Presentation on theme: "Reporter in Fiction Week 3 WW1. Press accused of under-reporting the scale of soldiers’ suffering Here for example, is an account of a gas attack during."— Presentation transcript:
Press accused of under-reporting the scale of soldiers’ suffering Here for example, is an account of a gas attack during the Battle of Ypres, spring 1915, as reported in The Times newspaper: ‘A Match for German Chemicals: The wind however was strong and dissipated the fumes quickly, our troops did not suffer seriously from their noxious effects..’ Compare this to Wilfred Owen’s account of a gas attack in his famous poem Dulce et Decorum est: ‘…someone was still yelling out and stumbling And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime… Dim through the misty panes and thick green light As under a green sea, I saw him drowning. In all my dreams, before my helpless sight, He plunges at me guttering, choking, drowning.’ The Times May 3 1915
Soldiers’ letters home Max Plowman, to Janet Upcott, August 13 1916 ‘I find there’s very little one can read out here. The newspapers on the war are nauseating…whether the general censorship is to blame or not I don’t know but it’s all unreal – the horror and the terror and the misery are all ‘written down’ or covered with sham heroics by cheap journalism…I’m not grumbling – no doubt these things are unavoidable but they look foolish from here and the armchair critic is made ridiculous. Truth has been sunk so deeply down the well now one wonders how long it will take to draw her up again…Of course only fools believe the newspapers – I mean believe the Germans are cowards who won’t face bayonets – believe soldiers enjoy this kind of war – believe each British soldier who’s killed finds a beautifully tended grave and all the rest of the rot. One hates the vacuum that’s created [by the absence of truth] and the journalistic blather is like a grinning mask on the face of death.’ (From letters of Max Plowman ed D L Plowman, Bridge Into the Future, 1944, Andrew Dakers Ltd)
British Newspapers were readily available to soldiers in the trenches – England was just a short boat ride across the Channel so they were easily able to see how events on the front were being reported. It is clear that soldiers and junior officers felt betrayed by the lack of honest reporting in the British press: ‘…as I opened a daily paper one morning and very deliberately read a dispatch from ‘War Correspondent’s Headquarters: ‘I have sat with some of the lads, fighting battles over again, and discussing battles to be,’ wrote some amiable man who had apparently mistaken the war for a football match between England and Germany (Siegfried Sassoon, Memoirs of an Infantry Officer)
‘Literature of Correction’ Robert Graves’s poem ‘A Dead Boche’ shows he has had enough of idealised images of the War: To you who’d read my songs of War And only hear of blood and fame… Today I found in Mametz Wood A certain cure for lust of blood: Where, propped against a shattered trunk, In a great mess of things unclean, Sat a dead Boche; he scowled and stunk With clothes and face a sodden green, Big bellied, spectacled, crop-haired, Dribbling black blood from nose and beard.’ Published in the collection Fairies and Fusiliers published by Heinemann November 1917
Trenches newspapers mocked or criticised the war correspondents The Wipers Times and the BEF Times. Beach Thomas, for exampled was nicknamed ‘Teech Bomas’ and here his style, describing tank movements is lampooned in the BEF Times: How could one fear anything in the belly of a perambulating peripatetic progolodymythorus…every wag of our creature’s tail threw a bomb with deadly precision and the mad, muddled murderers melted Kemmel Times: ‘Things we want to know: Whether the London press are aware that there are a few British troops on the Western Front???’
Jingoistic Propaganda In the first of his George Sherston trilogy, Memoirs of a Foxhunting Man Sassoon recalls some of the stories that abounded of German atrocities: ‘The newspapers informed us that German soldiers crucified Belgian babies. Stories of that kind were taken for granted. To have disbelieved them would have been unpatriotic.’ Memoirs of a Foxhunting Man by Siegfried Sassoon, 1928
Some Press ‘atrocity stories’ ‘Baby Bayoneted…an infant callously dragged from its sick mother and thrown from the window to bayonet point’ (Daily Express, 10 October, 1914: 4); ‘German Atrocities...One man whom I did not see told an official of the Catholic Society that he had seen with his own eyes German soldiery chop off the arms of a baby which clung to its mother’s skirts,’ (Times, 28 August, 1914: 7); ‘Murdered priests – Germans’ appalling record…27 priests in the Bishopric of Namur killed and 12 missing’ (Telegraph, 16 December 1914: 10); ‘The Germans and their Dead…There is a sickly smell in the air as if glue were being boiled. We are passing the great Corpse Utilisation Establishment (Times 19 April 1917: 5).
