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DISPATCHES FROM THE WORLDThe Life of Percival Phillips, War Correspondent
By WILLIAM R. BLACK
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2012 William R. Black
All right reserved.
Sir Percival Phillips sat across the room from Francis McCullagh. They had a friendship that went back more than thirty years, having met in Tokyo in 1905 when they were covering the conflict that came to be known as the Russo-Japanese War. The men were sitting in Percival's room in the Gran Hotel in Salamanca, Spain, which during the winter of 1936 was not quite as grand as the name might imply, nevertheless it was a large rather elegant room. The Spanish civil war had drawn the two war correspondents to this place. The government of Spain was trying to maintain its control over the country as the rebel forces of Francisco Franco were trying to overthrow it. The two correspondents were discussing the progress of the civil war and the general situation in Spain.
Percy (as he preferred to be called later in life) was not feeling all that well and he was now worried. He had covered the rebellion from Franco's side since late in the summer and he had sent out dispatches describing the events as accurately as he could. This had caused Franco's rebel forces to become somewhat hostile toward him and he was beginning to feel as though it was time to leave. He expressed his concerns to McCullagh. "I'll feel easier in my mind when I get across the frontier," said Percy. "These Spaniards would be capable of doing anything to prevent news from leaking out. They would be capable of having me murdered." He added, "At any rate they would be capable of keeping me here for months if they thought that I got hold of important military secrets."
Eager to leave Spain, Percival requested a salvoconducto (papers guaranteeing a safe passage) from the rebel authorities, but this was denied. Nevertheless, within a few days he managed to cross the border into Portugal. From there he went to Gibraltar and later sailed across the Straits to Tangier in Morocco. In less than a month he was back in London. Within a few days after his arrival newspapers throughout the English-speaking world were breaking the news of his unexpected death.
Percival Phillips was born on July 2, 1877, in the town of Brownsville in Western Pennsylvania, which is a little less than half way between Pennsylvania's southern border with West Virginia and the city of Pittsburgh, on the Monongahela River. The town had been the jumping off point for those who took the National Road to the west during the first half of the nineteenth century. The road ended in Brownsville and for several years migrants heading west boarded boats there that would take them down the Monongahela and Ohio Rivers to reach the western lands of Kentucky, Indiana, and beyond. Later the road was extended to Wheeling, Virginia (West Virginia today) and Brownsville lost much of its status.
Percival's parents were Hibbard Samuel and Anne Cochran Miller Phillips and they were descended from Pennsylvania families that had lived in the state for generations. Although his formal name was Leslie Percival Phillips, he used Leslie only on rare occasions early in his life and by 1898 he had ceased to use it entirely, preferring to be called Percival or Percy Phillips. He was the second of four children, all boys, born to Hibbard and Anne Phillips.
Percival's father, Hibbard, was born on April 9, 1845, on what was called the Rocky Hill farm; this was in Cecil Township in the northern part of Washington County, Pennsylvania. This county is the next county west of Brownsville on the National Road. Hibbard was the son of Samuel and Sarah (Fulton) Phillips, a farming couple from that area. It was said that Sarah was a descendant of Robert Fulton of steamboat fame, but this is not very likely since this Robert Fulton had only one son and he died at an early age. Many individuals sorely wanted to be related to someone of note in the 19th century and Sarah Fulton Phillips was no different from the others. Perhaps this was some way of laying claim to a higher social status or more recognition by others in the community. Although she could not have been a descendant of Robert Fulton, she may have shared an earlier ancestor with him among the Fultons of Ireland.
As a young man Hibbard went by the name of Samuel H. Phillips, but as he grew older he switched the order of the names to become Hibbard S. Phillips. During different periods in his life he would go by the name of Hibbard, or Hibbard S., H.S. or Samuel. Those who did not know him well would sometimes refer to him as Herbert, but he never used the latter name. Samuel seems to have been the preferred name in his youth and in his older years.
Hibbard was a tall, lanky man, whose physical appearance would later be described as resembling Abraham Lincoln. He cared little for physical labor and would much rather lie under a tree and read a book than do any manual labor. He and most other members of the Phillips family had some facility with foreign languages; they picked them up rather easily and could converse with foreign workers brought to Western Pennsylvania to work in the coal mines of that area.
Hibbard must have received some type of formal education as a young man. Most likely he attended the Jefferson Academy in Canonsburg, but he did not graduate from that school according to surviving records. Nevertheless, he was probably in the process of getting an education prior to 1869 because in that year he was hired to be the principal of a school in Smith Township of Washington County and presumably some academic credentials would be necessary for the position. On August 25 of the following year he was hired by the town of Brownsville to teach in their school. Then in 1871 he was awarded an A.M. degree from Washington & Jefferson College, a school that replaced the Jefferson Academy and Washington College. The new school was located in the town of Washington, county seat of the county with the same name.
