‘Gallipoli letter’ provides a breathtaking insight

The ‘Gallipoli letter’ was written by a young journalist and yet-to-become media baron, Keith Murdoch, almost 100 years ago.A photo of the original Gallopi letter, written by Keith Murdoch, almost 100 years ago.

The 8000-word, 25-page letter provides a breathtaking insight to the dire circumstances on the Gallipoli Peninsula in September 1915. As personal correspondence addressed to then Australian Prime Minister, Andrew Fisher, it told the story of the battlefront that would not otherwise have made it past the strict military censors of the day.

After meeting the official war correspondent in Gallipoli – Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett – Murdoch agreed to carry an uncensored dispatch from him back to London. The British War Office was tipped off and Murdoch was intercepted en route and forced to hand-over Ashmead-Bartlett’s letter.

Relying on his discussions with Ashmead-Bartlett and his memory of the original letter, Murdoch dictated his own letter in the office of the Australian High Commissioner in London.

It is an amazing and fascinating read. Whether it is pure fact or includes some exaggeration and personal bias, it reports the incompetence and disaster of the Gallipoli campaign as it had not been reported before.

Murdoch had only spent four days at Gallipoli. But with the words of Ashmead-Bartlett still ringing in his ears, Murdoch is scathing in his criticism of the British command at Gallipoli – namely General Hamilton and his Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Braithwaite.

He is adamant about the impending doom the Turkish winter will bring to the under-nourished and under-resourced ANZAC troops. And he accurately forebodes the ultimate hopelessness of the campaign.

The Gallipoli letter also made its way into the hands of British Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith. Action came swiftly: General Hamilton’s military career came to an abrupt end; the evacuation of troops from Gallipoli began on 12 December 1915; and a Royal Commission into the folly of the campaign began sitting eight months later.

Keith Murdoch’s Gallipoli letter can be read in its entirety in the National Library of Australia’s digital archives. Even allowing for some factual errors and exaggeration, it gives a chilling picture of the futility of the Gallipoli expedition, the dreadful conditions the ANZACs endured and the shocking loss of life encountered.

Lest we forget.