Truth at all costs

10th November, 2010

On Wednesday 10th November 2010 a service was held at St Bride’s in the presence of HRH The Duchess of Cornwall to commemorate a small fraction of the many hundreds who have died across the world during the first ten years of the 21st Century.


Foreign correspondents and cameramen are the high-profile casualties, but most victims are local. Whether indigenous, expatriate or on assignment, they all have the same thing in common – they died while telling the story, bearing witness to the truth…at all costs, to borrow a phrase from Martin Luther. As Emma Daly, foreign correspondent for the Independent at the time of the conflict in Bosnia, has put it:-

“We can do no more than record as faithfully as we can what we see and hear and smell and taste and touch. Each one of us is influenced by our history, our beliefs, our prejudices, and each of us has a responsibility to try to identify such traits and to work around them. But in spite of the difficulties, dangers and the struggle to remain impartial, our only purpose is to record these scenes so that no one, not those who would rather ignore this nastiness, not even those in whose name the crimes were committed, would have an excuse to say: ‘I did not know’.”

The Venerable David Meara delivered the Bidding:

We come together in St Bride’s Church today to commemorate and honour those journalists, cameramen and support staff who have died while covering the conflicts of the 21st Century.

As consumers of news in a fast-changing world, we demand a great deal of our journalists and foreign correspondents. We expect them to keep us informed about difficult and complex situations in the trouble spots of the world, often at great personal risk, and sometimes, tragically, they pay the ultimate price. Their families, many of whom are with us today, know only too well that bearing witness to the truth has a personal cost. So it is important that as representatives of the media industry and the public life of this nation we honour their memory in this service and remind ourselves of their sacrifice to bring us the truth.

As we commemorate those with links to the British media who have died, we remember countless others across the world who have lost their lives, and we pray for God’s blessing upon them and the loved ones they have left behind, trusting that at the end of our brief day is the eternity of God’s love.



Marie Colvin, Foreign Correspondent, Sunday Times

Your Royal Highness, ladies and gentlemen, I am honoured and humbled to be speaking to you at this service tonight to remember the journalists and their support staff who gave their lives to report from the war zones of the 21st Century. I have been a war correspondent for most of my professional life. It has always been a hard calling. But the need for frontline, objective reporting has never been more compelling.

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.

Despite all the videos you see from the Ministry of Defence or the Pentagon, and all the sanitised language describing smart bombs and pinpoint strikes, the scene on the ground has remained remarkably the same for hundreds of years. Craters. Burned houses. Mutilated bodies. Women weeping for children and husbands. Men for their wives, mothers children.

Marie Colvin giving her address from the medieval eagle lectern

Our mission is to report these horrors of war with accuracy and without prejudice. We always have to ask ourselves whether the level of risk is worth the story. What is bravery, and what is bravado?

Journalists covering combat shoulder great responsibilities and face difficult choices. Sometimes they pay the ultimate price. Tonight we honour the 49 journalists and support staff who were killed bringing the news to our shores. We also remember journalists around the world who have been wounded, maimed or kidnapped and held hostage for months. It has never been more dangerous to be a war correspondent, because the journalist in the combat zone has become a prime target.

I lost my eye in an ambush in the Sri Lankan civil war. I had gone to the northern Tamil area from which journalists were banned and found an unreported humanitarian disaster. As I was smuggled back across the internal border, a soldier launched a grenade at me and the shrapnel sliced into my face and chest. He knew what he was doing.

Just last week, I had a coffee in Afghanistan with a photographer friend, Joao Silva. We talked about the terror one feels and must contain when patrolling on an embed with the armed forces through fields and villages in Afghanistan…putting one foot in front of the other, steeling yourself each step for the blast. The expectation of that blast is the stuff of nightmares. Two days after our meeting Joao stepped on a mine and lost both legs at the knee.

Many of you here must have asked yourselves, or be asking yourselves now, is it worth the cost in lives, heartbreak, loss? Can we really make a difference?