In 1875 Hibbard married Anne (more commonly referred to as Annie) Miller of Brownsville, who was eight years younger than he was. After their marriage the couple set up housekeeping in the town of Canonsburg to the north of Washington, and by 1880 three of their sons were born. It is likely that Annie had all of her children in Brownsville where her mother could assist her. Later on, Annie appears to have missed Brownsville and probably her mother. It was common for her and the boys to make the 30-mile trip from Canonsburg to Brownsville by buggy to visit her mother for a few days. During the early years of their marriage and the decade that followed, Hibbard served as the principal for schools in Brownsville, Uniontown and Connellsville, all towns in Fayette County of Pennsylvania. In every case it would appear that Annie remained at their home in Canonsburg, or possibly with her mother in Brownsville, and Hibbard would return there on weekends.
Hibbard took a teaching job as early as the late 1870s down the river toward Pittsburgh in what is today Donora. Local histories suggest that he was the first teacher in that community. At the time the school was in Carroll Township of Washington County and it was referred to as the Gilmore School. He probably was a boarder with someone in Donora even then because railroad access was non-existent and stage travel would have taken too long for him to return to Canonsburg each night. It is known that he left the position in a short time.
By the September term of 1879 Hibbard had taken another position, probably leaving one of the other schools in Washington County or Fayette County for the opportunity to become the principal of the Fourth Ward Public Schools in Pittsburgh. He took a room in the home of John L. Ferson, a homeopathic physician in Pittsburgh who lived not far from the school where Phillips was to be principal. Going back and forth from Canonsburg to Pittsburgh was still not possible by train and even if it was, train travel would have been more costly, more time-consuming and as a result less frequent. As before, Annie and their sons remained in Canonsburg. The local newspaper reported later: "Sometime in October H.S. Phillips, Principal of the Fourth Ward, Pittsburg Public Schools came to his home in Canonsburg one evening and took to his bed with typhoid fever." For weeks he was very ill, but then he began to recover. At that time Annie became ill with the same disease.
By March of 1880 Annie had recovered. The family stored most of their household goods in Canonsburg and moved to Brownsville, where they stayed with Annie's mother. It is likely that Annie needed her mother's help in caring for the boys.
On June 3, 1880, the Canonsburg newspaper stated, "H.S. Phillips has resigned his position as Principal of the Fourth Ward, Pittsburgh, Public Schools, on account of continued illness." It is not known if this was the actual reason, or just a good excuse for his departure, but it is known that he soon took a position with Dr. Pershing's Pittsburg Female College, which would later become Chatham College. Hibbard probably viewed the college appointment as better than his public school position.
It can be assumed that his stay at the Pittsburg Female College was also brief because in the fall of 1881 he began a three-year course of study at the Hahnemann Medical College in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (now affiliated with Drexel University). This was a school specializing in the practice of homeopathic medicine and Hibbard completed the program in 1884 and followed this with some post graduate and specialized courses. The interest in homeopathic medicine may have come from his former landlord, Dr. Ferson. In any event he began practicing medicine in Canonsburg in 1884 and this continued until March of 1889. At that time he moved to Pittsburgh and began a medical practice there in association with Dr. W. D. King. A city directory for Pittsburgh in 1890 has Hibbard listed as a physician and other sources state he was viewed as very successful. Then in 1892 he moved from offices next to Dr. King at 326 Fifth Avenue to 73 Congress Street. Throughout this period he kept in contact with Washington County friends and relatives. In the fall of 1882 he and two other men purchased Rural Notes, the local newspaper published in Canonsburg, from his brother, Fulton Phillips, who had decided to move to the West. It soon became apparent that the newspaper business was not something Hibbard enjoyed, or perhaps he was too busy to get involved in the venture. In any event, he sold his interest in the newspaper to one of his partners the following spring. At the time he placed the following rather strange note in the newspaper:
I have sold my interest in the Rural Notes to D.H. Fee. He is now the sole editor and proprietor. Am I sorry? I don't know. Are you glad? I don't care. I can't say that you will at once see a decided improvement on the paper, for I have not done anything since the first of February. What more need I say? Gab is long, and space in the Rural Notes is 50 cents an inch a month, and I am not going to pay more than $3 to get this printed. That you may live long and happy together is the wish of H.S. Phillips.
Hibbard's marriage to Annie lasted longer than his newspaper career, but on November 27, 1886, he filed for divorce from Annie charging her with desertion. Apparently, Hibbard's movement from one school to another was not to Annie's liking and she refused to move along with him preferring instead to live with her mother in Brownsville. Becoming a physician and practicing in Canonsburg for most of the 1880s did not change this situation; apparently she preferred to stay in Brownsville even then. The following spring, on May 20, 1887, the divorce was granted.
