GALLIPOLI - General Sir Ian Hamilton was beginning to ponder the activities of the official war correspondents who were attached to the MEF to send their reports back to the home countries. Australia's representative we have already met - Charles Bean a journalist from The Sydney Morning Herald, was elected by his colleagues in the Australian Journalists Association and the nomination then ratified by the Government.
Picture of cover of popular edition of Ashmead Bartlett's despatches published during the campaign.
The British war correspondent was a more contentious figure: Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett. Bartlett had some military experience as an officer with the Middlesex Regiment in the Boer War. By 1915 he was a journalist for the Daily Telegraph and was selected as the Fleet Street representative. As such he was very much the main man and his reports actually beat Bean's to publication in Australia. A colourful writer, he was never one to fight shy of adding fictional material to improve a story, but he had also become deeply critical of Hamilton's efforts. During a visit back to London in June Ashmead-Bartlett had done a considerable amount of politicking, meeting many of the key political and military figures. It was Ashmead-Bartlett's influence that Hamilton had in mind when he wrote his diary for 20 June.
"Told Kitchener about the arrival of fresh Turkish troops and our fighting on the 18th. The trenches remain as before, but the Turks, having failed, are worse off. I have also written him about war correspondents. He had doubted whether my experiences would encourage me to increase the number to two or three. But, after trial, I prefer that the public should have a multitude of councillors. "When a single individual," I say, "has the whole of the London Press at his back he becomes an unduly important personage. When, in addition to this, it so happens, that he is inclined to see the black side of every proposition, then it becomes difficult to prevent him from encouraging the enemy, and from discouraging all our own people, as well as the Balkan States. If I have several others to counterbalance, then I do not care so much." Fired off a second barrel through Fitz from whom I have just heard that my Despatch cannot be published as it stands but must be bowdlerized first, all the names of battalions being cut out. Instead of saying, "The landing at 'W' had been entrusted to the 1st Bn. Lancashire Fusiliers (Major Bishop) and it was to the complete lack of the sense of danger or of fear of this daring battalion that we owed our astonishing success," I am to say, "The landing, etc., had been entrusted to a certain battalion." The whole of this press correspondence; press censorship; despatch writing and operations cables hang together and will end by hanging the Government. My operations cables are written primarily for K., it is true, but they are meant also to let our own people know what their brothers and sons are up against and how they are bearing up under unheard of trials. There is not a word in those cables which would help or encourage the enemy. I am best judge of that and I see to it myself. What is the result of my efforts to throw light upon our proceedings? A War Office extinguisher from under which only a few evil-smelling phrases escape. As I say to Fitz:-- "You seem to see nothing beyond the mischief that may happen if the enemy gets to know too much about us; you do not see that this danger can be kept within bounds and is of small consequence when compared with the keenness or dullness of our own Nation."
I. Hamilton, Gallipoli Diary, (London, Edward Arnold Ltd, 1920), pp.320-321