Documenting the Australian experience of World War I
War correspondents had an influential role in World War I. Working in war zones, close to the action, they reported what they saw and heard. Their words and images helped shaped the views of the Australian public throughout the war. We're still using those firsthand reports and images today - they've become part of Australia's history.
Reporting what they see and hear
War correspondents include journalists, photographers, camera operators, filmmakers and artists. Their task during wartime is to ask and answer difficult questions:
- What just occurred?
- What were the experiences of those involved?
- Why did this occur?
- What can we learn from war?
A journalist who covers stories from a war zone is sometimes called a 'special correspondent' or a 'war correspondent'.
Many journalists travelled independently to areas of conflict to cover the action for their newspapers. Some journalists were appointed by the armed services to report in an official capacity. All were affected by strong censorship rules, which restricted what could be reported back home in Australia.
Some journalists had access to cable to file their reports, but others had to post their articles back to Australia in the mail. Newspapers would often publish stories many weeks after they were written. Mail was slowed down by both shipping and government censors.
Australia's official war correspondent for the Australian Imperial Force, Charles Bean, reported on the war from 1914 to 1918.
Another notable journalist was Keith Murdoch who worked for the Sun newspaper in Melbourne. During the war, he took on a war correspondence role for the United Cable Service in London.
As a journalist for The Age newspaper in Melbourne, Phillip Schuler, reported on the Gallipoli Campaign from the Dardanelles and nearby Greek islands. His photographs from that time have become valuable historical records.
British war correspondent, Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett, worked for The Daily Telegraph newspaper in London. His first report of the Anzac landing on Gallipoli was reprinted in the Hobart Mercury on 12 May 1915. (Bean's report of the landing was delayed until 17 May 1915.)
Photographers and camera operators
War photographers often risked their lives to capture haunting images of death and destruction during the war.
The offical war photographer of the AIF, Honorary Captain Frank Hurley, was known as 'the mad photographer' by many of the troops. A renowned photographer from Sydney, Hurley joined the AIF in 1917. He captured many stunning battlefield scenes on the Western Front. He also created films of AIF troops in the Middle East toward the end of the war.
Cinematographer and aerial photographer, Captain Hubert Wilkins, joined the Australian Flying Corps in 1917. He was appointed an official war photographer in 1917 and photographed the Australians during the Third Battle of Ypres. Wilkins stayed in the AIF until September 1920 to work with the Australian Historical Mission under the official historian, Charles Bean.
Australia's Official War Art Scheme started in World War I. Artists were embedded with the AIF to create a personal representation of the conflict. Paintings showed the experience of soldiers in battle and service men and women at rest. They explored a visual and sensory dimension that was absent from newspaper reports, war diaries and official histories.
Over the course of the war, 10 Australian artists living in London were each commissioned into the AIF for a 3-month period.
Another five artists who were serving in the AIF were attached to the Australian War Records Section to produce paintings. Three sculptors joined the Modelling Subsection of the Australian War Records Section to create landscape models and dioramas.
George Lambert was appointed an official war artist of the AIF in December 1917. Until he left the AIF in March 1920, he created many important historical sketches and paintings, including 'The Charge of the Light Horse at Beersheba' on 31 October 1917.
Many other artists and sculptors were influenced by the destruction and trauma of the Great War. Military personnel, battle-scarred landscapes and war-weary villagers became popular subjects. One such artist was Australian-born Hilda Rix Nicholas, who had been living in France and England when war broke out.
Commemoration of war correspondents
Reporting on war has always been dangerous work. Many correspondents have been injured or killed over the years. Australia's national War Correspondents Memorial in Canberra was dedicated to the men and women who have risked their lives to tell others about conflicts, wars and peacekeeping operations.