In the midst of all this familial turmoil Hibbard became an exhorter and social preacher in the Methodist Episcopal Church. An exhorter was slightly lower than a lay-preacher in the church hierarchy. He would preach wherever necessary in the community, but did not have a regular congregation as such.
At some point Hibbard met Caroline Cummings of the town of Hickory in Mt. Pleasant Township of Washington County, and he developed some strong feelings for her. On July 13 of 1887, less than two months after his divorce became final, Hibbard and Caroline Cummings applied for a marriage license in Washington County and six days later they were married at the home of Caroline's parents in Hickory. Hibbard was eighteen years older than Caroline's twenty-four years. In spite of this age difference they would remain together until his death.
Something took Hibbard and his new family to Toledo, Ohio, in 1892. Perhaps it was the desire to start a medical practice in a new location. It is known that one of their children, an infant son he had with Caroline, died there on June 18 of 1893, and the family returned to the McDonald area (of Washington County) for the infant's burial six days later. During 1896 Hibbard and his family left the Toledo area and moved to Pittsburgh where he set up a practice on Third Avenue. Coincidentally, Dr. John L. Ferson died in 1896.
By 1900 Hibbard and Caroline had four children: three girls and one boy. They lived in a large house on Forbes Street of Pittsburgh and they took in boarders, eight at that time. Hibbard practiced medicine in Pittsburgh from prior to 1889 until some time around 1905, except for the time in Ohio. Advertisements that he placed in the region's newspapers in 1899 listed his name as Hibbard S. Phillips or H.S. Phillips. In these ads he promised cures for all sorts of ailments including cancer, "without pain or the use of a knife," and although this latter statement is consistent with the homeopathic tradition, his claims of a cancer cure were obviously overstated.
Hibbard and his family next moved to the Scranton, Pennsylvania, area and settled in a suburb named Dunmore to the east of Scranton at some time after 1905. He worked in the medical field for about five more years, until he was 65. He then retired from practicing medicine; this was about 1910. Why the family moved to the Scranton area and why Hibbard gave up the practice of medicine are not known. It is known that after retiring he became quite serious about religion and preaching. By 1920 he was reporting to census takers that he was an "evangelist" and that his place of work was a mission. Actually he had become the organizer of the Pentecostal Church at Scranton and the East, and it was an interest that he was to keep for the rest of his life.
It seems quite apparent that Hibbard had a minor role in raising Percival and the other boys. Even before leaving Annie he was rarely at home, having taken positions often too distant to make the trip to Canonsburg each evening. Shortly after Percival's ninth birthday Hibbard filed for divorce from Annie and shortly after his tenth birthday he remarried and started another family.
There is one exception to the above statement and that has to do with geography. Geography at the time was almost exclusively what would be called physical geography today: rivers and streams, mountains and plateaus, coastal areas, bodies of water, and similar physical features. When Hibbard was teaching at the Fourth Ward School in Pittsburgh, he did not use a textbook but taught the course exclusively using "maps of raised surfaces." Many years later Percival would develop his own raised relief maps when covering the Western Front. Coming into the press chateau during the war years one might very well see the correspondents "bending over a relief map cleverly fashioned from cardboard by Percival." As we will see later Hibbard's son loved maps and would use them and study them to the point of having almost perfect knowledge of the terrain he would encounter in his travels and reporting assignments.
Aside from this we should probably credit the Phillips' ancestral line for the height that Percival would attain. He would grow to a height above six feet. The remainder of his physical appearance resembled his mother's family. This is particularly so when he reaches his fifties. A high forehead and the general shape of his head make him resemble one of his uncles on his mother's side of the family (Philander Chase Knox). This brings us to Annie Phillips.
Excerpted from DISPATCHES FROM THE WORLD by WILLIAM R. BLACK Copyright © 2012 by William R. Black. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsList of Illustrations....................xi
2. "Four Miners Shot"....................19
3. First Wars....................29
4. The Move To London....................43
5. The Daily Express And Another War....................59
6. A Very Short Engagement....................69
7. Between The Wars....................75
8. A Revolution, A Riot And A Little War....................87
9. Coronation Durbar In New Delhi And The Balkans....................93
10. War Is Declared With Germany....................101
11. Covering The Western Front....................111
13. Troubles In Ireland....................131
14. Back To The Front....................139
15. War's End And Its Aftermath....................151
16. Prince Of Wales Tour Of The Far East....................171
17. With The Daily Mail....................177
18. Far Vistas....................197
19. India And Gandhi....................207
20. With The Daily Telegraph....................219
21. The "Scoop" And Ethiopia....................227
22. The Spanish Civil War....................245
23. The Final Days....................253