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Tuesday 28 April 2020

The Strange Case of Monarch Typewriters, Used At Gallipoli, Added to the ‘Enemy List’ by Australian Prime Minister Billy Hughes

Australia and New Zealand lost 11,488 lives at Gallipoli, more than 26 per cent of the Allies’ 44,150 dead in the Dardanelles campaign of 1915. The two countries have never forgotten their sacrifice. But last Saturday ANZAC Day was marked in a more muted way. With Coronavirus lockdowns in place, there were none of the usual grand parades and dawn services. Instead, people lit candles and stood in silence at the foot of their driveways, listening to distant strains of “The Last Post”. Only in virus-free Antarctica was there a traditional game of two-up. Not since 1919, when the “Spanish” Flu forced changes, has ANZAC Day been so sombre.
        April 25, 1915, was the day Britain and its World War I Allies embarked on a futile attempt to invade Turkey by land through the Gallipoli Peninsula. The Turks used British-made cannons and British-made mines to defend the Dardanelles. On the bloody beachheads there was mass slaughter in the five months to the end of the August Offensive, and by December 20 an evacuation was complete.
Engravings in this post are from original advertisements which appeared in Australian newspapers at the time.
Three days earlier, on December 17, 1915, Australian Prime Minister Billy Hughes surprised the nation by placing an American concern, the Remington Typewriter Company, on this country’s “enemy list”. The embargo would stay in place for the duration of the war and for three years afterwards. Hughes quickly added that the ban extended to all typewriters connected to Remington, including those manufactured by Union Trust companies. That meant it also embraced the Syracuse-made Monarch Visible, the very same typewriter Australian Army officers used in 1915 at Gallipoli and at Camp Mena outside Cairo in Egypt. Indeed, in March 1916 the Commonwealth of Australia’s Defence Department renewed its contract for the exclusive supply of Monarchs for a fourth straight year. The Department of Home Affairs had used Monarch since 1909 and bought 70 Monarchs for Commonwealth Divisional Returning Officers just before the outbreak of war in 1914.
        So what caused a typewriter officially endorsed by government departments and the Australian Army and Navy, and used in barracks, military camps and transport ships – often with candles fore and aft – to be suddenly outlawed? Hughes’s explanation was that Remington had packed arms in typewriter crates and shipped them to Germany through neutral countries. In fairness to Hughes, this idea wasn’t entirely unthinkable. A similar plot had been uncovered in October 1915, when there was an audacious attempt to smuggle American-made arms to Germany in crates of medicine from Shanghai through India. Yet with his Remington ban, the Australian Prime Minister had apparently not grasped that E. Remington & Sons had gone bankrupt in 1886, and in the next two years had been broken up. By late 1915, Remington arms and Remington typewriters had been separate entities for almost 30 years.
Remington typewriter production and sales were secured by Wyckoff, Seamans & Benedict for $197,000 on March 24, 1886. The concern started calling itself the Remington Typewriter Company in 1901, and in 1908 dropped the names Wyckoff, Seaman & Benedict from the brand title. Remington’s $1.5 million Ilion gun works and armoury was put up for auction by receivers on February 1, 1888. It was sold to Hartley & Graham for $152,200 - a deal confirmed at court on March 17, after an additional $47,800 had been offered on March 7 - and had become Remington Arms.
        Naturally, knowing at least some of this, Australians were confused by Hughes’s decision – none more so than the Chartres family, which had the rights to sell Remingtons in Australia. The Chartreses quickly pointed out that as loyal British citizens they were being unfairly penalised. Some observers speculated the names Wyckoff, Seamans and Benedict might have suggested German connections. Others pointed to criticism of the Chartreses for selling Bijou folding portables. Bijou was the export name for the Erika, made by Seidel & Naumann in Dresden. A Bijou was used by the South Australian Light Horse at Gallipoli from May 1915. (Hughes himself used a Corona 3 folding portable.)
        None of this helped the cause of Remington or its associated Union Trust brands. Hughes was adamant the ban would stay in place, regardless of the economic impact on Australian typewriter dealerships. The Prime Minister’s call had been made, Hughes said, on advice received from the British Government, including that Monarch and Smith Premier typewriters be included in the blanket ban. As Union Trust machines, Monarch, Yōst and Smith Premier typewriters were sold in Australia through a London-based Union tentacle, the United Typewriter and Supplies Company.
        Mystery continued to shroud the ban for three months. Was it really about a supposed shipment of arms to Germany in Remington typewriter crates? What was the source of that claim? Hughes did an about-turn and began to ease restrictions on January 5, saying that since Australian dealers were merely buyers and sellers, he wanted them to be able to resume selling Remington machines. Hughes left Australia for England with his Corona 3 on January 19, 1916, leaving Acting Prime Minister Senator George Pearce to deal with the ongoing question of why the injunction had been applied in the first place. Toward the end of February word of a reprieve began to filter through to Australian typewriter dealers from London and New York: “Misunderstanding cleared up and friendly relations restored.” On February 28, Pearce duly announced the embargo had been removed. No reason was immediately given.
Eventually, in early March, an oblique explanation was offered. “It appears that the French Government in the first instance, and subsequently the British Government, were misled in obtaining the impression that the Remington Typewriter Company was acting in certain respects in a manner hostile to the interest of the Allies. Action appears to have been taken precipitately, and without adequate inquiry … The company has now satisfied the British Government completely that the information upon which action was taken was incorrect, and every effort is now being made to place the company and its goods in as favourable a position as obtained before the embargo was placed upon them. It seems clear that malicious statements were circulated by trade opponents, and that undue credence was given to them by the Governments concerned. It may now be taken for granted that all the suggestions that the Remington Company was acting in a manner inimical to the interests of the Allies were untrue, and the various reasons assigned for Government action were, therefore, unjustified. In particular, the statement that munitions were despatched to the enemy packed as typewriters under the auspices of the company is now known to have no foundation in fact.”
One newspaper described the embarrassing backdown as “extraordinary”. But what is truly extraordinary about this whole affair is that the embargo was applied ONLY in Australia and in no other country in the British Empire, nor in any of the other Allied nations at war with Germany. Strange? Well it gets even stranger when one considers that the only newspaper stories regarding the embargo to be published outside of Australia were about its lifting, in March 1916. No British newspapers ever mentioned the saga. And guess what? The news item about the end of the embargo, coming out of Washington DC on the Associated Press Night Wire, blamed the misunderstanding on AUSTRALIAN authorities.
Was this whole brouhaha merely a creation of Billy Hughes’s own mind? And if so, why? Sadly, we will never know the truth.

1 comment:

Richard P said...

Weird. Maybe this slander was engineered by a rival typewriter company.