawn, shrubs, and path, surrounded, as are most French gardens, by a tall wall. In this room before a fire of sizzling birch logs, lighted after many pains and failures by my soldier servant, Edward, I used to sit at nights writing the events of each day. A paraffin lamp before the mirror on the mantelpiece gave me light. Tall windows, severely clamped and bolted, and equipped with heavy wooden shutters outside, might have dulled for me the never-ceasing rumble of the distant guns had I only been able to keep them shut, French fashion ; but this I could not do, and their solemn "drumble" greeted my waking, droned to my working, and drummed me to sleep at nights.
For they never ceased, day or night. Sometimes they rose to a banging tempest you knew then that a "strafe" was in progress. At other times, especially when the wind was contrary, they sank to a low murmur constant, regular, and almost soothing, like the rumble of distant trains heard in a quiet countryside on a silent night.
The correspondents' normal daily programme was to meet together after breakfast in a sort of conference, at which the Press officer, their colonel, presided. First, he announced to them in a rough outline any development, changes in position, or actions that had taken place during the night. The correspondents themselves on this information decided their respective programmes for the day. The colonel's information usually made it clear in what districts of the front interesting developments had occurred, and they agreed mutually which of them should visit these districts and obtain full details of what had happened.
Their motor - cars and drivers were by this time waiting at the chateau gate, and soon they were radiating from the city of to different quarters on the front.
Each car contained, besides one or more correspondents, an assistant Press officer, who served in a curious dual capacity as friend and monitor to the correspondents whom he accompanied. It might fall to this officer to shepherd a correspondent at the risk of his life over a shell-swept waste, or to chaperone him into the august presence of a British general, so that he might glean first-hand details of events that had happened in that general's area of command. Or it might fall to him to pass a quiet veto if the correspondent's innocence or enthusiasm led him to contemplate doing anything that should not be done."
So far as the writer observed them, they exercised this more unpleasant part of their function sparingly and kindly. In fact, they were excellent fellows. To have one day after day, as they did, into the most troublous and dangerous places, merely to satisfy the insatiable curiosity and lust for experience which characterise every good journalist, seemed one of the most thankless of tasks. Yet they performed it not only loyally but good-humouredly. Most of them were officers who through wounds had been invalided and put on "light duty" a euphemism under which might lurk many onerous and hazardous Army tasks.
If the area to be visited by the correspondent were no great distance from Headquarters he might get home again in time for lunch at the chateau, but more often his journey and work would occupy the whole day. On these occasions sandwiches and mineral waters and light wine would be taken in the car in a basket to be eaten on some country roadside, perhaps, or in some trench or shattered village of the front. He might lunch in green, open countryside to the whistling of larks, or in some shell-pitted desert of upturned earth and shattered brick to the whistling of shells.
Often he met kindly people who invited him to a meal with them in their quarters. The writer has lunched, for instance as the guest of a general in his chateau, sitting on priceless chairs of two centuries ago, and also by the side of a junior subaltern in a dug- out, with stewed bully beef for a dish and an upturned packing-case for a table, each meal having a subtle charm of its own.
Everywhere (the notebook records) I found myself received with the warmest hospitality and the keenest wish to help. More than once I dropped across officers who had secretly done me little kindnesses during my "outlaw" days of war reporting in Flanders ; and many a pleasant "crack" (as the Scots say) we had over those early days, and the devices and makeshifts to which one had then to resort to keep out of the military net laid for newspaper correspondents. Meeting these friends again, it was. made still clearer to me how little the Army of that day relished the hunting and baiting of correspondents to which their orders, received from a higher power in England, committed them. Quite naturally, officers, then as now, had been only too pleased that such doings of their units and men as could with discretion be made public should be made public.
With good fortune a correspondent might arrive home in time for a cup of tea at 4.30 with his fellow-correspondents ; and over the tea-cups the news gleanings of the day would be exchanged. One acquired the art of taking notes and munching bread-and- butter simultaneously. After tea each man went to his room to "write up," putting the day's events in such perspective as seemed fitting to him. The news he had himself collected might be the most important of the day, or it might be overshadowed and dwarfed by facts which a colleague had collected.
