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I

FIVE years after the first Imperial Press Conference there was the outbreak of war. The designs of Germany were revealed, and what was prophesied by Lord Roberts and others actually happened. “Distances between nations,” according to Ruskin, “are measured not by seas but by ignorance.” The late Viscount Burnham, speaking of the work of the first Imperial Press Conference, said:

“It helped more than any other conference to dissipate and dispel the fog of peace within the Empire, so that when the appointed hour came the fog of war was so thick that our enemies never saw through it and realised the essential unity of the Empire.”

Mr. Amery, M.P., put the position clearly when he said:

“The danger to pressmen as to politicians is to get absorbed in the little issues and forget the big


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one. The Conference of 1909 discussed the big problems that lay ahead with seriousness and in a practical spirit, such as was never seen in Parliament, and the result was that when they separated they knew what were the big issues with which the Empire might be faced any day. Though that was five years before the storm actually burst, there was not a village from one end of the Empire to the other which had not a true view of the cause and meaning of the recent war. No explanations were required; no long articles; all the people knew what the sacrifice would be.”

The second Imperial Press Conference was delayed by the war. It was not held until eleven years after the first Conference. At a meeting of the Australian section of the Empire Press Union held in Sydney I was appointed one of the Australian delegates to represent the Commonwealth. The number of delegates from Australia was fourteen.

When in London on their way to Canada, where the second Conference was held, many delegates again met Lord Northcliffe. The Lord Northcliffe of 1909 was different from the Lord Northcliffe of 1920. I was one of two delegates appointed at the first Conference by the Australian delegates to represent them on a subcommittee to form the constitution and rules of the Empire Press Union, an organisation that the first Conference decided to establish. The more we saw of him at that time the more we were charmed. Somewhat careless in his dress, at times almost shabby, but boyish in appearance and handsome, he talked little and was a good listener, always anxious to hear the views of


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others. With his firmly closed lips and Napoleonic face he gave the impression that he possessed an immense store of reserve power. The sub-committee, which numbered about fourteen or fifteen members, had several meetings in the Savoy Hotel. Lord Northcliffe was a most regular attendant. Though an extremely busy man he never missed a meeting, and he always arrived punctually. Controlling as he did so many newspapers he should be more concerned in the new organisation than anyone present, but he had the least to say of those present. In fact he only spoke once. It was when Mr. (afterwards Sir) Arthur Pearson attended and took the chair as chairman of the Executive Committee. Mr. Pearson and Lord Northcliffe were old newspaper rivals, but Mr. Pearson had been very ill—looked it—and was getting blind. Immediately the proceedings began Lord Northcliffe rose and, in a delightfully happy speech, expressed his pleasure at seeing Mr. Pearson well enough to attend. The genuine warmth and friendly feeling that was displayed by the two towards each other caused surprise amongst some of the journalists who only knew them as keen antagonists.

The Lord Northcliffe of 1909 was quiet and seemingly shy and retiring, but the Lord Northcliffe of 1920 appeared to us to be a different man altogether. He invited some of the overseas journalists who were on their way to Canada to visit The Times office, where they were shown round the literary, mechanical and other departments, and entertained. In appearance he had grown coarse and bulky, whilst in manner he was talkative, self-assertive, impatient and almost aggressive. He did not want to listen to others, but to


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talk himself. What interested him most was a wireless plant installed at the top of The Times office. He kept us there for a considerable time explaining its workings, and apparently he knew as much about it as the operators.

Mr. Moberly Bell, of The Times, told us that every morning between six and seven o'clock there was a ring on the telephone beside his bed. It was Lord Northcliffe, who had by that time read that morning's paper, and he there and then discussed with him its contents and its make-up. Invariably before breakfast Lord Northcliffe rang up the heads of the various newspapers he controlled and talked with them about features in that morning's issue of which he approved or disapproved.

Most of the British delegates to the Imperial Press Conference, as well as many of the overseas delegates, voyaged together on the C.P.O.S. Victorian from Liverpool across the Atlantic. There were a number of notable newspaper people on board, and they got to know each other intimately. There were several of the veterans of the first Conference, including the genial Sir Harry Brittain, as energetic and bright as ever. Sir Gilbert Parker, novelist, journalist, traveller and parliamentarian was with us. A Canadian by birth, Sir Gilbert produced his first play in Australia. The Times was represented by a Canadian, Sir Campbell Stuart, whose youthful, cheerful personality made him a general favourite. Sir Roderick Jones, of Reuters, with his newly married wife were also of the party. Perhaps the most attractive of the delegates was Colonel Sir


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Arthur Holbrook, M.P. Though seventy years of age yet in his ways he was the youngest of the travellers. He was the instigator of all the dances amongst the delegates, and he danced every dance. No matter how late the hour he always wanted the dancing to be continued so that he should have still more dances. The family record was remarkable. He had had six sons on active service. One of them got the Victoria Cross and others got various decorations, but all of them came back unscathed.

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