Percival Phillips

Percival Phillips was born in Brownsville, Pennsylvania, USA, in 1877. He worked for various American daily newspapers and established himself as one of the country's leading war correspondents. He covered the Greek-Turkish War (1897) and the Spanish-American War (1898).

In 1901 Phillips moved to England where joined the recently formed Daily Express. Over the next few years he reported on all the major stories including the Jamaican earthquake (1907), revolutions in Catalonia (1909) and Portugal (1910), the royal tour of India (1911-12) and the Balkan War (1912-23).

In August 1914 Phillips was sent to Belgium where he was attached to the Belgian Army. He covered the invasion of Belgium and in 1915 Phillips became on of the five journalists selected by the government to report the war on the Western Front.

After the war Phillips continued work as a foreign correspondent and in the 1920s and 1930s covered all the major stories around the world. He also accompanied the Prince of Wales on many royal tours including Canada (1919), India and Japan (1921-22) and Africa (1928). In 1931 Phillips, working for the Daily Telegraph, achieved a scoop, when he discovered an important story on oil concessions in Abyssinia.Percival Phillips died in 1937.

Primary Sources

(1) Percival Phillips explained in the Daily Express how difficult it was to report on what was happening during Germany's invasion of France (27th August, 1914)

The "fog of war" that has settled over this country screens the important movement of the allied armies as effectively as the stone wall built across France from Dunkirk to Ushant. They (the French military authorities) have closed towns that appear to ordinary civilians to be far away from the theatre of war. There is a proscribed zone, officially described by the French military authorities, into which no foreigner or native not connected with the operation may enter.

(2) Percival Phillips, Daily Express (18th September, 1916)

The tense calm of the last hour before battle leaves an unforgettable impression. The preparations are finished. Everything is ready for the dawn. Expectant infantry crowd the forward trenches, rehearsing their final orders and locking home their bayonets; gunners pace idly beside their batteries, fingering their watches; empty dressing-stations put out neat piles of bandages, and skilfull surgeons wait to mend the wounds of men who are still unhurt. The stage is set for the great drama, and silence, heavy and oppressive, hangs over the waiting army in the field.

(3) Percival Phillips saw his first tanks at the Battle of the Somme (Daily Express, 18th September, 1916)

Sinister, formidable, and industrious, these novel machines pushed boldly into No Man's Land, astonishing our soldiers no less than they frightened the enemy.

(4) Percival Phillips reported the early stages of the offensive at Messines Ridge in the Daily Express on 8th June, 1917)

The battle itself was rehearsed bit by bit. The infantrymen who followed the equally well trained artillerymen's barrage this morning had been drilled for their journey by practice trips far from the scene that left nothing to chance. They had a wonderful model of the ridge - covering more than an acre of ground and true in every detail of contour and adornment - which could be studied for hours. I came back from witnessing the attack early this morning.

(5) Percival Phillips described the Battle of Passchendaele in the Daily Express (2nd August, 1917)

The weather changed for the worse last night, although fortunately too late to hamper the execution of our plans. The rain was heavy and constant throughout the night. It was still beating down steadily when the day broke chill and cheerless, with a thick blanket of mist completely shutting off the battlefield. During the morning it slackened to a dismal drizzle, but by this time the roads, fields, and footways were covered with semi-liquid mud, and the torn ground beyond Ypres had become in places a horrible quagmire.

It was pretty bad in the opinion of the weary soldiers who came back with wounds, but it was certainly worse for the enemy holding fragments of broken lines still heavily hammered by the artillery and undoubtedly disheartened by the hardships of a wet night in the open after a day of defeat.

(6) Percival Phillips, Daily Express (17th August, 1917)

I talked today with a number of wounded men engaged in the fighting in Langemark and beyond, and they are unanimous in declaring that the enemy infantry made a very poor show wherever they were deprived of their supporting machine guns and forced to choose between meeting a bayonet charge and fight. The mud was our men's greatest grievance. It clung to their legs at every step. Frequently they had to pause to pull their comrades from the treacherous mire - figures embedded to the waist, some of them trying to fire their rifles at a spitting machine gun and yet, despite these almost incredible difficulties, they saved each other and fought the Hun through the floods to Langemarck.

(7) Percival Phillips reported the German Spring Offensive in the Daily Express (18th April, 1918)

Our withdrawal from Passchendaele and the ground for which so many men of the Empire have died causes the deepest regret, but it has not discouraged the soldiers, who know that in open warfare trench positions lose their former value, and that the people will regard the sacrifice in the same sensible way.

(8) Percival Phillips, The Daily Express (26th April 1918)

For the first time British and German tanks have met in battle, and the victory is ours. They fought yesterday in the open fields round Villers-Brettonneux, east of Amiens, where the enemy made a determined and, for the moment, a successful attack on that town and high ground round it.

The German tanks led the attack, swinging on the town from the north-east and from the south, and in their wake came infantry with their machine guns and heavy mortars and light artillery.

Although there were four or five tanks. they were bulky, ungainly creatures, quite unlike the British tank in appearance, with a broad, squat turret containing quick-firing guns. Hidden in the thick mist until very close to our trenches, they crawled up in the wake of an intense barrage about six o'clock in the morning.

They concentrated their guns on one British tank, but others came to the rescue, and in the brief duel that followed one enemy tank was put out of action by an opponent of less bulk and lighter armament and the others scuttled away.

The lesson of this first engagement between German and British tanks seems to be that we have nothing to fear from the enemy despite the greater size and armament of his machine. The crews plainly showed their unwillingness to stand when invited to fight out to a finish.

(9) Percival Phillips, Daily Express (12th November, 1918)

Just at eleven I came into the little town of Leuze, which had been one of the headquarters nearest the uncertain front. From the windows of all the houses round about, and even from the roofs, the inhabitants looked down on the troops and heard uncomprehendingly the words of the Colonel as he read from a sheet of paper the order that ended hostilities.

A trumpeter sounded the 'stand fast'. In the narrow high-street at one end of the little square were other troops moving slowly forward, and as the notes of the bugle rose clear and crisp above the rumble of the gun-carriages these men turned with smiles of wonder and delight and shouted to each other 'The war's over'.

The band played 'God save the King'. None heard it without a quiver of emotion. The mud-stained troops paused in the crowded street, the hum of traffic was stilled. A rippling cheer was drowned in the first notes of the Belgian hymn; the 'Marseillaise' succeeded it, and the army of each ally was thus saluted in turn. I do not think that any one heard the few choked words of the old mayor when he tried to voice the thanks of Belgium for this day of happiness.