War Correspondent: Reporting under fire since 1914 at Imperial War Museum North

By Richard Moss | 27 May 2011
a photo of two slip on shouder titles bearing the words war correspondent

War Correspondent: Reporting Under Fire Since 1914 at Imperial War Museum North until January 2 2012

Ask Kate Adie, Frank Gardner or Martin Simpson and they will all tell you that being a war reporter will brinsome very close calls. In the case of Gardner, who was shot six times while reporting from a suburb of Riyadh in Saudi Arabia, his call was about as close as it can get.

Now a new exhibition at Imperial War Museum North is exploring the phenomenon of these men and women who risk their lives in search of a story reporting from the world’s war zones.

As the exhibition makes plain, being a war correspondent is one of the most dangerous in the world, and also one of the most exciting.

But as it traces this arc of risk taking and exhilaration from 1914 to the present day it takes an in-depth look at some of the most celebrated war correspondents and their experiences - focussing on twelve reporters and the conflicts they covered. Along the way it investigates how the role and perception of the profession has changed over the last century.

The life and work of some of the big names of the Second World War are examined such as Clare Hollingworth whose famous eyewitness account of the invasion of Poland was the first British report of World War Two.

a photo of a man talking to a woman in army gear surrounded by soldiers
Kate Adie meets John Major in the Arabian Desert, 1991.© IWM
Similarly the work of Australian Alan Moorhead, whose reports from the North African campaign won him an international reputation, is examined. His African Trilogy remains one of the most respected accounts of the war in the desert.

Clearly for some the role of war reporter comes with the danger of “going native” and in the First and Second World Wars most reporters were indeed clad in khaki – a tradition that in some cases (think Max Hastings) persisted until the Falklands War and was then revived with the embedded reporters of the Gulf Wars.  

This being the TV age, video, audio and stunning imagery is very much the keyword in a multimedia exhibition, but iconic objects also take centre stage.

Visitors will see the infamous burka worn by the statuesque BBC reporter John Simpson in 2001 when he slipped across the border in to Afghanistan. The famous white suit of Martin Bell, which he began wearing as correspondent during the Bosnian War to help him “reclaim his status as a civilian”, is also on show. 

Other personal effects include notebooks, press passes, uniforms, letters and typewriters infused with the battered redolence of the war zone. Jeremy Bowen’s tattered protective helmet can be seen as can the prosthetic leg of BBC producer Stuart Hughes whose own leg was amputated below the knee after he stepped on a mine during an incident Northern Iraq in 2003 that killed a colleague. 

a photo of a man in a white suit being filmed
Martin Bell recording a piece to camera during the first Gulf War© IWM
Kate Adie, a veteran of countless wars, has lent the bullet that ricocheted into her leg as she admired the view from her balcony in Lebanon. She had the offending piece of ordnance attached to a chain as a keepsake.

There is even the chance to take a close look at the Reuters Land Rover hit by a rocket in Gaza in 2006.

But perhaps most telling is the way the exhibition seeks to tease out the personal stories from the reputations and how, despite the incursions of social media and mobile technology, some things don’t change.

As in 1914 reporters still have to make choices about objectivity, danger and censorship and repeatedly put themselves in the line of fire - to bring home the news.

Watch the Imperial War Museum's tralier for the exhibition:

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