Targeting Germans living in England Newspapers whipped up hysterical anti- German propaganda – naturalised Germans had to go into hiding and many had their businesses destroyed. ‘Those papers were the witch-finders.’ (p.420) All Our Yesterdays, by H M Tomlinson, published 1930
Edward Thomas – hated jingoism in the Press Edward Thomas, an established writer by 1914 enlisted in the Artists Rifles in July 1915 and in December of that year, while waiting to sail to France, wrote This is no case of Petty Right and Wrong, attacking the black-and-white portrayal of the struggle, as painted in the newspapers: ‘…I hate not Germans, nor grow hot With love of Englishmen to please newspapers. Beside my hatred of one fat patriot My hatred of the Kaiser is love true:- …Dinned With war and argument I read no more Than in the storm smoking along the wind Athwart the wood. Two witches cauldrons roar. Published in Six Poems, 1916
War Correspondents’ point of view ‘…I saw British infantry, in the early weeks of that war, swinging along towards it, singing ‘Tipperary.’ The song was not sung in France after the September of that year, though it remained a favourite at home. To this day when I hear that foolish and sentimental air, I know very well why a man has been known to go apart, to think over what might have been, and what is, and to weep in secret…Perhaps here I had better bear in mind an Arab proverb, reminding us that it is good to know the truth, but better to know it and talk of palm trees…’(pp.144-5) From H M Tomlinson’s memoir, A Mingled Yarn
From Philip Gibbs Adventures in Journalism (1923) Most war correspondents saw it as their duty to censor their reports, highlighting the good and glossing over the bad, as Philip Gibbs writes in his autobiography Adventures in Fleet Street: ‘As far as the five war correspondents were concerned…we identified ourselves absolutely with the armies in the field... There was no need of censorship of our dispatches. We were our own censors.’ Ahh but did they identify with the armies in the field, or the officers behind the lines? (Editorial Impressions)
Some attempts to report the truth There certainly were attempts by individual journalists to report the truth – the famous ‘Amiens Despatch’ by Arthur Moore which appeared in the Sunday Times on August 30 1914 referring to ‘broken bits of many regiments’ and ‘terrible losses’ is not the only example and both newspapers and journalists expressed their frustration of the hand of the Censor. This article in The Times, of November 9 1915, covering a Lords debate is typical of countless such articles referring to the over-heavy hand of the Censor: ‘Lords on the Censor: doctored news. Lord Loreburn made a very strong appeal for a fuller publication of news, a more generous confidence in the newspapers on the part of the Government…British war news, Lord Milner said, had been constantly ‘doctored’ in an optimistic sense and many times he had been pained to hear officers from the front say that on the whole German official reports of engagements had been more trustworthy than the British.’(p.9)
Officers contemptuous It was not just the ordinary soldiers who viewed the correspondents with contempt – the officers did too: ‘The press was tolerated at GHQ, but only just; indeed a group of staff officers including Lieutenant Colonel James Edmonds…regarded it as amusing to pass false information to the reporters as a test of their credulity John Buchan’s Greenmantle (1917) ‘Oh my sainted aunt,’ said Sandy…’Have we to tout deputations of suspicious neutrals over munitions works or take the shivering journalist in a motorcar where he can imagine he sees a Boche?’
In All Our Yesterdays, Tomlinson paints a picture of the atmosphere at the ‘Chateau de Rollencourt,’ where the narrator and the other press correspondents are based. It is set in woodlands on a beautiful secluded estate, with a trout stream and the sound of the guns a far-distant throbbing (p.437). It is a gilded cage, where alongside generals and politicians, the correspondents are waited on by white-gloved servants, and amuse themselves by playing the piano and measuring quantities of barbed wire. But they are treated with ill- disguised contempt by the officers and with undisguised contempt by the politicians. They are clearly viewed as inferior by both.
The truth always comes out in the end… All Our Yesterdays does contain some of the most vivid descriptions there exist, in prose, of what the reality of the War was like, as if, finally, Tomlinson allows himself to report the truth, something he failed to do, or was prevented from doing, during the war: ‘He came, wearily, to an area of disrupted trenches, a dissolving maze of stagnant ditches and mounds, and no place in it for a foothold. The air had a sweetish sickly smell, for the slough was a compost of old wire, rags, clay, bones, flesh and burst sandbags. A boy’s alabaster face, all Maynard could see of him, hung backwards out of a heap of trash, what was left of his fair hair washed flat by rain, his eyes open to the indifferent sky, and his mouth gaping in astonishment and pain that belonged to the past. The offal was all human.’
The Press had abandoned ‘Fourth Estate’ journalism The overwhelming feeling amongst writers, soldiers, and the newspaper reading public was that the press was not performing its sacred Fourth Estate duty, ‘to obtain the earliest and most correct intelligence of the events of the time and instantly, by disclosing them, to make them the common property of the nation. Vera Brittain alludes to in her memoir Testament of Youth: ‘As usual the Press had given no hint of that tragedy’s dimensions, and it was only through the long casualty lists, and the persistent demoralising rumours that owning to a miscalculation in time thousands of our men had been shot down by our own guns, that the world was gradually coming to realise something of what the engagement had been.’
