21 September 1915

On 21 September Keith Murdoch reached London and set in train a significant course of events. His son later recalled this as follows: "What he was most proud of and for which he was hated by many people in this country for many, many years, which was expose the scandal in Gallipoli, which I remain very, very proud of." There was of course no question of Keith Murdoch, a journalist, taking part in the fighting and his involvement consisted of a brief four day sojourn to "record censored impressions in the London and Australian newspapers I represent'.

Photograph: Keith Murdoch, Australian Journalist

Permission was reluctantly granted on condition that Murdoch signed a declaration that he would submit anything he wrote to the army censors. During his time there he visited Anzac and filed some bland non-controversial articles. Yet at the same time Murdoch was greatly influenced by his conversations with the official British war correspondent Ashmead-Bartlett who had become extraordinarily hostile to the British C-in-C General Sir Ian Hamilton and his handling of the campaign. The two conspired for Murdoch to evade the censorship by carrying a private letter from Ashmead-Bartlett to the British Prime Minister Herbert Asquith in London. The British soon authorities became aware of what was going on and the original letter was confiscated. But Murdoch was nothing if not resourceful and on arriving in London he typed his own 8,000-word report for the Australian Prime Minister Andrew Fisher, which he also copied to Asquith. This now famous letter was based on Murdoch's own experiences and what he recalled of the original letter.

It was an emotional rant, slamming into Hamilton and the overall British handling of the campaign. Specifically he was outraged at the needless loss - as he saw it - of Australian lives and praised there endurance and courage in the face of British incompetence. Murdoch's own brief visit, coupled with a demonstrably fallible memory, meant that parts of the letter were little more than gossip, but there is little doubt that the overall thrust was grounded in the awful reality at Gallipoli which official reports hitherto had concealed. Controversy blazed when Asquith printed this private communication as a British government paper for general circulation. In response Ashmead-Bartlett - who was the real origin of most of the criticisms - was kicked out of the Gallipoli headquarters. Freed from censorship he too joined an open campaign against Hamilton. Together they helped create a groundswell of opinion that forced Hamilton's out of command and would ultimately trigger an end to the doomed operations with the final evacuation of the Peninsula in January 1916. Murdoch's ethics may have been slightly dubious, but for all that he had a legitimate function as a journalist to expose 'the facts' as he saw them in the national interest.

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