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World War 1 - Gallipoli and the Dardanelles

 

Ashmead Bartlett's Despatches from Gallipoli

An Epic of Heroism

by

Ashmead Bartlett

This book, published during the Great War covers the preparations for the assault on Gallipoli, the naval Battle of the Dardanelles, the landings at ANZAC and Cape Helles and the battles for Krithia, Achi Baba and the heights of ANZAC from March to July 1915.

Includes a map of the peninsula.

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Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett (11 February 1881 – 4 May 1931) was a British war correspondent during the First World War. Through his reporting of the Battle of Gallipoli, Ashmead-Bartlett was instrumental in the birth of the Anzac legend which still dominates military history in Australia and New Zealand. Through his outspoken criticism of the conduct of the campaign, he was instrumental in bringing about the dismissal of the British commander-in-chief, Sir Ian Hamilton — an event that led to the evacuation of British forces from the Gallipoli peninsula which in turn contributed to the collapse of the Asquith government.

Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett was the British war correspondent whose first report on the landing at Gallipoli by the Australians and New Zealanders on 25 April 1915 sparked the Anzac legend.

Bartlett's despatch was published first in English newspapers, then by their Australian counterparts,  a day later, on 8 May 1915. The fact that such stirring material was written by an Englishman who was a very experienced war correspondent and published first for an English readership gave it added authority. The report of Australia's official war correspondent, Charles Bean, had been held up by officials pending Bean's accreditation to report from Gallipoli. Bean's report did not appear in the Australian press until six days later.

His colourful prose, unrestrained by the pursuit of accuracy which hampered Bean's dispatches, was thick with praise for the Anzacs and went down well with the Australian audience:

"There has been no finer feat in this war than this sudden landing in the dark and storming the heights, and, above all, holding on while the reinforcements were landing. These raw colonial troops, in these desperate hours, proved worthy to fight side by side with the heroes of Mons, the Aisne, Ypres and Neuve Chapelle."

When Ashmead-Bartlett died in 1931, Bean wrote 'the tradition of the Anzac landing is probably more influenced by that first story than by all the other accounts that have since been written'.

Born in 1881, he was the eldest son of Conservative Party MP, Sir Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett. His first experience of war was at 17 years of age when, with his father on a visit to Turkey, he followed the Turkish troops in a battle against the Greeks. He went to Marlborough College and served as a lieutenant in The Bedfordshire Regiment during the Boer War. Subsequently, he became a war correspondent, covering the Russo-Japanese war in 1904. Soon after the war, he published one of the major books on that conflict: Port Arthur: The Siege and Capitulation (William Blackwood & Sons). He covered battles involving the French, Spanish and Italians in Morocco and Tripoli between 1907 and 1911. From 1912 to 1913 he covered two Balkan wars for the London Daily Telegraph, through which he obtained official accreditation as the London press representative for the Dardanelles campaign.By the time he arrived in the Dardanelles he was an experienced war correspondent

In his work on war correspondents, The First Casualty  Phillip Knightley described Ashmead-Bartlett as 'the most interesting and dominating' of the war correspondents camped at General Ian Hamilton's headquarters on Imbros off Gallipoli. 'He appeared to have an unlimited expense account and used a large portion of it to purchase liquor from the navy. One of the sights of Imbros was the regular line of Greek porters staggering up the hill to the press camp loaded with supplies for Ashmead-Bartlett.'

He sailed to Gallipoli with the Australians who formed the covering party for the troops that landed on 25 April. He had gone ashore at Anzac Cove at 9.30 p.m. on the evening of the landing and, wearing a non-regulation green hat, was promptly arrested as a spy but was released when the boatswain who had brought him ashore testified for him. Subsequently, unlike Charles Bean who lived with the troops on the peninsula, he was based at the official press camp on Imbros. He never resiled from his initial descriptions of the courage and skill of the Anzac troops, which he also recorded on film, making the only moving picture of the campaign.

On 27 May 1915, Ashmead-Bartlett was aboard HMS Majestic, a British battleship anchored off W Beach at Cape Helles, when it was torpedoed by the German U-boat U-21. Two days earlier he had seen HMS Triumph go down off Anzac, the first victim of the U-21, and he was well aware that the Majestic would likely suffer the same fate. On the night of 26 May he helped drink the last of the ship's champagne. He had his mattress brought up on deck so that he would not be trapped in his cabin. Ashmead-Bartlett survived the sinking but lost all his kit. He sailed for Malta to acquire a new wardrobe.

As the battle progressed, Ashmead-Bartlett's reports became highly critical which left him in disfavour with the British commander-in-chief, General Sir Ian Hamilton. Instead of returning to the Dardanelles from Malta, he went on to London, arriving on 6 June, to report in person on the conduct of the campaign. During his time in London, he met with most of the senior political figures including Andrew Bonar Law (the Colonial Secretary), Winston Churchill (by that time displaced as First Lord of the Admiralty), Arthur Balfour (Churchill's replacement at the Admiralty) and the Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith. He was also questioned by the Secretary of State for War, Horatio Kitchener.

Ashmead-Bartlett became increasingly hostile to Hamilton's conduct of the campaign. He resented being restrained by Hamilton and the field censor on Imbros and soon saw the campaign as degenerating into a 'bloody fiasco'.

When he returned to Gallipoli, Ashmead-Bartlett established himself on the island of Imbros which was also the site of Hamilton's headquarters. Here he lived in relative safety and comfort, even having brought his own cook from Paris. Returning to the pensinsula, he witnessed the new landing at Suvla during the August Offensive:

"Confusion reigned supreme. No-one seemed to know where the headquarters of the different brigades and divisions were to be found. The troops were hunting for water, the staffs were hunting for their troops, and the Turkish snipers were hunting for their prey."

In September, he briefed the visiting Australian journalist Keith Murdoch on the failures as he saw them and Murdoch agreed to take a letter from him to British Prime Minister Asquith, detailing the concerns. In his letter, Ashmead-Bartlett expressed his beliefs that the Gallipoli campaign was headed for a disaster that had been pre-determined by incompetent planning. Furthermore, he stated that this incompetence had created an 'absolute lack of confidence in all ranks in the Headquarters staff'.

The letter was confiscated by British authorities at Marseilles, leading Murdoch, on his arrival in London, to write his own letter of criticism of the Dardanelles campaign. Following its circulation, Hamilton had Ashmead-Bartlett expelled immediately from the Dardanelles for breaching censorship regulations. His Australian colleagues from Gallipoli did not let him go unnoticed. Charles Smith, in the Middle East, wrote in the Melbourne Argus of 1 November 1915, 'Mr Ashmead-Bartlett has done almost as much towards bringing Australians into the limelight of world-fame as have the heroic deeds of our soldiers themselves'.

Ashmead-Bartlett returned to London where he continued his attack on Hamilton through further press articles. shmead-Bartlett gave an "interview" to The Sunday Times (it was on opinion piece presented as an interview to circumvent censorship rules). Published on 17 October, it was the first detailed account of the campaign and was widely circulated, published in The Times and Daily Mail as well as in Australian papers. Whilst the articles criticised the conduct of the Dardanelles campaign, they also continued to praise the Anzac troops.

Short of money, Ashmead-Bartlett undertook a lecture tour of England and Australia. He reported on the fighting on the Western Front in France. Following the war he fought in Hungary against the Bolsheviks. He spent two years as a Conservative Member of Parliament, for the Hammersmith North constituency in London. He died in Lisbon in 1931.

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