Redefining the War Correspondent – Part 1/2

By Graham

1warNow, as things are, I’m a war correspondent. It’s a role I take seriously, yet not necessarily so for many of the supposed rules which come with it. The idea that a correspondent can’t hold a gun, for example. A contention for this is to avoid delineation as a combatant, on one side.

Yet if it’s made clear you are not firing any weapon in combat, engaged in conflict, then some gun experience is an essential part of any good war Скриншот 02.02.2015 100124.bmpcorrespondent’s portfolio. To understand what those you are filming, interviewing, are doing. A greater comprehension of the feeling, emotion is an attribute to inform your reporting, give your work deeper insight, engagement.

Скриншот 02.02.2015 100140.bmpThere is also the aspect of relationship building, a key component of war correspondence. You don’t arrive at the frontline of conflict on a train, you get there through relationships, friendships, bond. You achieve those by showing the men you are with, that you are with them, you embrace their company, you’ll muck in, you’ll get involved. I’ve taken part in several training days with battalions here, filmed them, been filmed myself, agreed to be filmed in shooting practice –

There’s been some considerable outcry at this, from the pro-Ukraine side in this conflict, several attempts to categorise me as a ‘combatant’. I was aware this would ensue, accepted, wanted to challenge some of the concepts of war 1war1correspondence.

As for being then affiliated with one side, in any war, as a correspondent, you ultimately have to make a choice which side you cover. You can either get weak footage from both sides, or potentially excellent footage from one. As soon as you get excellent footage from one side, the other side don’t trust you in any case.

Every good war correspondent I know has taken part in shooting at training 1war2days. Most haven’t filmed it, which is personal choice. As in any profession there are personal choices to make, along with duties. It’s the duty of a proper war correspondent to stay objective, deliver facts and information from the frontline. I uphold this duty.

Not firing a gun in conflict is a personal choice. I’ve chosen never to carry or fire a gun in conflict, but war correspondents who do here have produced some powerful work. There are soldiers here who carry cameras, or cameraphones who have filmed extremely strong footage –

And there are war correspondents attached to battalions, units. When I went to the embattled village of Nikishino, I took this video –

With me was war correspondent Uruguay, carrying a gun, ready to engage in active combat if required. He took this video –

In the key scenes, there’s little difference between the two. A soldier can also be a war correspondent. We understand he’s a soldier, he has a position, but his work still carries value.

One of my favourite war correspondents was a soldier. He was my great-grandfather, Thomas Phillips: 

WITH THE 38th DIVISION IN FRANCE – Intro

The following account of Mametz Wood, remarkable for its cool appraisal of events, was written by 18531 Sgt Thomas Phillips, a Signalling Sergeant with C Company, 16th Battalion Royal Welch Fusiliers. The account is transcribed with minor changes to punctuation and the inclusion, in brackets, of a few extra words to aid clarity.

The original document has been kindly donated to the RWF Museum by Thomas Phillips’ grandsons, Norman and Martin.

1war9WITH THE 38th DIVISION IN FRANCE

Previous to the second week in June 1916, the Division had been holding the British Line in sectors from LAVENTIE to LA BASSEE. About that time, it was transferred to a Mobile Division. There was a leakage of information all along the line, and even in the ranks, and the approaching push was discussed, but where (it would take place), no-one knew. A great assembly of troops at ALBERT was the only tangible bit of information I could gather. At the time movement orders were received we were in the line, and the curtailment of the battalion tour in the trenches added considerably to our inquisitiveness. We packed up hurriedly and commenced our march from LA GORGUE to RIBEMONT. Going southwards from ST POL we could see the huge blaze of our guns along the battle front. We halted at OSTREVILLE, a small country village.

The marches were accomplished under cover of darkness. Along the line the guns were exceptionally busy, and the sky along the battle front was ablaze. At 1war10OSTREVILLE the Battalion went through a hard course of training “in the attack”, and there was no need for further surmise. The training was strenuous and completed in six days. From the latter place we marched to RIBEMONT. Accommodation was poor but here, as at all the other places, I found another cart which, with a good layer of straw, made a good billet. At RIBEMONT the Battalion was under orders to move at 15 minutes notice.

(Tom Phillips as a 2/Lieutenant in the Welsh Regiment, right) 

At this place we saw our first batch of Boche prisoners placed in the cage. We only stayed at RIBEMONT one night. At noon the following day we were hurriedly dispatched to reinforce, leaving all surplus kit behind. After a few hours’ march we were met by guides from a (the?) Staffordshire Regiment, and ultimately found ourselves consolidating the newly occupied line of German trenches in front of FRICOURT, a village which, on the previous day, had been completely demolished by our Gunners. For the following five days we occupied these trenches, and by this time the Division had completely relieved 1war8the troops who had taken this ground.

The Battalion suffered slight casualties in this area and, at the end of the tour, marched back some distance where we bivouacked. Improvised shelters out of ground sheets were made, and it rained very heavily. The following day we had orders to move forward again, and (we) relieved the 15th RWF in the front line, which system of trenches was half a mile in advance of FRICOURT. We remained in these trenches for four or five days and, although our relief had been expected, in fact arranged but afterwards cancelled, we had orders on the night of the 9th/10th July to take Mametz Wood. Towards the evening of Sunday 10th July a message was received from the GOC Commanding, on the vast importance of taking this wood, and that it was up to the Welsh Division to maintain the traditions of the British Army and win for itself immortal glory, which it did. It was 10.00 PM when all officers were hurriedly summoned to a conference where the method of attack was fully 1war7discussed. The disposition of the Companies was as follows:

“B” and “D” Coys supported by “C” and “A”, the extension covering a front of 200 yards and going forward in successive waves. Colonel Carden, to whom this great task was entrusted, addressed the men before going into action saying, “Boys, make your peace with God; we are going to take that position and some of us will not come back.”

