War’s first embedded journalist?

Unknown-1Celebrity spy novelist John Buchan arrived on the Western Front convinced Britain wouldn’t have lasted one month in the war without the help of Fleet Street newspapers. The Government had strict parameters for what could or couldn’t be reported. Knighthoods and peerages awaited journalists and newspaper owners. The Daily Mail at one point described a dead British soldier as ‘looking quietly faithful and steadfast’. Haig gave journalists cars, drivers, luxury accommodation and captains’ uniforms.

Buchan served in a number of roles. The 39 Steps author pumped out a novel a year besides supplying copy to The Times and the Daily News and being a uniformed member of Haig’s Intelligence Corps. Buchan’s affability meant he was the natural choice for glad-handing VIP visitors to the war zone. Buchan also watched Haig and noted how he differed from his sacked predecessor John French, in completely lacking the common touch with the enlisted men. The higher Haig climbed in the chain of command, the less Scottish he sounded. Buchan’s writings on the war are unrelentingly chipper even though he had close friends in front-line regiments.

Unknown-2Another propaganda milestone was Lloyd-George’s release of the full length movie The Battle of the Somme, which showed some of the nitty-gritty of trench warfare – the ‘reality’ of assaults and tending the wounded. London audiences cheered. Lloyd-George, by then the Minister for War, was convinced it would strengthen morale at home. He was right.

Soldiers in the trenches however, saw through the propaganda – most of their lives they had believed what appeared in the papers to be true – “Now you can’t believe a word you read!”

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