After a busy day the typewriters upstairs might be tapping till a late hour at night ; and dinner, served about 8.30, might go begging for want of diners. But for the most part despatches were finished by-dinner-time, for there was an additional goad to quickness of writing besides that of mere hunger. The despatches were either telegraphed to England in which case they had to be brief or they were carried by a King's Messenger who had to leave, of course, in time to catch the boat. The censoring ot the despatches was done by the Press officers in the chateau itself, and they fixed each day a time at which all despatches had to be in their hands so as to leave them an ample margin of time for the censoring before the messenger took them away. Dinnertime was, generally speaking, the time-limit fixed, and by that hour all despatches for transport by boat had to be in the censor's hands. Your despatch, good or bad, complete or incomplete, had to be finished by this time, unless, for some special reason affecting all correspondents alike, an extension of time had first been obtained.
But the time of the boat's departure was apt to vary, and there might be occasions when you arrived "home" at night hungry and dog-tired, and with ears still dinning with the sound of shells, only to find that all "copy" had to be handed in in an hour's time. Then for a scrambling rush !
It was after a long day spent at the front, finished up by a lightning literary dash of this sort, that one could with the fullest and most wallowing luxury spread oneself in a big easy-chair with a pipe, in the cosy salon downstairs, tracing the pictures of fancy in the feathery ash of the log fire, or listening to the cheery talk of colleagues whose feet competed with one's own for space on the big square fender.
Looking over his diary for this period the writer finds the following description of those evening hours after work was done and of the colleagues with whom they were spent:
All of them are men of world culture ; men who have seen things and done things. No need to lift one's gaze from the fire to know which of them is speaking. Each voice is distinctive. May be it is Perry Robinson, of the "Times," the oldest man of the little group, though not yet old, who is telling some apposite experience of his varied journalistic days in America. The sentences he uses are short and well-weighed, and, without looking round, you know quite well that the little pauses which punctuate them and make them seem almost halting are taken up in short, quick puffs at his briar pipe, which he nurses tenderly in his fingers as he smokes. Every few minutes there will be a longer pause, and you know that he is "stopping" his pipe with a stopper produced automatically at regular intervals from his right tunic pocket. Turn your head, and it is to see a face strongly characteristic, a profile finely chiselled, grey hair and moustache of military cut, strikingly contradicted by bushy eyebrows of jet black. When sentries and guards on the road see that face in a passing motor-car they automatically give a "general's salute."
Big Beach Thomas is sitting by him with his long limbs crossed on the fender. He succeeded his colleague, Valentine Williams, who became an officer in the Irish Guards, as representative of the "Daily Mail." Through gold-rimmed spectacles he gazes at the fire, his brown eyes gaining an added twinkle from its light. The ruddy bronze of an outdoor life is on his cheek. It is not many years since he "ran the mile" for his University, Oxford, in which he was president of the Athletic Union. A love of letters and the classics shares almost an equal place with his love of Nature, outdoor life, and pastimes. On a quiet day when there is nothing much to do he is always a "safe " man to look for to go out for a walk. To find him you may look in his room to discover him reading a well-thumbed volume of Virgil or in the chateau garden to see him kicking a football about. I can see him there now, as I write this in my room tall, lithe, bare- headed, either kicking his football or bowling imaginary overs at an imaginary wicket by the rose-bush at the bottom of the garden a boy still, in mind and freshness and jollity of disposition, yet one of the finest and most lovable of men.
Over by the far side of the fire is a short, thick-set figure, with a strong square face, glowing dark eyes, and a shock of shining black hair. You will ransack memory for a moment to think where you have seen a like face, and then the memory comes back in a flash. The head is like Beethoven's. But it is that of Perceval Gibbon. It is as a short- story writer rather than as a journalist the world knows him best; it was as a sailor, globe- trotter, and adventurer that he picked up his amazing wealth of experience of men and things. And. to a restless physical energy, Nature has added in him a relentless mental energy. He is in one man two contradictions roving adventurer and student. His researches in the one capacity touch the remotest corners of the world ; in the other the remotest byways of learning. He has commanded a sailing ship, traded with savages in Central Africa, and yet found time to learn half a dozen languages and to plumb the literature of half Europe. When he talks, it is with all the fire and emphasis of his Celtic blood.