Another example of civilian confusion in H G Wells’s Mr Britling Sees it Through (1916) ‘the defeated Germans continued to advance’ (Wells, 1916: 142). Britling and his son Hugh, spend one Sunday reading the Observer, noting with astonishment that the Germans, who, according to despatches ‘had been mown down in heaps’ were closing in on Paris (Wells, 1916: 142).
Northcliffe and Beaverbrook given Government jobs Daily Mail becomes the target of some of the most savage anti press criticism Smile Smile Smile
Non-Combatants H G Wells Mr Britling Sees it Through (1916) ‘And then came the Sunday of The Times telegram, which spoke of a ‘retreating and a broken army.’ Mr Britling did not see this but Mr Manning brought it over in a state of profound consternation. Things, he said, seemed to be about as bad as they could be…Mr Britling was stunned. He went to his study and stared helplessly at maps.’ (p.140)
Timing of the change, around 1915/16 D H Lawrence identifies it in his 1923 novel Kangaroo as the winter of 1915/16 when the ‘…the genuine debasement began, the unspeakable baseness of the press and the public voice, the reign of that bloated ignominy, John Bull…’Other commentators give surprisingly similar timing
Idea of the popular press as ‘de- basing’ These fears will be expressed particularly shrilly by the likes of T S Eliot, Ezra Pound and Virginia Woolf in the twenties and thirties – with Pound placing the ‘press gang’ deep in his Hell Cantos for the crime of betraying the English language: ‘…the press gang/And those who had lied for hire; the perverts, the perverters of language,/the perverts who have set money- lust/Before the pleasures of the senses; howling, as of a hen-yard in a printing-house,/the clatter of presses…
Rose Macaulay’s Non-Combatants and Others (1916) Soldiers at the Front send poignantly upbeat letters back home: ‘My company is in the trenches now; commodious trenches they are; best in the line, but rather too near the people opposite for comfort’ (Basil Doye to Alix, p.20) while keeping to themselves the horror of seeing a young man with his arm blown off, his clothes ‘a red mess’ and not having any morphine tablets to ease his suffering (p.199). Those on leave talk of abundant food and jolly times in France. Yet Alix’s cousin John, after a pleasant evening back home having been discharged from hospital, has such violent nightmares that afterwards Alix, who witnesses one, is sick:
John has a damaged tongue and cannot speak properly ‘He was saying things from time to time…muttering them…Alix heard. Things quite different from the things he had said at dinner. Only his eyes, as Alix had met them through the daffodils, had spoken at all like this; and even that had not been like this. His eyes were now wide and wet and full of horror beyond speech.’(p.30) For John any kind of speech is difficult: his wound has resulted in nerve damage to the tongue: ‘Alix, watching from the garden, saw the queer way his throat worked, struggling with some word. (p.17)’ What is the significance of the injury to his tongue?
The comfort of the non-newsy periodicals In Non-Combatants and Others the women’s periodicals offer some genuine helpful information about how to make do with old clothes and a bare pantry; the weekly Home Chat provides within its pages patterns for making home made garments (p.47) Others offer tips on what to do with leftovers But the reading public is painted as being rather too gullible most of the time (handout)
Daily Mail Food Bureau Daily Mail’s women’s page editor during the War, Mrs Charles Peel notes in her memoirs that she received grateful letters from English prisoners of war in Germany who used her recipes in the camps: It was evident they received the Daily Mail with considerable regularity…They asked for help to cook their scanty rations in such ways as would make them palatable and nourishing (Peel, 1933: 221) Mrs Peel also notes that before the war was over she and her team had received, and replied to millions of letters, mainly from mothers and wives asking for recipes (Peel, 1933: 222).
Journalists as class traitors The unfair portrayals of working class ‘loafers’ would come back and haunt journalists after the War. There is a particularly outraged report in The Journalist, the National Union of Journalist’s in-house paper, from the Trade Union Congress of September 1920, as the delegation from the NUJ gets continually heckled by other unions: ‘One speaker was Mr John Bromley, Secretary of the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen, and in the course of his speech said: ‘It is necessary for every trade unionist at this Congress to put up with the general misrepresentation, vilification and abuse of the capitalistic press. We know, unfortunately that the brains of the members of the Journalists’ Union here are bought and paid for to be used against members of their own class.’ The Journalist, October 1920, NUJ archives
The press and the ‘manufacture of consent’ After the war, sociologists tried to work out why the war was so widely supported, even though tens of thousands of British youth were being mown down on a daily basis. They decided the press had conspired in ‘manufacturing’ public consent for the war. There is an allusion to this in ‘Smile, Smile, Smile’. In ‘Fight to a Finish’ the press and politicians are linked. Rose Macaulay refers to it to: ‘Lord Northcliffe says so doesn’t he?’ Basil Doye replies when someone questions why conscription is needed.
The undermining of the written word So it comes that each of several million ex- soldiers now reads every solemn appeal of a Government, each beautiful speech of a Premier or earnest assurance of a body of employers with that maxim on guard in his mind- “You can’t believe a word you read.” (C E Montague Disenchantment, 1922)
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