Australian War Correspondent Alan Moorehead Returns to His Roots
by Kathy Warnes
Alan Moorehead reported World War II and roamed the world, but he returned to his roots in his native Australia to write some of his most famous books.
Alan Moorehead was a distinguished World War II correspondent for the Daily Express of London who won an international reputation for his coverage of campaigns in the Middle East and Asia, the Mediterranean and Northwest Europe. He sent his dispatches from the Western Desert of Africa to the beaches of Normandy and he later was awarded the Order of the British Empire.
Moorehead wrote 21 books, including Gallipoli,The White Nile, The Blue Nile, Cooper’s Creek and The Fatal Impact. He was a historian, biographer and essayist and one of the major travel writers of his time as well as a journalist. His bestselling books made him a household name in Britain and he became famous in the United States for his more than 40 essays in the New Yorker.
Alan Moorehead Develops A "Nose for News" and Writes Books
Born in Melbourne, Australia, on July 22, 1910, Alan Moorehead attended Presbyterian Scotch College as a day boy and earned a BA from Melbourne University. During his time as a beginning journalist on the Melbourne Herald, he honed his short-term memory and interviewing without a pen skills. Quickly he realized that he instinctively knew what stories would interest people and attract attention- he had a natural “nose for news.”
In 1936, the London Daily Express offered Moorehead a job as a ‘retainer’ for the Daily Express in the Mediterranean From 1936 to 1945, he worked for the Daily Express, his
war reporting and later campaign histories gaining him an international reputation.
As well as his wartime dispatches which were published on the front page of the Daily Express and other British newspapers, Moorehead wrote books at breakneck speed between covering battles. He wrote three books about the North African campaign-Mediterranean Front, 1941, A Year of Battle, 1942, and The End in Africa, 1943. This trio of his books appeared as an omnibus edition of the African Trilogy in 1944.
In 1940, Alan Moorehead married Lucy Milner, editor of the Woman’s Page of the London Daily Express, and by 1949, they owned their own villa at Port Ercole, south of Florence, Italy. From this Italian expatriate base, Moorehead set off on extensive travels,
photographing and writing material for magazine and newspaper assignments and
gathering impression and research material for his books.
Continuing to take risks, in 1945 Alan Moorehead doggedly traveled through war savaged Europe. He published Eclipse, a descriptive and analytical overview of the allied campaigns that eventually destroyed the military power of Germany and Italy. In 1946, Moorehead published Montgomery, a Biography, and in 1955, he published Winston Churchill in Trial and Triumph
Gallipoli Wins the Duff Cooper Memorial Award
Gallipoli, published in 1956, established Alan Moorehead as a topnotch historical writer and fulfilled his dream of writing historical books. Gallipoli was the first comprehensive interpretive study of the disastrous Dardanelles campaign during world War I. The book swept through the literary and military worlds like a frontal assault and the Royal Society of Literature elected Alan Moorehead into its ranks. Gallipoli was the first winner of the Duff Cooper Memorial Award. Sir Winston Churchill presented the award to Moorehead on November 28, 1956, an especially ironic circumstance, because Churchill himself had planned Gallipoli.
Over the next six years, Alan Moorehead wrote a series of books focused on Africa, a continent where he had spent much time and come to know intimately. He published No Room in the Ark in 1959, The White Nile in 1960, and The Blue Nile in 1962, all of which added to his literary lion image.
Cooper's Creek Brings Moorehead Back to Australia
In 1963, Alan Moorehead wrote Cooper’s Creek. His book tells the story of the 1860 exploration and expedition that set out from Melbourne to cross Australia to the Gulf of Carpenteria to explore the unknown center of the continent. Robert O’Hara Burke leading the expedition with William J. Wills second in command achieved their goal of crossing the continent.
They opened up a vast new area of Australia, but their expedition ended in disaster with both Burke and Wills dying of starvation at Cooper’s Creek. The book puts the expedition in historical context, explores the expedition events, and details the proceedings of the Royal Commission that investigated the disastrous end of the expedition.
Writing Cooper’s Creek brought Alan Moorehead face to face to face with his own country again and he became intensely aware of the beauty, mystery, and history of Australia. In 1966, Moorehead published The Fatal Impact, a powerful and controversial interpretation of Captain James Cook’s Pacific and Antarctic voyages. During these voyages, Captain Cook called at Tahiti and Australia and exposed the wildlife of the sub-Antarctic islands
to commercial exploitation.
In 1966, Moorehead and his wife Lucy and their younger son and daughter visited Australia, the first of what would be an annual visit for him. On this visit he finished a television script based on a book he had written called Darwin and the Beagle. Before the book could be published, disaster struck the Moorehead family.
Lucy Moorehead Preserves Alan Moorehead's Writing Voice
In December 1966, Alan Moorehead suffered from severe headaches so he went into Westminster Hospital in London for an angiogram. After the angiogram, Moorehead suffered a major stroke and after that the doctors operated on him. The operation caused brain damage which affected the communicating nerves. At age 56, Alan Moorehead, a great communicator of the Twentieth Century, could neither, speak, read, nor write.
Lucy Moorehead stepped in and became her husband’s writing voice. She published Darwin and the Beagle in 1969, and in 1972, Lucy Moorehead collected Alan Moorehead’s autobiographical essays and published them as his memoir, A Late Education.
Throughout her husband’s career, Lucy Moorehead had used her administrative talent and commitment to preserve his private papers. She saved and organized his profession and personal correspondence, diaries, magazine and journal essays and press cuttings. She
kept his book serializations, reviews of his work, his background notes, drafts and proofs of his writing. She saved material that had to do with his unpublished writing. She saved nearly everything that Alan Moorehead had written and she and Alan donated his papers to the National Library of Australia.
Alan Moorehead died in London on September 29, 1983, at age 73. His wife, Lucy, was British, so not surprisingly, he is buried at Hampstead Cemetery, Fortune Green. For many years he lived overseas as an expatriate, in Italy and in England, but he never abandoned his Australian roots.
In his 1964 oral history interview with Hazel de Berg, Alan Moorehead said:
“The Australia I am now in 1964 seems to me to be an entirely different place…I’m speaking now of those of us who have gone abroad. We’ve made our homes and married there, our children have been brought up in foreign countries. But now, returning to Australia, we have a tremendous tug back to the beginnings of our lives, and I know that now if I were younger, I would not hesitate for two minutes, I would return to this country and I would write here of Australian themes. You must in the end, I think, if you are a writer, return at last to your roots.”
Pocock, Tom. Alan Moorehead. London: The Bodley Head, 1990.
Moyal, Ann Mozley. Alan Moorehead: A Redsicovery. Canberra: National Library of Australia, 2005.