1889-1917 | VIC | War Correspondent
The only son of the longest-serving editor of The Age, Schuler volunteered to write reports and take photographs for the newspaper during the Gallipoli campaign. He documented – with evocative accounts and remarkable photography – the entire experience. Less subject to censorship than official correspondent C.E.W. Bean, he exposed flaws in the campaign, particularly the scandal of British treatment of wounded. Historian Les Carlyon considered him “a much better writer from a newspaper point of view than Bean.” Schuler later enlisted in the AIF, and died on the Western Front in 1917, aged 27.
Four journalists played leading roles in forming the indelible legend of Gallipoli in the minds of Australians. Yet it was the one who remains least known today – Phillip Schuler – whose part was the most immediately profound.
Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett, the veteran correspondent for London’s Daily Telegraph, was the first to extol in his dispatches the dash and daring of the Anzac troops after the landings of 25 April 1915.
Keith Murdoch, the later newspaper proprietor and sire of a global media dynasty, stopped briefly at Gallipoli and defied the censors to carry an explosive letter – first drafted by Ashmead-Bartlett – to British and Australian leaders that accused commanders of blundering the campaign and spurred the decision to retreat.
Charles Bean, the official Australian correspondent, landed with the first troops, stayed throughout the doomed campaign and went on devote his life to writing the epic official history of the war.
But it was Phillip Schuler’s evocative, insightful and compassionate dispatches from Gallipoli that most eloquently captured the horror and the heroism for Australian newspaper readers, and which first revealed the scandalous neglect and mistreatment of wounded Australian soldiers.
It was Schuler’s 1916 book, Australia in Arms, which was the first full published account of Australia’s role in the Dardanelles campaign. And it was Schuler’s hundreds of images from the trenches that remain Australia’s most formidable photographic archive of the era.
“He was a much better writer from a newspaper point of view than Bean, who was often very stodgy,” says Les Carlyon, author of a best-selling history of the Gallipoli campaign. “He was young and fresh and his prose was much more readable.”
Schuler was the son of then Age editor Frederick Schuler, who had migrated to Australia from Germany as a child. The younger Schuler was a popular figure on the Melbourne social and club circuit. Even as a junior reporter, he showed he had the makings of an exceptional career.
But Phillip Schuler almost didn’t make his date with history. He had been selected soon after the outbreak of war by the Cook Government to be Australia’s official correspondent along with A.B. “Banjo” Paterson. But the Cook Government was defeated in the September 1914 general election and the incoming Labour Government passed the decision on selecting the official correspondent to the newly-formed Australian Journalists Association.
A union ballot chose Bean, of The Sydney Morning Herald, for the prized role of Australia’s sole official war correspondent – and the only Australian press accreditation to join the landings at Gallipoli.
Schuler got there later, via the back door. After sailing with the first contingent, and covering the preparations in Egypt, he made his way to the Greek islands, surveyed the Turkish coast aboard a private boat hired with some British colleagues (before the adventurers were banished by the Royal Navy) and lobbied unsuccessfully for permission to go ashore on April 25.
After returning to Egypt, Schuler wrote a pleading letter to the British commander at Gallipoli, General Sir Ian Hamilton, whom he had befriended during the general’s 1914 tour to inspect Australian military forces.
Hamilton agreed to bend the rules for the young Australian. “Although I was exceeding my powers, I gladly gave him his permit,” Hamilton wrote later, saying how impressed he was with Schuler.
Before reaching Anzac Cove in late July, Schuler sent a series of dispatches from Egypt that created shockwaves back home. He described a breakdown in the provision of medical evacuation and hospital services for the wounded during the landings and the first weeks of fighting at Gallipoli that had led to hundreds of unnecessary deaths. The reports triggered official inquiries and a shake-up in medical arrangements.
But it was Schuler’s powerful descriptions of the fighting he witnessed during his time on the Gallipoli peninsula that would become his most enduring journalistic legacy.
