Television

Without Gallipoli, we’d have no Page 3

James Delingpole finds a new documentary about Rupert Murdoch’s journalist father - Gallipoli: When Murdoch Went To War - a fascinating eye-opener

2 May 2015

9:00 AM

2 May 2015

9:00 AM

Some years ago I paid a visit to the site of the Gallipoli landings because I was mildly obsessed with the Peter Weir movie and wanted to gauge for myself how horrible it must have been. En route I met up with a young Australian who was training to be an actor (in my false memory it was the unknown Russell Crowe) and together we clambered up the near-cliff-like slopes in the blazing sun, imagining the Turks sniping and rolling grenades at us from the trenches on top. That anyone could have survived at all, we agreed, was a miracle.

What I didn’t appreciate at the time was that the version of Gallipoli I had in my head — heroic young Aussies dying like flies while the incompetent British commanders drank tea on the beach — was largely the invention of one man, an Australian reporter called Keith Murdoch. He didn’t exactly lie about what happened. But he did embroider it with a bit of Pom-bashing spin, which is why, even to this day, we think of it as an Anzac affair, rather than as one in which the vast bulk of the fighting and dying was done by the British and the French (and Turks).

Murdoch invented Gallipoli. And in return, Gallipoli created Murdoch. Up until then the ambitious Keith had been rather unlucky in his career. In the 1900s, he’d scraped together enough money to buy his passage to England, only to be undone by his stammer, which cost him his job on the Pall Mall Gazette. Returning to Australia, with his tail between his legs, he hoped to be chosen as a correspondent in the war that had just broken out. But he lost out on the ballot by a single vote, and was given the lesser role of working for a cable news service based in London.


So Gallipoli — which he visited en route — was make or break time for Keith and he seized it with both hands. Murdoch’s masterstroke was to evade the censors by detailing the horrors of what was really happening in the Dardanelles with a long, passionate letter, which made its way into the hands of both the Australian prime minister and, eventually, those of his British counterpart Asquith, munitions minister Lloyd George, and most of their war cabinet. This led to the sacking of the expedition’s commander Sir Ian Hamilton and — the only part of the operation that was a success — the evacuation.

At least one of the historians consulted for Gallipoli: When Murdoch Went to War (BBC2, Saturday) pours scorn on Murdoch’s self-aggrandisement. ‘If he did see it, he saw it through a long pair of binoculars,’ he noted of Murdoch’s supposed eyewitness account of Aussie heroism during the landings. Others, including Max Hastings (perhaps recalling his own ingenuity in ensuring that his dispatches got out before those of his rivals in the Falklands), were more forgiving. ‘Boy, Keith Murdoch understood how to promote Keith Murdoch,’ he said, admiringly, adding that in any case, he’d seen far too many war correspondents risk their lives getting close to the action to no real avail because they lacked something far more important than heroism — an ability to write compelling copy.

Poor Sir Ian Hamilton probably didn’t deserve Murdoch’s hatchet job. He was an extremely brave, highly decorated, charming and kindly soldier-poet who just happened to have been given an impossible mission by the buffoon who had devised the fiasco — some fellow by the name of Winston Churchill. Unfortunately, Murdoch needed a hate figure to blame and Hamilton happened to suit his narrative. In other words, the documentary argued, Gallipoli was where Murdoch developed the sensationalist techniques on which his son Rupert would build his vast empire.

It was quite a coup for the programme to get Rupert talking about his dad. (Enthusiastically, of course. ‘I think it saved a lot of lives,’ he said of the letter.) And it was a fascinating eye-opener for those of us who had no idea till now of just how many extraordinary consequences resulted from the Dardanelles campaign: without it, you could argue, Keith might never have become ‘Lord Southcliffe’, Australia’s biggest media mogul with his Sun newspapers; this in turn might have meant that had there been no Gallipoli, there might also have been no Page 3 girls, no Fox News, no Simpsons and certainly no James Bond Tomorrow Never Dies.

I do hope the half-million soldiers who died at Gallipoli, looking down from heaven, have a sense of humour

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Show comments
  • Lawence James

    Delingpole speaks with the blithe assurance of utter ignorance.Churchill was not a ‘buffoon’, neither were his cabinet colleagues ( including Kitchener and Fisher ) who approved the Gallipoli project. He was singled out for blame by Tories who had never forgiven his defection to the Liberals ten years before. The army added to the clamour. After the war he was compelled to amend his wartime memoirs and excised criticism of the indifferent generalship displayed at Gallipoli and elsewhere. Delingpole had added to the myth, which, like that of Churchill shooting the miners at Tonypandy, is destined to have a long life.

    • GeeBee36_6

      Well said. What I found most memorable about the Dardanelles campaign, from reading Martin Gilbert’s biography of Churchill, concerned Fisher. Churchill sought his advice and his involvement as one of the most brilliant naval commanders then alive. What Churchill – quite understandably – failed to realise was that by that time Fisher was suffering from dementia, and the whole operation – in which naval strategy was utterly critical – was thus based upon advice from one who was no longer in control of his mental faculties.

  • AndyB

    Thank you James. Spotting what the rest of us missed – as usual.

  • Hamburger

    The irony of the Dardanelles campaign is that the Turks were on the point of pulling back when the evacuation began. 24hours would have changed the course of history.

  • Michele Keighley

    The letter that caused the furore was not first written by Murdoch, it was written by one Ashley-Bartlett whose article on the landings at what we now call ‘ANZAC Cove’ first set out the myth about the Landings.

    It was he that had the Aussies facing Turkish soldiers with machine guns on the beach etc a scenario that is totally false. Murdoch only spent three days there well after the landings had ground to a halt. He was asked by Barlett to carry his letter to Asquith and evade the censors, but he got intercepted and Barlett’s letter was confiscated. So Murdoch penned his own scathing letter of accusation from his vast knowledge of the campaign garnered from his ‘three-day’ stay and sent that to the Australian PM who immediately passed it onto Asquith.

    The real historian of the campaign was Charles Bean, who was equally disgusted at the way both the Australian and British campaign were conducting it. They were highly experienced commanders, but they were fighting a new war, with new and devasting weapons using much older and ineffective tactics.

    I have found, during my military service, that hindsight tacticians always have all the answers, I only wish they had been around when I had to make the real decisions.

    Here’s the full story – http://www.anzacsite.gov.au/1landing/knightley.html

  • amicus

    I read no further than “buffoon”.

  • albert pike

    More importantly, without WWI there would be no jewish homeland in Palestine, or any of the joys that have followed as a result.

  • JabbaTheCat

    Shouldn’t Delingpole be braying at the Breitbart kipper echo chamber?

  • Gallipoli was not a bad idea. Where it went wrong was in the execution. Instead of consolidating the beachhead the troops should have taken the high ground. All the rest follows from that error. That kind of error is made by Generals.

    In addition the flanking movement (by sea) was delayed. That kind of error is made by Generals and war logistics planners. Winnie got it right.

    • Closedshop

      They should have taken the high ground.

      That is easily written but shows what little you know of the campaign there. Do you not know that there was Ottoman soldiers on the high ground.

      Gallipoli was one of the most insane campaigns of WW1. Churchill was the donkey in charge driving the lions in to a pen for slaughter.

  • Roger Hudson

    Gallipoli -page3 , we could have done better without both of them.

  • UncleTits

    Half a million. A tragic loss. But Lacey, 19, from Bedford. Damn.

  • Closedshop

    The only success of Gallipoli.

    A move Churchill thought would be a career builder but turned in to a disaster. Thankfully most of those sent or their families were never going to have the chance to vote in a British election and hold him to account.

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