Percival Phillips, of the "Express," from the outer fringe of the circle round the fire, contributes now and again a snappy, dry, and almost pawky comment to the chatter. He has the longest service of all of us in the mess. He came out in May, 1915, when correspondents were first appointed, and is the only survivor of that little band. He speaks but seldom ; a listener rather than a talker, but one of those delightful people whom one can describe as a "merry listener." He was a war correspondent at the age of twenty when with pack on shoulder, so to speak he set off on his own account from his home in America to the Greek War, where he wrote war despatches and sent them "on approval" to editors, American and British, who were forced by their very excellence to use them. He soon won for himself a foremost place among English journalists. A man of fine presence, great unselfishness, courtly manner, and sterling worth, he is a. large contributor, in a quiet way, to the happiness and almost family comfortableness (one would have liked to borrow the German word gemuetlichkeit) that characterised our mess.
And, lastly, there is Philip Gibbs, who is next to Percival Phillips in length of service. His broad brow, his pale, finely-chiselled face, thin, sensitive lips, and big clear eyes, show something of the thinker, idealist, and poet that he is by nature. But his spare frame and indolent pose as he reclines one might almost say, collapses in an easy-chair belie the fierce unquenchable energy that is his. Few men there are who can idle so unsatisfactorily as he. The cigarette in the fingers of his slim left hand is sending upwards a thin blue line. Through eyes half closed he watches its un-waving course dreamily, apparently the most thorough and most complete of idlers. But it is only for a moment. He moves, I see him turn to catch my eye, and I know full well that it is to challenge me to a game of chess "a la mort," as we used to say. Over the game he will struggle and wriggle to gain the mastery, finding some outlet in so doing for the restless mental energy that consumes him. But for that game I know he would go to his room and work. It is a kindness to make him play. A man of great sympathy is Gibbs ; a man in whom the soul-wound caused by war and war's horror and war's suffering is ever fresh and raw. Such a war as this weighs heavy on a mind like that.
Later in the evening visitors begin to drift in ; for the correspondents' mess is a popular place of call. Here comes Muirhead Bone, the official artist, a man of world-wide repute, shaped and standardised to Army type by the uniform and one star of a second- lieutenant. He picks up a periodical from the table and would retire shyly to the coldest corner, for he is the most reticent of men. But a gap is made in the circle of chairs round the fire, a new chair inserted, and he is led to it, protesting that he will on no account push anyone from the fire. He begins to tell us some queer happening of his day. He is full of simple, homely anecdote which he retails in a light, flexible voice, in which a trace of his native Scotland Still lingers ; though it is the intonation rather than the pronunciation that proclaims it. He talks simply. Even his words, as well as his eyes, seem to have a mischievous twinkle. He sets us all laughing with a little story about the "man who brought coal" that day to the tiny office with which the Army provides him as a studio. He did not want any coal because he had not yet finished his last supply, nor had he room for more coal, but the coalman said he "must have it, it was 'Army Orders,' he was "down on the list" for coal. Out of these and such simple ingredients come his merry stories, told with a shy, dry, kindly humour. A great artist, gentle, diffident; and, underneath, the sparkling mischief of a boy.
The Press officers have now finished their censoring, and, should no other work present itself, they may stroll into the salon for a chat or a look at the day's papers, which have just arrived by courier and have been spread out on a far table by an orderly. The post has arrived, too, and there is silence while letters from home are read. Then the papers are hunted through and despatches written two days earlier are read through with a microscopic eye for the sins of sub-editors and printers, superadded to one's own ; all stand clearly revealed in that bleak pillory of print.
More visitors arrive, officers for the most part who have come into the city of ----- for a few hours' leave from their stations at the front. Brother journalists come in, overseas representatives from the Australian and Canadian Press Camps not many miles away. Among them is Bean, the Australian, whose despatches from Gallipoli earlier in the war will form a great and permanent chapter in Australian history. Tall, with abundant yellow curly hair, his build suggests one of his hardy brother-Australian soldiers, but his head the head of a statesman. In a chance talk that is going on he picks up some item of news about his beloved Australians and hurries out to telegraph it.
Lieutenants Brooke and Brooks, the official Army photographers, visit the mess to look at the illustrated papers, which are well filled with examples of their handicraft with the camera. Upon these two men depends the supply of official photographs of the British Army in the field. An orderly enters with drinks and glasses on a tray. Men help themselves.
If the German airmen feel active they may fly over to-night and bomb us. Anti-aircraft guns reply from the streets and gardens about us, and there is a pandemonium of noise. We go through the French windows into the garden and watch the shrapnel bursting against the sky. There is no great concern. One has become by this time almost fatalistic about shell fire and other dangers. Once they bombed us six nights running.
