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Frederic Morley Cutlack (1886–1967)

by A. J. Sweeting

This article was published:

Frederic Morley Cutlack (1886-1967), journalist, war correspondent and war historian, was born on 30 September 1886 at Upper Lancing, Sussex, England, son of Frank William Cutlack, dredging contractor, and his wife Elizabeth Swanwick, née Hall. His family migrated to South Australia when he was 5 and he was educated at Renmark and University College, North Adelaide. In 1904 he began newspaper work on the Register. He visited Germany in 1910 and next year joined the staff of the Daily Chronicle in London. He worked on other London newspapers and on the publicity staff of the Australian High Commission, and in 1913 was special correspondent on the H.M.A.S. Australia on her maiden voyage from England.

Cutlack was reading for the Bar in London when war broke out in 1914 and he soon enlisted in King Edward's Horse. Commissioned lieutenant, he served in France in 1915-16 with the Royal Field Artillery, then in April 1917 was attached to the 3rd Divisional Headquarters, Australian Imperial Force, as an intelligence officer. In October Charles Bean sought his services as assistant official war correspondent. In January 1918 he was appointed, relinquishing his existing office and rank and receiving the pay and allowances of a captain in the A.I.F., but without rank. He crossed to France on 4 January 1918 and took over the tasks Bean had performed, including the preparation and dispatch of cables and letters to Australia concerning the activities of the Australian force, instructions to the official photographer, and liaison with the British detachment of the Australian War Records Section in France. He also assisted in collecting records and trophies for the war museum which Bean had proposed and which the Australian government had already approved.

In March, when Bean returned to France, Cutlack remained as his assistant and thereafter the two worked together in harmony. Cutlack rapidly proved himself a relentless investigator, as concerned to discover the truth as Bean, not afraid of risks but not taking them needlessly. He narrowly escaped death near Morlancourt in July when a whizz-bang shell passed over his shoulder; before he reached shelter about twenty shells had been fired at him. Later that month he was seriously injured in a motor cycle accident and while convalescing wrote an account of the 1918 operations of the Australian divisions which was published in London late that year. The Australian Historical Mission, led by Bean, left for Gallipoli early in 1919 but Cutlack continued in his appointment with the Australian Corps. He was discharged in England on 20 March and later that year was called to the Bar at Lincoln's Inn, London.

In 1920 Cutlack returned to Australia with his English wife, Annie Isobel, née Dunlop, whom he had married at Ealing, London, on 2 October 1917; the marriage was annulled in January 1937. He joined the staff of the Sydney Morning Herald in 1920 but soon afterwards was commissioned to write the volume on the Australian Flying Corps for the official war history. Published in 1923, the work was reprinted many times and about 18,500 copies were sold. Cutlack was on the staff of the prime minister, (Viscount) S. M. Bruce, for the 1923 Imperial Conference and then rejoined the Herald. After working as a leader-writer, he was given two years leave in 1925 to practise law in Renmark in the hope that the climate would hasten his recovery from tuberculosis. He then returned to the Herald, becoming one of its key men; his articles on defence in particular were highly regarded. He accompanied the (Sir) J. G. Latham mission to the Far East in 1934 as the paper's special representative, and that year his book, Manchurian Arena, was published. War Letters of General Monash, which he edited, appeared next year. During the abdication crisis in 1936 he wrote most of the Herald's leaders, and their temperate, learned and thoughtful nature earned him the special commendation of the proprietors.

Cutlack married Helen Pauline Curr at Christ Church St Laurence, Sydney, on 5 August 1937; the marriage was dissolved in 1946. He was associate editor of the Herald in 1937-47, then worked with the Bulletin until retiring at the end of 1947. From the mid-1950s Cutlack lived in England. At Renmark in 1899 he had met H. H. Morant. Convinced that the execution of Morant and P. J. Handcock in South Africa in 1902 was a grave miscarriage of justice, he set out to vindicate them and in 1962 published Breaker Morant.

Survived by his third wife Mildred Mary, Cutlack died without issue on 27 November 1967 at his home at Burwash, Sussex.

Select Bibliography

  • British Australasian, 21 Jan 1915
  • Home, 1 Mar 1921
  • Newspaper News, 1 Feb 1947
  • Stand-To (Canberra), Feb-Aug 1959
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 31 July 1923, 21 Mar 1934, Dec 1936, 11 Dec 1937, 2 Jan 1947, 29 Nov 1967
  • Bulletin, 23 July 1925, 28 Mar 1934
  • records, including 782/34/1 (Australian War Memorial).

Citation details

A. J. Sweeting, 'Cutlack, Frederic Morley (1886–1967)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 21 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (Melbourne University Press), 1981

View the front pages for Volume 8

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


30 September, 1886
Upper Lancing, Sussex, England


27 November, 1967 (aged 81)
Burwarsh, Sussex, England

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