Arriving at Anzac Cove on July 20, Schuler was soon reunited with Bean, with whom he had struck up a close friendship during the voyage from Australia to Egypt with the first AIF convoy. When Bean was shot in the thigh in early August and refused to be evacuated, Schuler nursed him in the dugout they shared beside the headquarters of ANZAC commander Lieutenant-General William Birdwood.
Within days Schuler was caught up in the carnage of the August offensives, including the battle of Lone Pine - where seven Victoria Crosses were awarded to Australians in the space of three days’ fighting - and the epic folly of the charge of the Australian light horsemen at The Nek. His account of that murderous few minutes stands among the finest pieces of reporting of any war.
While vividly chronicling the tenacity and stoicism of the Anzac troops, Schuler did not gild the squalor and horror of war. “Nothing can ever convey the awfulness of the trenches after attacks of this kind,” he wrote after Lone Pine. “As I walked down the trenches, it was impossible to avoid the men who had fallen. They were lying on the parapets and their blackened hands hung down over our path.”
As the campaign drifted into the stalemate that would end with the humiliating Allied evacuation in December, Schuler returned to Australia to finish his book.
In early April 1916 he enlisted in the army. A short time later, before he had seen the final printers’ proofs of Australia in Arms, Schuler was on his way to the Western Front. He had not sought an immediate commission and enlisted as a humble driver with John Monash’s Third Division.
Within 14 months of his enlistment, Schuler was dead. In June 1917, shortly after the Battle of Messines, during which the Allies punctured the German defences along a 15-kilometre front in Belgium, Schuler was severely wounded. With injuries to the left arm, right leg, the face and the throat, he died a few hours later in a field hospital in northern France.
In his official history, Charles Bean records that Schuler, by then a lieutenant, died as the result of “a chance salvo”. Bean went on to confirm that the accomplished correspondent had also distinguished himself as a soldier: “Schuler had won much credit for his gallantry in the Battle of Messines.”
Just before his death, Schuler was visited by Colonel Richard Dowse, his former commanding officer. Dowse later wrote to Bean: “His head was all bandaged up but he had use of one eye and when he saw me remarked, ‘Dick, well I ask you’, a favourite saying of his. He knew he was for it and gave me a few messages and instructions before I left. He died about an hour later.”
After Schuler was buried near the hospital, Dowse wrote immediately to Sir Ian Hamilton. “No man can escape his fate,” Hamilton wrote back. “But I am quite upset myself to think that a man who had such a future before him, who possessed such a delightful personality and who would certainly have made a name for himself by his writings in the future, has prematurely dropped out. I must write to his father by this mail.”
Hamilton was just one of many to wonder what the future might have held for Phillip Schuler had he survived the war. “The tragedy of it is that God knows what he might have become, editor of The Age like his father, or something grander. Maybe even prime minister,” says Les Carlyon. “He was the classic shining youth.”
Mark Baker is a former editor-at-large of The Age and Chief Executive Officer of the Melbourne Press Club. His biography “Phillip Schuler: The Remarkable Life of One of Australia’s Greatest War Correspeondents” was published by Allen & Unwin in 2016.
Schuler surveys the Gallipoli coastline from Mt Elias, Lemnos, before the Alied landings in April 1915.
One of Schuler's most famous Gallipoli photos: Captain Leslie Moreshead looks up from a captured Turkish tench at Lone Pine on the morning of 6 August 1915.
Schuler (on right) with (from left) the Reverend Edwin Bean, Charles Bean and Archie Whyte of The Age.
Australia in Arms - A Narrative of the Australasian Imperial Force and their Achievement at Anzac, P. F. E. Schuler, T. Fisher Unwin, 1916.
Schuler’s War, The Age, 23 April 2005
Phillip Schuler - The remarkable life of one of Australia's greatest war correspondents,Mark Baker, 2016, Allen & Unwin