Before midnight, as a rule, all visitors have gone. The "last man up" takes up his oil lamp from the hall-table and creeps off to his room.
narrow escapes and on foreign fronts
This little picture of war reporters and war reporting as it existed at the chief centre of that industry namely, the British War Correspondents' Camp on the front in France has only to be altered in Press camps on details of place and men and extent to other fronts illustrate the kind of thing that existed on each of the British fronts. The Press camps on other fronts were not so big as the one in France, perhaps, nor were the arrangements for recording the war both in letterpress and in photograph so elaborate. But the mode of life and the fashion of working were much the same everywhere. The British correspondents with the French Army, for instance, worked to almost identical rules; they lived in almost an identical chateau. They comprised Mr. G. H. Perris, of the "Chronicle," Mr. Gerald Campbell, of the "Times," Mr. H. Warner Allen and Mr. Lawrence, of Reuter's. The Canadians' Camp was a similar centre of industry and good fellowship, Sir Max Aitken being their "Eye-Witness." The Allied Correspondents' Camp attached to British Headquarters varied from time to time, but in it were usually three or four leading French journalists, two Italians, a Russian, and a Portuguese. Two American correspondents representing big news agencies worked with the British correspondents.
In the great industry of reporting the war there were also, of course, the outposts correspondents posted with British armies in the outer fields of the war, and correspondents working with the allied armies. Among the former was Mr. Massey, of the "Daily Telegraph," official correspondent with the British army in Egypt. Mr. Edmund Candler, an old campaigner, was with the British in Mesopotamia. He took part as a war correspondent in General Younghusband's expedition to Tibet years before, and lost an arm in the course of the first battle fought there. Mr. Ward Price was official correspondent with the British forces in the Balkans, where he had previously acted in a similar capacity during the wars of a few years earlier. The allied armies Russia, Rumania, France, Belgium, Serbia, and Italy had also representatives of the British Press officially appointed to give the British public full record of what these Allies were doing in the common cause. One need mention only the brilliant work of Mr. Hamilton Fyfe from Russia and Rumania, of Mr. Warner Allen and Mr. Campbell from the French Army Headquarters, of Mr. Crawfurd Price from Serbia and elsewhere, to indicate the calibre of the men engaged with our Allies and the work they did, not only in recording facts of the war, but in winning the sympathy of the British nation for the allied soldiers of whose doings they wrote so well.
All reporting of the war was not official, though all reporting from the actual fields of operations had to be so. Every centre of importance on the fringe of the war had its newspaper representatives eager to collect war news and such news of the enemy countries as came over the frontiers. Holland, Switzerland, Denmark, all had their little groups of British journalists closely watching the trend of things bearing on the war. Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Copenhagen, Basle, and Berne were important centres for war news of the more political and diplomatic kinds. The collecting of news in these and like centres was a very delicate business in view both of the desire of these countries to maintain a strict and impartial neutrality and of the efforts of the Germans and their agents to place difficulties in the way of British correspondents and prevent them from learning the truth about things in Germany. The Germans who found a British correspondent at all successful in getting news of their affairs did not hesitate to denounce him as a spy to the authorities of the country in which he worked; and not a few British correspondents were arrested on charges trumped up by these Germans.
Just as in countries in which fighting actually took place and in countries touching the belligerent countries, the record of war in all its phases, diplomatic, military, and domestic, was faithfully recorded day by day by British journalists, so, too,- in countries quite remote from war had a faithful war record to be made and kept. For it is fair to say that there was hardly a country in the whole world in which the war did not bring about great changes and vital events, events that were to leave indelible marks upon the history of these nations. These events were recorded in some cases by correspondents specially sent out from England by British newspapers, in other cases by resident correspondents working for those newspapers or for one or other of the great news agencies. Among the latter none did better or more useful war work than Reuter's.
Thanks mainly to the enterprise of the British newspapers and news agencies, and the sincerity of the men whom they sent out to write records of war's changes and events, the files of the British Press will serve the historians of the time to come as archives of war fact and information, more valuable probably than any other source. The pity of it is that, through official short-sightedness, the making and keeping of this record was given so cramped and inauspicious a start.
a roster of British war-correpondents and phtographers
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