On this day 100 years ago, journalist Keith Murdoch penned the Gallipoli letter. The highly critical account, written to Australian Prime Minister Andrew Fisher, is said to have influenced the withdrawal of allied troops from the peninsula.
‘I write of the unfortunate Dardanelles expedition in the light of what knowledge I could gain on the spot…It is undoubtedly one of the most terrible chapters in our history. Your fears have been justified.’
– Keith Murdoch
At the age of 33, Melbourne journalist Keith Murdoch spent four days on the Gallipoli peninsula. He had narrowly missed out on being appointed the Australian Journalists’ Association official war correspondent, but in 1915, Prime Minister Andrew Fisher and Minister for Defence George Pearce commissioned him to investigate the Australian Imperial Force’s medical and mail services. This, however, was perhaps a guise to gather information about the Gallipoli campaign.
At Anzac Cove, he met with Australia’s official war correspondent Charles Bean and British journalist Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett, and shared their shock at the conditions endured by the soldiers. After failing to smuggle a letter written by Ashmead-Bartlett to Britain’s Prime Minister past the censors, Murdoch sent his own 8000-word letter on the Gallipoli campaign to Australian Prime Minister Andrew Fisher and senior British politicians.
The letter is an emotive account of the hardships and courage of the Australian troops at Gallipoli, that also presented a critical analysis of the British army.
‘I am of course only repeating what I have been told on all hands. But you will trust me when I say that the work of the general staff in Gallipoli has been deplorable.’
– Keith Murdoch
Last year Lachlan Murdoch delivered the 2014 Keith Murdoch Oration at the Library, an annual speech that honours his grandfather’s life and work. In his speech, he spoke of the Gallipoli letter, noting it “was Australia’s boldest declaration that our nation had a right to know the truth.”
Two pages from the letter are currently on display in The changing face of Victoria exhibition in our Dome Galleries, on loan from the National Library of Australia. You can read the Gallipoli letter in full on the National Library of Australia’s website.
Sir Keith Murdoch’s Gallipoli story also features in our Writing the War: personal stories from WWI exhibition. The short film below is one of a series of personal stories associated with the exhibition that highlight individual experiences of Australians who participated in the war.
The changing face of Victoria exhibition is open in the Dome Galleries from 10am to 5pm daily.
Writing the War appears at the State Library and 12 public libraries throughout Victoria.