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Thursday, 24 April 2014

The Typewriter ANZACs: Australasian War Correspondents - Malcolm Ross (Part III)

The Ridge
By Malcolm Ross
May 7, 1917.
The Ridge against the gold and grey of morn
Curves clear, with walls and trees in silhouette;
And all its fields are fair, save where the rusting wire
And the brown earth or winding trenches run
Athwart the emerald of the nether slopes.
Now all is strangely quiet, for no man stirs.
June 7, 1917.
From out the smoky pall of battle strife
The Ridge looms grey, but with uncertain line,
And all its stricken fields are brown. No green remains.
Our dead lie thickly in the broken town  –
All strangely still, and quiet, unheeding now
The thunder of the conflict they have won.
"While censorship and restrictions on war reporters were to be a vexed issue throughout the war, Ross avoided any problems with a stroke of his pen - or the tapping of typewriter keys - on the Samoan expedition."
"His son Noël could never have been far from his thoughts; and in the early years of the war, seldom far from his typewriter either."
"These were the types of petty incidents which may have sent the keys clicking on Ashmead-Bartlett's Empire typewriter, but Ross's machine remained silent. If vainness has personal ambition as a concomitant, Ross's historical anonymity has become the antithesis of that ambition."

Malcolm Ross was born at Saddle Hill, Otago, New Zealand, on July 13, 1862, and educated at the Palmerston District High School and the University of Otago. Early in life he showed the interests he was to follow to the end – a passion for sport, particularly mountaineering, and a talent for writing. He served his apprenticeship in journalism on The Otago Daily Times from 1882. Moving to Wellington in 1897, he worked as parliamentary correspondent for The Otago Daily Times and the Christchurch Press, and later the New Zealand correspondent for the Melbourne Age and The Times of London. As a war correspondent from 1914–18 he worked in Samoa, Egypt, Gallipoli, and France.

His first taste of work as a reporter under fire had been in Samoa in 1899, and he accompanied New Zealand forces there at the beginning of the First World War when New Zealand took possession of Samoa. This experience no doubt helped in his selection as New Zealand's official war correspondent. 
This group of war correspondents and press censors outside the British Press Headquarters at Rollencourt Chateau includes Malcolm Ross, second from left centre row, and Charles Bean, far right, seated.
Ross reached the Dardanelles in June 1915. Despite a decree that war correspondents be allowed only occasional visits to the front, he and the Australian correspondent Charles Bean managed to spend most of their time with the troops on the battlefield. Heavy censorship was imposed, and Ross was at first not allowed to cable news because of the expense to the New Zealand government. Criticism arose in Parliament in September 1915 over the cost and low interest of the material that did reach New Zealand. The prime minister, W. F. Massey, defended Ross, denying that he had been chosen because of his political associations. (Ross had been associated with the growth of the Reform Party and was a great friend of Massey's.) In 1918, at Ross's request, Massey authorised a military publicity department at the New Zealand Expeditionary Force headquarters in London to make full use of his dispatches.
Malcolm Ross, points out to visiting journalists the way in which New Zealand troops advanced on the battlefield at Haplincourt, France, in World War I.
Evacuated to Egypt in late 1915, Ross was made an honorary captain in April 1916 and remained in Egypt until July when he joined the New Zealand Division in France. That year he published Light and Shade in War, a collection of his and his son Noël's writings. The proofs "were corrected on the battlefield of the Somme". 
Malcolm Ross, seated, and Major E.N.Mulligan, Commanding Officer of the 2nd Australian Tunnelling Company, outside a camouflaged entrance of a tunnel.
Described in the early 1900s as "the eternally youthful pressman", Ross's war dispatches were the high-water mark of his professional achievement. Among  the soldiers, however, especially at Gallipoli, he suffered the resentment accorded to all journalists because of the privileges they enjoyed and the requirement to produce a positive version of events. 
A group of New Zealand journalists at the entrance of a large German dugout at Haplincourt in September 1918, the scene of recent engagement with New Zealand troops in World War I. Malcolm Ross stands in the background with William John Geddis, Frederick Pirani, Charles Earle, Robert Mundie Hacket and Martin Luther Reading.
Ross retired from the press gallery in 1926 and died in Wellington on April 15, 1930, aged 67. He was survived by his wife of 40 years, Forrestina (Forest) Elizabeth Grant, who was also a parliamentary reporter for several newspapers and was appointed the first women's editor of the Wellington Evening Post. In 1910 Forrest Ross travelled alone to Europe, and wrote Round the World With a Fountain Pen (1913). Back in New Zealand she returned to parliamentary reporting until 1915. Their son Noël (born 1890), who had shown considerable promise as a journalist and had joined The Times, died in London in 1917 from sickness resulting from his war service. He was wounded at Gallipoli and died suddenly from a fever a few days before his wedding.
Sir Thomas Mackenzie, New Zealand High Commissioner in London, talking with Malcolm Ross during MacKenzie's September 1917 visit to troops in France during World War I. 
Imbros, Greece. 1915. H. W. Nevinson of Provincial Press, Malcolm Ross and Lester Lawrence, Reuters.

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