A hard calling

22nd October, 2012

A service to commemorate journalists, camera-crew and support staff who have died in the conflicts of the 21st Century while bringing us the news was held at St Bride’s Church on Monday 22nd October, 2012 at 6:30pm.


In the presence of HRH The Duchess of Cornwall

Two years ago, Marie Colvin described her work as “a hard calling” when she gave the address at this commemorative service. She described the risks that she and her colleagues took to speak truth to power and send home that first rough draft of history.

In February this year, Marie died in Homs covering the conflict in Syria. Tragically, she too became a victim of war: she paid with her life for her bravery, commitment and dedication.

Tonight, we remember Marie, and many others like her, who have lost their lives to bring us the story. She hoped that because of what she did and others still do, people back home will care enough to read their stories, listen to their reports and watch their broadcasts.

Tonight we are keeping faith with them by remembering and celebrating “the hard calling” that is frontline journalism.

The Venerable David Meara delivered the bidding:-

We come together for this annual service of commemoration to honour those journalists, camera-crew and support staff who have died on active service during the past year across the world.

On this occasion two years ago, Marie Colvin, in her address, described her work as “a hard calling”. Someone, she said, has to go to the war zones of the world and report what is happening. Tragically this quest led to her losing her life in Homs this year. Others have paid the same ultimate price, in Syria and elsewhere.

As we honour them tonight, we pray that God will bless all they have done and make it fruitful. We pray, too, for the loved ones they have left behind, trusting that at the end of our brief day is the eternity of God’s love.



Peter Preston, Columnist & Former Editor, The Guardian

Your Royal Highness, ladies and gentlemen. There’s a tragic poignancy to this service today. For two years ago, in this church, from this lectern, Marie Colvin told us that “covering a war means going to places torn by chaos, destruction and death, and trying to bear witness. It means trying to find the truth in a sandstorm of propaganda when armies, tribes or terrorists clash. And yes, it means taking risks, not just for yourself but often for the people who work closely with you”. She reminded us that “We go to remote war zones to report what is happening. The public have a right to know what our government, and our armed forces, are doing in our name. Our mission is to speak the truth to power. We send home that first rough draft of history”.

Of course she was right. If there is special honour this evening it is for Marie, who was so recently here in our midst, writing what came to seem her own epitaph.

But it is also to honour, as she would have been the first to say, not just the photographer who died in the same awful blast in Homs, but the dozens of newsmen around the world whose names are listed in your order of service. And it’s their tragedies, too, that we remember now.

In what, frankly, has sometimes seemed the lousiest year for journalism within these shores, full of evidence of a cynicism and chicanery no-one can defend, these deaths seem to illumine a higher purpose, to remind us that speaking truth to power is a matter of bravery, dedication – and, above all, of truth itself.

Yet the more often I make that stark comparison in print – a comparison between dismay at home and and heroism away – as I’ve done several times this year, the more it feels too simple for comfort.

Long ago, as a young reporter for the Guardian, I worked in the killing fields of Pakistan, India and Cyprus. I was a war correspondent, too, counting the bodies, slithering into ditches as jets strafed overhead. And later, editing a newspaper for two decades, I had to send colleagues into harm’s way.

It would be ridiculous to say that, 48 years ago, in the midst of a Cypriot civil war, those of us who gathered every morning in the Ledra Palace Hotel were all dedicated warriors for truth. It would be ridiculous to say that, edging gingerly amid the shell craters and bloated dead cows in the Jammu sector of northern India, 47 years ago, our first thoughts were of rough drafts of history. Some reporters I sent into the field were careful and cautious – and didn’t always “get the story”. Some were brave and almost heedless.

There are, in short, no abiding stereotypes here: just men and women doing a job. Some do it because of its inherent idealism. Some want to further their careers. Some want to pay the kids’ school fees. Some – too many young freelances in too much danger – just want a job. Many, as we see from the lists of the dead, are local reporters and editors, killed within their own communities. But the bullet that kills them doesn’t ask questions first. Death doesn’t bother to sort the categories.

And here, perhaps, gently advanced, is a theme that binds all of us in the news trade together during this time of some shame and crisis at home. Marie Colvin didn’t die in Syria covering a simple story, a tale of good and evil with nothing in between. No: the new Syria she and now we see emerging is an infinitely complex place, full of terrible injustices but also terrible conundrums. When we talk heroes and villains too glibly, we do not, I think, always tell truth to the power we se seek to wield for ourselves. And if that’s the case in Damascus, it is also the case here in Fleet Street itself.

Like you, I guess, I’ve been dismayed by some of the evidence we’ve heard given to Sir Brian Leveson these past 15 months. But – a journalist’s instinct, I hope – I’ve tried to look a little deeper, behind the sometimes manicured surface of events. Is all this, as sometimes portrayed, an almost tribal contest between Quality Street and Redtop Alley? Is a blanket piety enough to damn the reputations of people who, frankly, have sat many times in this church and felt the same impulsions we can discover in foreign fields: the need to cope with a difficult mortgage; the need to be recognised, and promoted; the need to beat the competition; the need to do what the editor demands?

