Ten Greatest War Correspondents

#1
Gentleman, are you in agreement?


From Cameron's committed - but not biased - reporting during the fifties and Churchill's reports from the Boer War, to American journalist Ernie Pyle's mould-breaking interviews during World War II, MARTIN BELL looks at those brave men from the front line


1. ERNIE PYLE (1900-45)

American journalist Ernie Pyle interviewed ordinary GIs in the field, looking at things from the standpoint of the regular 'grunt', quite mould-breaking at the time

An American journalist, Pyle reported from Europe, Africa and the Pacific during World War II. He wasn't interested in strategies and orders of battle, but interviewed ordinary GIs in the field, looking at things from the standpoint of the regular 'grunt', quite mould-breaking at the time. Like him, the longer I went on war reporting, the less interested I became in tactics and the more interested I became in the people caught up by conflict. Pyle insisted on sharing the dangers of the soldiers in the field, and in April 1945 was killed by Japanese machine-gun fire on [text omitted in original]



2. WILLIAM HOWARD RUSSELL (1820-1907)

The founding father of our 'luckless tribe', as he called war correspondents, Russell brought down Lord Aberdeen's government as a result of his reporting of the Crimean War - contrasting the logistics of the British Army and the French, who were much better supplied. He saw a lot through his telescope and gave the most marvellous accounts of things he actually witnessed at first hand - including, famously, the Charge of the Light Brigade. He had real difficulty with the Army because the High Command simply didn't want him there. On one occasion he had his tent cut down and officers were ordered not to talk to him. Interestingly, the government of the day was set to censor frontline reporting as a result of his despatches, when the war ended.


3. BRIAN HANRAHAN (1949-2010)

I had a huge regard for my old BBC colleague Brian (above right), who died just a few months ago. War reporting is a pretty competitive business, but Brian was a gentle and decent soul. When the Falklands War broke out, he was just the guy nearest the fleet, on attachment from the Stills Library. He hadn't done much reporting at the time, yet provided one of the war's most memorable soundbites: 'I counted them all out and I counted them all back.' It got around reporting restrictions on revealing the number of Harriers used in one sortie, while reassuring viewers that all planes had made it back safely. Once the invasion had taken place, Brian had to yomp across the island like everyone else - but day in, day out, he filed first-class reports.


4. DON MCCULLIN CBE (1935-)

In 1968, Don's Nikon camera stopped a bullet intended for him

The snappers in war zones are every bit as brave as the war correspondents because they have to get up close to get their pictures.

McCullin's hard-hitting coverage of the Vietnam War and the Northern Ireland conflict is particularly highly regarded.
In 1968, incidentally, his Nikon camera stopped a bullet intended for him.

The Army wouldn't take him in the Falklands in 1982, but I worked alongside him in Vietnam and El Salvador and was very, very impressed.


5. JAMES CAMERON (1911-85)

Cameron (above, on right) was more than a mere war reporter. He was a global columnist, roaming the world, who would write an 800-word column every day, not just about what had happened in a conflict but about the place where it was raging. He was the star reporter on the News Chronicle, a Fifties paper; I used to read the Chron just for him and his style of reporting. He was not afraid of being controversial - he would call a tyrant a tyrant. In a way he was the forerunner of the more committed, human - but not biased - sort of war reporter I've always admired. War reporting was still very difficult in those days but it's fair to say that he was very much the inspiration - indeed, I'd go as far as to say role model - for a later generation.


6. WINSTON CHURCHILL (1874-1965)

Winston Churchill made his name in the Boer War, obtaining a commission to act as war correspondent for the Morning Post on a salary of £250 per month just weeks after the conflict broke out in 1899

Churchill (above) was the first celebrity war reporter. He made his name in the Boer War, obtaining a commission to act as war correspondent for the Morning Post on a salary of £250 per month just weeks after the conflict broke out in 1899. Shortly after arriving, he joined a scouting expedition in an armoured train, leading to his capture and imprisonment in a PoW camp in Pretoria, but he escaped across the border to Portuguese Mozambique and wrote about his exploits for the paper.

Shortly after arriving, Churchill joined a scouting expedition in an armoured train, leading to his capture and imprisonment in a PoW camp in Pretoria, but he escaped and wrote about his exploits for the Morning Post

The daring and bravery he showed turned him into a celebrity and on his return to England he published two volumes of memoirs, recounting his Boer War experiences as both a correspondent and military officer. A few years earlier, in 1895, he wrote about the war in Cuba for the Daily Graphic, and while there acquired a taste for Havana cigars. He also wrote about the war in Sudan, taking in the British Army's last cavalry charge at the Battle of Omdurman.


7. GEORGE STEER (1909-44)

The South African-born British journalist reported on the bombing of Guernica in the Spanish Civil War. He arrived the day after the aerial strike and reported truthfully on the destruction, the carnage and the terrible suffering inflicted on the civilian population by General Franco's forces. In fact, the Germans were using the war as a sort of testing ground for some of their bombs - incendiary bombs and the like. Afterwards attempts were made to discredit Steer and persuade his newspaper (The Times) to withdraw him from Spain, but he stuck to his guns and continued to file despatches. Besides, he had no hidden agenda - he was an old-fashioned war reporter. In 1940, he joined the British Army but was killed in a jeep crash in Burma.


