Keith Murdoch and Charles Bean
Southern (left) pylon
Keith Murdoch, author of what became known as The Gallipoli Letter, outside Charles Bean's dugout during his visit to Anzac Cove.
The Gallipoli Letter is an 8000-word private report which was written by Murdoch, with the help of a British war correspondent, Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett, after visiting the Gallipoli peninsula in September 1915. It describes the organisation and conditions of the Gallipoli campaign. It was sent to Andrew Fisher (then Prime Minister of Australia) and Henry Herbert Asquith (then Prime Minister of the United Kingdom). Murdoch’s 28-page letter helped to establish the idea of Gallipoli as a military disaster.
Fisher sent Murdoch to Gallipoli for an honest report on the campaign. Contrary to the rules of censorship, Murdoch wrote and sent his letter without submitting it to the military censors. In the eyes of some, this was a grave betrayal of Murdoch’s role at Gallipoli. Murdoch, however, strongly defended his action on the grounds that his letter was not for publication but for the information of the Prime Minister.
Whether or not Murdoch did the right thing in sending the letter without censorship, it had a serious impact and brought about rapid results. It is asserted that Murdoch’s letter led directly to the ending of the Gallipoli campaign and the evacuation of British and Anzac troops from the peninsula.
In the letter, Murdoch is highly critical of the British officers and the role that they played in the Gallipoli disaster. He is full of praise and admiration for the Australian troops, who he believes are noble and courageous in their approach to battle and the possibility of death.
It is the tragedy of Gallipoli that its most successful aspect was the covert and dangerous withdrawal of troops from the peninsula. Between 8 and 20 December 1915, about 90,000 allied soldiers were secretly withdrawn from Gallipoli. There were very few casualties. Many of those soldiers, however, went on to fight and die on the battlefields elsewhere in Europe and the Middle East.
Murdoch returned home to continue his career as a journalist and eventually to establish himself as one of Australia’s first ‘media barons’. Throughout his life, he remained a powerful and influential figure on the Australian scene.
The way that Murdoch described the young Anzac soldiers that he met contributed to the myth of the ‘Anzac’ — the brave, self-sacrificing soldier with a larrikin spirit and a deep sense of mateship. This myth-making has been the inspiration for many creative works, including books, films and television series, that try to represent what it meant to be an Anzac (nla.gov.au)
Image courtesy of the Australian War Memorial.
Northern (right) pylon
Charles Edwin Woodrow Bean, Australia's official war correspondent, outside his tent in the AIF camp at Mena.
Charles Bean is perhaps best remembered for the official histories of Australia in the First World War, of which he wrote six volumes and edited the remainder. When WW1 began, Bean won an Australian Journalists Association ballot and became official correspondent to the AIF. He accompanied the first convoy to Egypt, landed at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915 and began to make his name as a tireless, thorough and brave correspondent. He was wounded in August but remained on Gallipoli for most of the campaign, leaving just a few days before the last troops.
He then reported on the Australians on the Western Front where his admiration of the AIF crystallised into a desire to memorialise their sacrifice and achievements. In addition to his journalism, Bean filled hundreds of diaries and notebooks, all with a view to writing a history of the AIF when the war ended. In early 1919 he led a historical mission to Gallipoli before returning to Australia and beginning work on the official history series that would consume the next two decades of his life.
He was also the driving force behind the establishment of the Australian War Memorial.
Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial.