Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett

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This article is on the war correspondent. For his father, the politician, see Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett (politician).
Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett
Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett.jpg
Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett
Born (1881-02-11)February 11, 1881
Died May 4, 1931(1931-05-04) (aged 50)
Lisbon, Portugal
Nationality British
Ethnicity English
Occupation war correspondent
Years active 1902–1920

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.

Biography[edit]

Early Years[edit]

Born in 1881, Ashmead-Bartlett was the eldest son of Conservative Party MP, Sir Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett. He went to Marlborough College and served as a lieutenant in The Bedfordshire Regiment during the Boer War. Two years later, Ashmead-Bartlett arrived in Manchuria to report the Russo-Japanese War. Soon after the war, he published one of the major books on that conflict: Port Arthur: The Siege and Capitulation (William Blackwood & Sons).

Arrival at Gallipoli[edit]

Ashmead-Bartlett's role as a war correspondent reached maturity during World War I. As correspondent for the Fleet Street papers, Ashmead-Bartlett, who worked for The Daily Telegraph, covered the 25 April 1915 landing at Anzac Cove. 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.

Ashmead-Bartlett was responsible for the first eyewitness accounts of the battle. His report of the landing was published in Australian newspapers on 8 May, before the reports of the Australian correspondent, C.E.W. Bean. 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 Australian and New Zealand audiences:

:"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."

On 27 May 1915, Ashmead-Bartlett was aboard HMS Majestic, a Royal Navy 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.

Return to London[edit]

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.

Return to Gallipoli[edit]

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 peninsula, 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."

Ashmead-Bartlett had obtained a movie camera while in London with which he captured the only film footage of the battle. On 21 August he was watching from Chocolate Hill when the British IX Corps launched the final attack of the campaign, the Battle of Scimitar Hill. While filming, he was buried when an artillery shell landed nearby but was quickly dug free.

Criticism of Gallipoli[edit]

When Australian journalist Keith Murdoch arrived at Gallipoli in September, Ashmead-Bartlett found a receptive audience for his commentary and analysis of the campaign. Murdoch travelled to London carrying a letter from Ashmead-Bartlett — it is disputed whether Murdoch knew the contents — which damned the campaign, describing the final offensive as "the most ghastly and costly fiasco in our history since the battle of Bannockburn." The letter, intended for Asquith, was intercepted in Marseilles and on 28 September, Ashmead-Bartlett was told to leave Gallipoli.

On his return to London, Ashmead-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.

After Gallipoli[edit]

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.

Select works[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
James Patrick Gardner
Member of Parliament for Hammersmith North
19241926
Succeeded by
James Patrick Gardner