My husband was privileged to be at a Book Launch in Melbourne this week. At a time where commemorative services and books surrounding Australian participation in the First World War are coming out at a fast and furious pace, the launch of the book Phillip Schuler The Remarkable Life of One of Australia’s Greatest War Correspondents made a deep impression on him.
The book is written by Mark Baker – a former Senior and Political editor of The Age, editor of The Canberra Times and Managing Editor (National) of Fairfax Media. As a foreign correspondent he had postings in China, Hong Kong, Thailand, Singapore and Papua New Guinea . He covered the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and was wounded while reporting the civil war on Bougainville in the early 1990s. Clearly he knows his way around a story and has a definite way with words. This book was a personal mission for Baker- who believes Schuler’s is one of the most important lost voices of the First World War – and he spoke to this (as did others) in his book launch presentation.
My husband bought a number of copies home and so I had both a book to read and plenty of books to wrap. It’s rare these days that I pick up a book and consume it in virtually one sitting – but this was the case here because the story of Schuler is a truly fascinating one – a short life lived in the most turbulent and extraordinary of times.
Phillip Schuler was a young journalist from The Age in Melbourne who covered the Gallipoli Campaign alongside the famous historian Charles Bean. His father, Frederick Schuler was editor of The Age – a position he held for 26 years. Frederick was an accomplished journalist who, like other German- born Australians, encountered great antagonism during World War 1.
His son was also an extraordinary journalist. Writes Baker, Phillip Schuler’s “bravery was legendary. His dispatches were evocative and compassionate. He captured the heroism and horror for Australian newspaper readers.”
The truly fascinating backdrop to this book is Schuler’s relationship with his former friend and Age colleague Keith Murdoch (yes…one of those Murdochs) who made a name for himself lobbying against the campaign after only a brief visit to Gallipoli. I am sure this wouldn’t happen today…but there are many who believe Murdoch’s experiences at War were less than accurate and that his version of events and relationships were…how shall we say….framed in a particularity Murdoch way.
After Schuler’s account of the campaign Australia in Arms was completed in early 1916, he left his correspondent’s job and joined the AIF as a humble soldier. He was killed in Flanders in June 1917 aged 27. What insight he would have brought had he lived to reflect on the Great War and to perhaps express an alternative view to the Murdoch narrative?
This book captures Schuler as the correspondent, lover (fierce passion and encounters across continents) and soldier. The beautiful sepia pictures show a very good looking young man. His colleague Charles Bean (AWM PS1405) wrote “He was a boy of delicate, almost fastidious tastes, scrupulously neat even under conditions of discomfort”.
I decided to keep my wrap simple and elegant as the man himself. I opted for the almost sepia pinstripe tones of the immaculate suits he wore from Cairo to Melbourne and places between. I chose a simple band of parchment and a black knot to tie if together with a small feather as a nod to the famous slouch hat. If you only read one book about the First World War, make it this one – the remarkable tale of a lost voice now heard.