8. RICHARD DIMBLEBY (1913-65)

The father of David and Jonathan, Richard Dimbleby was one of the great correspondents of World War II. He was something of a 'young Turk', and famously fell out with the army's High Command while reporting from Cairo over the issue of censorship. However, he went on to report on the RAF bombing raids over Germany, bringing home the terrible dangers faced by Bomber Command crews. It was probably the riskiest kind of war reporting, given that around one in four crews never made it back to base. He's perhaps most famous for giving a shocking report from Belsen at the time of its liberation by the Allies.


9. ROBERT FISK (1946-)

I think Robert Fisk's finest works were his despatches on the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in the Eighties. Unlike some of his peers, he stayed in Beirut despite all the kidnappings that were taking place

I have great admiration for the ever-controversial Robert Fisk. He writes like an angel and doesn't care who he upsets - and he upsets a lot of people. I think his finest works were his despatches on the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in the Eighties. Unlike some of his peers, he stayed in Beirut despite all the kidnappings that were taking place. My theory as to why he was never kidnapped is that no one in their right mind would want him as a house guest!


10. NICHOLAS TOMALIN (1931-73)

A protégé of Harry Evans, Tomalin filed a famously memorable report from Vietnam when he went on what the Americans called 'a turkey shoot', a classic of war reporting.

The story involved him taking a helicopter ride with an American general who was zapping 'Charlie Cong'.

Typically, he wrote it up in a wonderfully deadpan way without any emotive commentary, letting the facts speak for themselves.

Tragically, he died aged just 41 in 1973 while covering a clash on the Golan Heights.




'For Whom The Bell Tolls: Light And Dark Verse' by Martin Bell is published by Icon in November



Read more: From James Cameron to Winston Churchill: Martin Bell on the ten greatest War correspondents | Mail Online
 

jim24

LE
Book Reviewer
#2
only problem is you missed out the three greats Chester Willmot, Wynford Vaughn Thomas, ( who used to be my neighbor) and Neil Sheehan, who's book "The Bright and Shinning Lie" won him a Pulitzer,

Churchill was not that good, but he used the power and connections of his family to promote his mediocre work
 
#3
Bell's far better qualified than me to create such a list but I would like to add an honourable mention to Edward R. Murrow who's reports on the Blitz had a very important effect on the psych of the American public. The quality of the man's broadcast were very impressive and the sincerity striking.
 

RP578

LE
Book Reviewer
#4
I think George Warrington Steevens deserves a mention. He was the most celebrated correspondent of his day, before Churchill's derring-do eclipsed him. The quote below is from a dispatch by Steevens to the Daily Mail during the Sudan campaign (later serialised as "With Kitchner To Khartoum"). Have a read and see how much is still true (my bold).

All these are inevitable accompaniments of a forced march; what might have been avoided, and should have been, was the scandal that the men's boots gave out. True the brigade had done a lot of marching since it came up-country, some of it - not much - on rock and loose sand. True, also, that the Sudan climate, destructive of all things, is particularly destructive of all things stitched. But the brigade had only been up-river a month, after all, and no military boot ought to wear out in a month. We have been campaigning in the Sudan, on and off, for over fourteen years; we might have discovered the little peculiarities of its climate by now.The Egyptian army uses a riveted boot; the boots our British boys were expected to march in had not even a toe-cap.....

It is always the same story - knavery and slackness clogging and strangling the best efforts of the British soldier. To save some contractor a few pence on a boot, or save some War Office clerk a few hours work he is paid for not doing, you stand to lose a good rifle and bayonet in a decisive battle, and to break a good man's heart in the bargain. Is it worth it? But it is always happening; the history of the army is a string of disgraces. And each time we arise and bawl, 'Somebody ough to be hanged.' So says everybody. But nobody ever is hanged.
 
#5
Although not up with the greats (but awarded a Pulitzer prize), some of C L Sulzberger's reports from the Balkans and Moscow during WWII make interesting reading. Whilst not on the front line his background reporting provided an insight into foreign policy and the characters involved, not to mention life as the stereotypical, hard drinking war correspondant.
 
#6
No Martha Gellhorn? Pretty cool to stow away on a D-Day as a stretcher bearer because she lacked credentials to go officially.

Glad to see Don McCullin in there as the photographers often get missed, but no sign of Tim Page?

I often get flamed for mentioning this, but I severely rate Michael Herr. Aside from anything he prety much wrote all the dialogue for the in-country dialogue in Full Metal jacket (or Kubrick pched it!)
 
#7
If you include an element of ally-ness, then Alan Wood must get a mention:



Chester Wilmot's work must must rank as some of the most perceptive and important, in terms of recording WW2.
 