For the next few hours there was little time for rest of any sort, and finally arrangements had to be accelerated. At 2.30 AM on the 10th July the Battalion was assembled in extended order out of the trenches, and lay in prone position until 5.00 AM. During these 2½ hours the roar of our guns was deafening and the concerted action of the machine gunners added to the din. The suspense was very keen till we had the order to move forward at 5.00 AM.

1war4The dawn had broken and daylight was fast approaching, enabling us to see the ground we had to cover. We slowly ascended the ridge in front of White Trench (properly called such, as it had been dug out of chalk), and within 10 minutes or so a verbal order was passed down from our right to retire. No-one seemed to know from where this order emanated, but obviously it came from the 14th RWF as they were on our right. “B” and “D” Companies had gone too far forward for this order to be communicated to them. Presumably, if it had, the dauntless and courageous Colonel Carden would not have acted on it as he had set his teeth on getting to the wood. “A” and “C” Company officers were compelled to re-enter the assembly trench in compliance with this order.

Orders were rapidly passed down to open fire (as) soon as the Boche appeared in view. Seconds seemed like minutes, and minutes like hours. In due time we saw the Boche but alas, unarmed with hands up, and escorted by one or two Tommies. These prisoners had been taken by “B” and “D” Companies. One of the escort waved his arm as a signal to go forward again and out of the trench everyone leapt without waiting for definite orders from superior officers. It displayed the instinctive valour of a British Tommy and individual determination 1war5to gain the objective. On we went in single file through a heavy Boche barrage and, on the other side of the crest was a steep embankment which offered the enemy machine gunners a good field of fire. I do not remember going down this embankment at all as I was so wrapped up in the task allotted to me. I was entrusted with the communications of the 113th Brigade.

1war12
Our first objective was to get to the wood and, for the purpose of re-organisation, seek natural cover in the folds of the ground. At this juncture the enemy put up a heavy barrage of incendiary shells that burst 100 yards or so short. The sudden burst of flame which extended from the point of bursting, 200 feet high, to the ground had a demoralizing effect, as no-one in the Battalion had previously heard of them. Colonel Carden was mortally wounded within 20 yards of the wood. After a brief stay the troops went forward into the wood, entering it at the nearest point which, for the purpose of clarity, can be described as the apex of a triangle. At this point the Boche had three machine gun posts which momentarily checked our entrance. These machine gunners were dealt with.

We pressed on until the second objective was reached. I skirted the edge of the wood and ascended the slope till I could be seen by the Brigade forward telephone station, and in doing so had to dodge the bullets which were fired by snipers up in the trees. I succeeded, with the help of my signallers, to maintain communication during the whole time of this inferno, and the chief messages required to be sent were for more and more stretcher bearers. The Battalion suffered a loss of about 400 casualties in this struggle, out of 600 who went into 1war13action.

During the same evening we were relieved by an incoming battalion, and we retired to a sunken road called Queens Nullah, immediately behind the Chalk Trench. We had to be on the “qui Vive” all night as all sorts of reports were flying about. Early next morning I witnessed one of the best artillery movements I have ever seen; that of a Battery riding into action under heavy fire. We rested during the day on their left, and our time was chiefly taken up by devouring the Brigade rations which had been dumped nearby. Ample justice was made to the selection of ham, cheese, bread, rum etc which we had, as we had been on biscuits and water only during the 4/5 days we had occupied the trenches in front of FRICOURT. Our transport could not get anywhere near us. We were in very poor physical condition on the day of the 12th and, as we had been under such heavy fire for several days and nights, (we) did not regard the shelling we were subjected to on this day as of much consequence. Late in the afternoon the Boche guns got our range and pummeled Queens Nullah, causing several casualties to the few of us that remained. It was here that I narrowly escaped death myself and instead, received a wound in the chest and leg, as well as being crushed by a fall.”

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18531 Tom Phillips “C” Company, 16th RWF

Thomas Phillips


1war17Born 11th November 1881 at Llanelli.
Married Elizabeth Miller in 1909. One son ( William Growtage) born in Wrexham in 1925
Thomas enlisted in the first week of December 1914 and was given the Regimental number 18531. He was probably a pre-war Territorial and consequently may have begun the war as a Lance Corporal (Acting Sergeant) as this appears on his 1914-15 Star. He was posted to 16th (Service) Battalion Royal Welch Fusiliers.
In 1915 Thomas attended the Signalling School at Wyke Regis Camp, Weymouth. He qualified as an Assistant Instructor of Signalling. He landed in France with the 16th Battalion RWF, attached to 38th (Welsh) Division on 2nd December 1915.
Thomas Phillips’ name was included in the Times wounded casualty list dated August 30th 1916. As he states in his account he was wounded after the 1war15withdrawal from Mametz Wood. He was returned to the UK. It would appear that he was recognised as “officer material” because he was commissioned as a 2/Lieutenant with effect from 2nd October 1916. He was posted to 18th Battalion Welsh Regiment on 10th October.
On 9th April 1917 Lieutenant Phillips was Mentioned in Dispatches from Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig for gallant and distinguished services in the field.
He survived the war and was demobilised, with the rank of Lieutenant, on 23rd July 1919.

1war14Thomas Phillips established an Ironmongers business in Aberystwyth. His hobby was fishing and he was a Welsh National Fly-fishing Champion. He was a prominent member of the community, serving as a Rotarian and with the National Fire Service. On his death, on 10th October 1956, tributes were paid by the Town Clerk of Aberystwyth on behalf of the Town Council, and by the Chief Constable, among others.

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