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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Remembered Today:

Newspaper reports from the field


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How did correspondents covering military activities get their copy back to their offices? The news articles appeared the day after the events they described.

I confess that I have in mind the news reports of manoeuvres in the UK that sometimes filled almost a page in The Times before the war, but there was coverage of the Canadians on Salisbury Plain in late 1914, with occasional background articles thereafter about the army in the area. And perhaps this thread will expand to take in dispatches sent after the big battles in Europe.

Prewar the Salisbury Plain reports were very detailed. Were the reports then rushed to the nearest railway station and then on to Fleet Street? Or taken all the way there by motor-cyclist? Did correspondents dash for the nearest telephone? Or could the larger post offices cope with transmitting very long messages?

Not that motor-cyclists and telephones were very common in 1898, when there were massive manoeuvres on the Plain, fully reported in the press.

Did the army make its facilities available - though its wireless systems were very rudimentary in the 1910s. Perhaps it did during the war in France and Belgium, with an obligation (implicit or otherwise) for journalists to write positively?


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Hello moonraker

Facilities for thr press were provided by GHQ. The following is an extract from some notes I made from R Priestley's The Signal Service (France):

Press telegrams: none before Mar 1917, then 10,000 words per day, handed in by 4.45pm and sent direct to London to reach newspaper offices by 10.30 to catch next day’s edition. Limit gradually raised and on 8 Aug 1918 ~26,500 words were sent.

Press messages were subject to vetting by liaison officers, and were also subject, in priority, to the military needs of the telegraph system.

Pre-war, I would guess that the correspondents either took their copy in by railway, or used couriers, or simply found the nearest available telephone. Newspapers in those days certainly employed people with shorthand skills to take "copy" over the phone.


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Life was very difficult for most correpsondents. At the beginning GHQ wanted to write just what they thought the great British public ought to know (we are throwing them back in all sectors with no casualties). None were allowed anywhere near the action in case they actually saw some.

One British correspondent went with the Belgian army who allowed him access to anything. He duly wrote everything up and sent it to his paper. After a couple of months he was called in by the Belgian commander who apologised profusely but said that he was going to have to have him sent back to Britain (or at least back to the British sector (which came to the same thing) as the British army had applied enormous pressure on the Belgian army to get rid of this interfering............. who dared to tell the truth.

I forget the bloke's name, but he did write all this in memoirs not long after the war.

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