#9
7. GEORGE STEER (1909-44)

The South African-born British journalist reported on the bombing of Guernica in the Spanish Civil War. He arrived the day after the aerial strike and reported truthfully on the destruction, the carnage and the terrible suffering inflicted on the civilian population by General Franco's forces. In fact, the Germans were using the war as a sort of testing ground for some of their bombs - incendiary bombs and the like. Afterwards attempts were made to discredit Steer and persuade his newspaper (The Times) to withdraw him from Spain, but he stuck to his guns and continued to file despatches. Besides, he had no hidden agenda - he was an old-fashioned war reporter. In 1940, he joined the British Army but was killed in a jeep crash in Burma.
He also set up the Indian Field Broadcasting Units in Burma, I believe.
 
#11
No mention of Kate Adie?:eye:
 
#14
#15
Come on! Only one photojournalist in the mix?

Robert Capa deserves a mention...parachuting into action in the Med despite no formal training and being one of the first ashore at Omaha.

Joe Galloway for his extensive Vietnam reporting and being awarded the Bronze Star for valour despite being a civilian

Modern efforts: Michael Yon, ex-SF and talented photojournalist who has spent more time in Iraq and Afghanistan than any other individual in the pursuit of neutral reporting?
 
#17
What about Claire Hollingsworth?

On 31 August 1939, Hollingworth had been working as a journalist for less than a week for The Daily Telegraph when she was sent to Poland to report on worsening tensions in Europe. Hollingworth convinced the British Consul-General in Katowice, John Anthony Thwaites, to lend her his chauffeured car for a fact-finding mission into Germany.[1] While driving along the German-Polish border, Hollingworth chanced upon a massive build-up of Nazi German troops, tanks and armoured cars facing Poland. The following morning Hollingworth called the British embassy in Warsaw to report the German invasion of Poland. To convince doubtful embassy officials, Hollingworth held a telephone out of her room window to capture the sounds of German forces.[1] Hollingworth's eyewitness account was the first report the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office had about the invasion of Poland.[2]
During the following decades, Hollingworth reported on conflicts in Palestine, Algeria, China, Aden and Vietnam.[2]
In 1946 she was among the survivors of the famous King David Hotel bombing in Jerusalem, that killed 91 people.On 31 August 1939, Hollingworth had been working as a journalist for less than a week for The Daily Telegraph when she was sent to Poland to report on worsening tensions in Europe. Hollingworth convinced the British Consul-General in Katowice, John Anthony Thwaites, to lend her his chauffeured car for a fact-finding mission into Germany.[1] While driving along the German-Polish border, Hollingworth chanced upon a massive build-up of Nazi German troops, tanks and armoured cars facing Poland. The following morning Hollingworth called the British embassy in Warsaw to report the German invasion of Poland. To convince doubtful embassy officials, Hollingworth held a telephone out of her room window to capture the sounds of German forces. Hollingworth's eyewitness account was the first report the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office had about the invasion of Poland.
During the following decades, Hollingworth reported on conflicts in Palestine, Algeria, China, Aden and Vietnam.
In 1946 she was among the survivors of the famous King David Hotel bombing in Jerusalem, that killed 91 people.
She is the author of five books: Poland's Three Weeks' War (1940); There's a German Right Behind Me (1945); The Arabs and the West (1950); 'Mao' (1985); and her memoirs, Front Line (1990, updated with Neri Tenorio in 2005).
She is the author of five books: Poland's Three Weeks' War (1940); There's a German Right Behind Me (1945); The Arabs and the West (1950); 'Mao' (1985); and her memoirs, Front Line (1990, updated with Neri Tenorio in 2005).
 
#18
Michael Herr wrote Dispatches that describes the author's experiences in Vietnam as a war correspondent for Esquire magazine. First published in 1977, Dispatches was one of the first pieces of American literature that allowed Americans to understand the experiences of soldiers in the Vietnam War. At a time when many veterans would say little about their experiences during the war, Dispatches allowed for an experience and understanding of the war like no other source to date. The book is noted for a visceral, literary style which distinguishes it from more mundane and accurate historical accounts.
 
#19
Modern efforts: Michael Yon, ex-SF and talented photojournalist who has spent more time in Iraq and Afghanistan than any other individual in the pursuit of neutral reporting?

Agreed - has been in the thick of it in Iraq and Afghan yet still takes stunning images, the photos of the halo from chinook rotors are awesome
 
#20
Not knocking Mccullen's courage or commitment for a second but as a big fan of his stuff I drove a long way to an exhibition of his work in Bath a few years back and came away thinking he was a bit of a one trick pony.

Most of that brooding, black atmosphere and the dramatic edge to his pics was done in the darkroom and he didn't seem to do anything else.

There were several peaceful pics taken outside warzones and I remember one of two young kids bathing an elephant in the sea off a beach. You just knew that in real life it was a happy and colourful scene but after he had done his trademark 'darkening in' of everything it was the same old same old.

Perhaps I misunderstood it, but in photographic terms I walked in a fan and came out feeling I had 'sussed him out' a bit.

Mind you, he certainly put himself about a lot so maximum respect there.
 

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