Maybe we find it easier to deal in stereotypes, in battling grannies and sinister landlords, in Olympic achievements and soccer brutality; in newsprint crusaders and BBC bureaucrats. I understand all of that. I used to write headlines myself. But if we’re to be true to ourselves, to the basic job we’re here to do, there has to be rather less instant scorn and a little more reflection.

Those who have given their lives, those who we honour today, are not some breed apart. They are part of us. They come from the tradition you can still remember out there in the street, in Fleet Street. They are one part of a great, indeed over-arching ambition: to inform, to turn over stones and see what lies beneath. And we cannot celebrate them without looking more honestly at ourselves, into our own hearts.

If we aspire, in the end, to demand no more rights and privileges than ordinary people, then we must expect that, like ordinary people, there’ll be frailties and failures along the way. Thank you Marie Colvin, and all your brave colleagues. But thank all of you, too, if you look beneath the surface of events and try to draw the most careful, most complex and human of conclusions.

I’ve always, through my working life, carried with me a few quotes from the great quote-maker, H L Mencken. And here’s one that fits now.

“The world always makes the assumption that the exposure of an error is identical with the discovery of truth–that the error and truth are simply opposite. They are nothing of the sort. What the world turns to, when it is cured on one error, is usually simply another error, and maybe one worse than the first one”.

Mencken, looking out across an imperfect, human world, is asking how long truth lasts in this environment. Is it the truth of legal inquiries, of executive boards, even of acts of Parliament? No, it’s a truth that starts far elsewhere, in our own soul-searching, in our individual, personal definitions of where truth lies. Marie Colvin shows where such truth resides. It is our job now, the job for all of us, in humility, to follow her example.


James Harding, Editor, The Times read Isaiah 21: 6-12

The writer sees himself as a watchman, reporting what he sees, and rousing the people to action in the face of danger and destruction, not unlike the frontline journalist of today.

For these were the words of the Lord to me: Go, post a watchman to report what he sees. He sees chariots, two-horsed chariots, riders on asses, riders on camels. He is alert, alert, always alert.

Then the look-out cried: All day long I stand on the Lord’s watchtower and night after night I keep my station. See, there come men in a chariot, a two-horsed chariot. And a voice calls back: Fallen, fallen is Babylon, and all the images of her gods lie shattered on the ground.

O my people, once trodden out and winnowed on the threshing floor, what have I heard from the Lord of Hosts, from the God of Israel, I have told you.

One calls to me from Seir: Watchman, what is left of the night? Watchman, what is left? The watchman answered: Morning comes, and also night. Ask if you must; then come back again.

Hugh Whittow, Editor, The Daily Express read from My Trade by Andrew Marr

When I asked Robert Fisk about the glamorous image of the foreign correspondent’s life, he was quick to admit that there were times when he sat on the balcony of his Beirut flat and watched the Mediterranean through the palm trees outside, and perhaps punched the air at the thought of a story or pictures he had got out, which had made headlines round the world, and felt life was sweet.

But, he added, the life of a proper correspondent, who kept away from the pack and tried to discover what was going on for himself, was also hard, dangerous and lonely. It involved long days of uncomfortable and perilous travel in rickety cars, or being fired on. It involved food poisoning and sudden hunches which persuade you not to journey to a place of danger. ‘At the end of the day, it does take its toll on you. I feel very tired sometimes. I feel angry.’

But Fisk, like most foreign correspondents of real quality, is an unconvincing depressive. He quickly moves on to another story, taking a great gamble, and a terrifying drive along a road being shelled by the Israeli navy, to get vital pictures and words back to London.

Afterwards saying: ‘I remember sitting on that balcony thinking, we did it, we did it. We took the risk and it was worth it.’

At the best that’s what it is all about. They take the risk and it is worth it. Salut.

Kevin Beatty, Chief Executive, A&N Media read Memorial by James Fenton

This poem was commissioned by the BBC for the inauguration of the sculpture on top of Broadcasting House, honouring journalists and support staff who have given their lives for freedom and democracy. The poem explores the dedication and drive which motivates journalists to return to conflict zones in the quest for truth.

We spoke, we chose to speak of war and strife –
a task a fine ambition sought –
and some might say, who shared our work, our life:
that praise was dearly bought.

Drivers, interpreters, these were our friends.
These we loved. These we were trusted by.
The shocked hand wipes the blood across the lens.
The lens looks to the sky.

Most died by mischance. Some seemed honour-bound
to take the lonely, peerless track
conceiving danger as a testing ground
to which they must go back

till the tongue fell silent and they crossed
beyond the realm of time and fear.
Death waved them through the checkpoint.
They were lost. All have their story here.


The choir & organist of St Bride’s performed the following anthems and songs:

Psalm 121 – Henry Walford Davies

Where have all the flowers gone? – Pete Seeger, arr. Adrian Peacock

Agnus Dei from War Requiem – Benjamin Britten

Bridge over troubled water – Paul Simon, arr. Jones / Morley

In Paradisum from Requiem – Maurice Duruflé


Praise to the Lord, the Almighty

Abide with me

Ye holy angels bright

congregation sitting for service


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