An error-ridden Anzac Day feature for Fairfax’s metropolitan newspapers a week ago has prompted an incredible 300-word correction in Saturday’s papers. Dr Jonathan King, a journalist and historian who’s written extensively on World War I, painted a colourful picture of the battle of Villers-Bretonneux, which occurred 100 years ago on Anzac Day. In it, he told how Sir John Monash had delivered an impassioned speech to troops to rally them to victory on the third anniversary of the landing at Gallipoli, “fueled by those painful memories”.
But as the correction reads, that speech never happened — Monash was not involved in that particular battle, but had instead led Australian troops to a different victory: Le Hamel in July of the same year.
As well as errors about Monash, the piece described two other generals, Harold “Pompey” Elliott and William Glasgow, as leading their troops into battle on site when they had instead been in command from headquarters.
Ross McMillan, another historian, wrote for The Age today criticising Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull for making a similar error in saying Monash had been involved in that battle.
King is a popular Anzac Day talking head, has written several books about the Anzacs during World War I, and wrote another piece for Fairfax, published on Anzac Day, which has also now been removed.
A Fairfax spokesman told Crikey that the errors were made by King, but did not directly respond to a question as to whether the piece was fact-checked before it ran. “We have apologised for running the piece. We have no plans to run anything further from him. The correction and apology ran in print and online, and piece has been retracted from the website,” he said. The spokesman said the correction was “checked with historians”.
On radio, he was interviewed from Villers-Bretonneux by 2GB’s Alan Jones on Anzac Day and on the ABC’s PM program by host Linda Mottram the previous evening. On the ABC he repeated, unchallenged, the story of Monash’s rousing speech to his troops. An ABC spokeswoman told Crikey there hadn’t been any complaints lodged about the interview, but it was being reviewed.
King did not respond to Crikey‘s request for comment before deadline.