I faced that question when I was injured. In fact one paper ran a headline saying, has Marie Colvin gone too far this time? My answer then, and now, was that it is worth it.

Today in this church are friends, colleagues and families who know exactly what I am talking about, and bear the cost of those experiences, as do their families and loved ones.

Today we must also remember how important it is that news organisations continue to invest in sending us out at great cost, both financial and emotional, to cover stories.

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. We can and do make a difference in exposing the horrors of war and especially the atrocities that befall civilians.

The history of our profession is one to be proud of. The first war correspondent in the modern era was William Howard Russell of The Times, who was sent to cover the Crimean conflict when a British-led coalition fought an invading Russian army.

Billy Russell, as the troops called him, created a firestorm of public indignation back home by revealing inadequate equipment, scandalous treatment of the wounded, especially when they were repatriated – does this sound familiar? – and an incompetent high command that led to the folly of the Charge of the Light Brigade.

It was a breakthrough in war reporting. Until then, wars were reported by junior officers who sent back dispatches to newspapers. Billy Russell went to war with an open mind, a telescope, a notebook and a bottle of brandy. I first went to war with a typewriter, and learned to tap out a telex tape. It could take days to get from the front to a telephone or telex machine.

War reporting has changed greatly in just the last few years. Now we go to war with a satellite phone, laptop, video camera and a flak jacket. I point my satellite phone to South Southwest in Afghanistan, press a button and I have filed.

In an age of 24/7 rolling news, blogs and twitters, we are on constant call wherever we are. But war reporting is still essentially the same – someone has to go there and see what is happening. You can’t get that information without going to places where people are being shot at, and others are shooting at you. The real difficulty is having enough faith in humanity to believe that enough people be they government, military or the man on the street, will care when your file reaches the printed page, the website or the TV screen.

We do have that faith because we believe we do make a difference.

And we could not make that difference – or begin to do our job – without the fixers, drivers, and translators, who face the same risks and die in appalling numbers. Today we honour them as much as the front line journalists who have died in pursuit of the truth. They have kept the faith as we who remain must continue to do.


Mark Byford, Deputy Director-General, BBC, read Ecclesiasticus 44: 1-15

Let us now praise famous men, and our fathers that begat us. The Lord hath wrought great glory by them through his great power from the beginning. Such as did bear rule in their kingdoms, men renowned for their power, giving counsel by their understanding, and declaring prophecies: Leaders of the people by their counsels, and by their knowledge of learning meet for the people, wise and eloquent in their instructions: Such as found out musical tunes, and recited verses in writing: Rich men furnished with ability, living peaceably in their habitations: All these were honoured in their generations, and were the glory of their times.

There are some of them, who have left a name behind them, that their praises might be reported. And some there be, which have no memorial; who are perished, as though they had never been; and are become as though they had never been born; and their children after them. But these were merciful men, whose righteousness hath not been forgotten. With their seed shall continually remain a good inheritance, and their children are within the covenant. Their seed standeth fast, and their children for their sakes. Their seed shall remain for ever, and their glory shall not be blotted out. Their bodies are buried in peace; but their name liveth for evermore. The people will tell of their wisdom, and the congregation will shew forth their praise.

John Witherow, Editor, Sunday Times, read The General Goes Zapping Charlie Cong by Nicholas Tomalin, Sunday Times, 5th June 1966

After a light lunch last Wednesday, General James F Hollingsworth took off in his personal helicopter and killed more Vietnamese than all the troops he commanded. The General has a big, real American face, reminiscent of every movie general you have seen. He comes from Texas, and is 48. “Our mission today,” says the General, “is to push those goddam VCs right off Routes 13 and 16. When we got here first we cleared Charlie Cong right out. “I guess the ol’ VC reckoned he could creep back. So this day we aim to zapp him, and zapp him, and zapp him again till we’ve zapped him right back where he came from. Yes, sir. Let’s go.” The General’s helicopter carries the General’s own M16 carbine (hanging on a strut), two dozen smoke bombs, and a couple of CS anti-personnel gas-bombs, each as big as a small dustbin. “Put me down at Battalion HQ,” he calls to the pilot. “There’s sniper fire reported in that area, General.” “Goddam the snipers, just put me down.”

Battalion HQ is packed with tents, personnel carriers, helicopters and milling GIs. The General leaps out and strides through his troops. “Why General, excuse us, we didn’t expect you here,” says a sweating major. “You killed any ’Cong yet?” “Well no General, I guess he’s just too scared of us today.” Two F105 jets appear over the horizon in formation, then one passes over, dropping a tail of silver, fish-shaped canisters. Napalm. Trees and bushes burn, pouring dark oily smoke into the sky. “Aaaaah,” cries the General. “Nice. Nice. Very neat. Come in low, let’s see who’s left down there.” “How do you know for sure the Viet Cong snipers were in that strip you burned?”

“We don’t. That’s why we zapp the whole forest.” “But what if there was someone, a civilian, walking through there?” “Aw come on son, you think there’s folks just sniffing flowers? Anyone left down there, he’s Charlie Cong all right.” The pilot shouts: “General, half right, two running for that bush.” In one movement he yanks his M16 off the hanger, slams in a clip of cartridges and leans right out of the door, hanging on his seatbelt to fire one long burst in the general direction of the bush. “But General, how do you know those aren’t just frightened peasants?” “Running? Like that? Don’t give me a pain.”” Pow, pow, pow, sounds the gun. All the noises of this war have an unaccountably Texan ring. For the first time I see the running figure, bobbing and sprinting towards a clump of trees dressed in black pyjamas. No hat. No shoes. “Now hit the tree.” We circle five times. Branches drop off the tree, leaves fly, its trunk is enveloped with dust and tracer flares. Then a man runs from the tree, in each hand a bright red flag which he waves desperately above his head. “Stop, stop, he’s quit,” shouts the General, knocking the machine-gun so traces erupt into the sky. “That’s a Cong for sure,” cries the General and with one deft movement grabs the man’s short black hair and yanks him off his feet, inboard. The prisoner falls into the seat beside me. The red flags I spotted from the air are his hands, bathed solidly in blood.

Robin Esser, Executive Managing Editor, Daily Mail, read War Photographer by Carol Ann Duffy

In his darkroom he is finally alone
with spools of suffering set out in ordered rows.
The only light is red and softly glows,
as though this were a church and he
a priest preparing to intone a Mass.
Belfast. Beirut. Phnom Penh. All flesh is grass.

He has a job to do. Solutions slop in trays
beneath his hands which did not tremble then
though seem to now. Rural England. Home again
to ordinary pain which simple weather can dispel,
to fields which don’t explode beneath the feet
of running children in a nightmare heat.

Something is happening. A stranger’s features
faintly start to twist before his eyes,
a half-formed ghost. He remembers the cries
of this man’s wife, how he sought approval
without words to do what someone must
and how the blood stained into foreign dust.

A hundred agonies in black-and-white
from which his editor will pick out five or six
for Sunday’s supplement. The reader’s eyeballs prick
with tears between bath and pre-lunch beers.
From aeroplane he stares impassively at where
he earns a living and they do not care.


St Bride’s Choir directed by Matthew Morley and accompanied by organ played by Huw Williams performed the following:

Organ music before the service:
Elegy – George Thalben-Ball
Nimrod from Enigma Variations – Edward Elgar

Lord, who may dwell in your sanctuary? – Psalm 15: 1-3, 8; set by Matthew Morley
And I saw a new heaven – Edgar Bainton
Where have all the flowers gone? – Pete Seeger; arr. Peacock
Bridge over troubled water – Paul Simon; arr. Jones

Sarabande from Partita No 2 in D Minor – Johann Sebastian Bach, played by Ruth Palmer, violin

Organ voluntary
Fugue ‘St Anne’ in E Flat Major BWV 552 – Johann Sebastian Bach

O God, our help in ages past
Immortal, invisible, God only wise
He who would valiant be

congregation sitting for service


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