Charles Bean

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Charles E.W. Bean portrait by George Lambert, 1924.

Charles Edwin Woodrow Bean (November 18, 1879August 30, 1968) was an Australian journalist, war correspondent and historian who is renowned as the editor of the 12-volume Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918. Bean wrote Volumes I to VI himself, dealing with the Australian Imperial Force at Gallipoli and in France. Bean was instrumental in the establishment of the Australian War Memorial.

Bean was born in Bathurst, New South Wales and his family moved to England in 1889, where he was educated, winning a scholarship to Hertford College, Oxford. He returned to Australia in 1904 and worked as a lawyer until June 1908 when he joined The Sydney Morning Herald as a reporter.



In September 1914, Bean was selected by ballot as the official war correspondent, narrowly beating Keith Murdoch. He was given the rank of honorary captain in the AIF and followed closely in the tracks of all the Australian infantry's campaigns. Bean landed at Anzac Cove at 10am on April 25, 1915, a few hours after the first troops had landed and he remained on the peninsula for most of the campaign, enduring the same squalid conditions suffered by the soldiers.

As a war correspondent, Bean's copy was detailed, accurate and rather dull — he lack the populist style of British correspondent Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett who produced the first eyewitness report from Gallipoli which was published in Australian newspapers on 8 May. As the sources for reports increased, papers such as The Age and The Argus stopped carrying Bean's copy due to its unappealing style.

In early May, Bean travelled to Cape Helles with the 2nd Infantry Brigade for the Second Battle of Krithia. When the brigade was called to advance late in the afternoon on May 8, Bean went with them from their reserve position to the starting line, under shrapnel fire the whole way. He was recommended for the Military Cross after retrieving a wounded soldier but was ineligible as his rank was only honorary. Also under fire, he carried a number of messages to the brigade commander, Brigadier General James M'Cay, close behind the front line. He made numerous trips across the battlefield, delivering water and helping to bring in the wounded, including commander of the 6th Battalion, Lieutenant Colonel Walter McNicoll.

On the night of August 6, Bean was struck in the leg by a stray Turkish bullet, while following the column of Brigadier General John Monash's 4th Infantry Brigade at the start of the Battle of Sari Bair. Despite the wound, he refused to be evacuated from the peninsula. He left Gallipoli for good on the night of 17 December, two nights before the final evacuation of Anzac. He would return in 1919 with the Australian Historical Mission.

Western Front

When the Australian infantry moved to France in 1916, Bean followed. The more spacious battlefields of the Western Front meant that he was not exposed to the same danger as in the cramped confines of Anzac. It was during this period that Bean began planning for the post-war preservation of the Anzac legacy via the establishment of a permanent museum and memorial, and by the collection of records relating to Australia's war effort. On 16 May, 1917, the Australian War Records Section was established to manage the collection of documents and relics. Attached to the section were members of the Australian Salvage Corps who would select items of interest from the battlefield detritus they recovered for scrap or repair.

Bean's influence grew as the war progressed and he lobbied unsuccessfully against the appointment of General John Monash to the command of the Australian Corps in 1918. He disliked Monash's penchant for self-promotion — he had earned Monash's wrath for failing to publicise his brigade at Anzac — and wrote in his diary, "We do not want Australia represented by men mainly because of their ability, natural and inborn in Jews, to push themselves."

Bean's brother was an anaesthetist and served as a major in the Medical Corps on the Western Front.


In 1916, the British War Cabinet had agreed to grant Dominion official historians access to the war diaries of all British Army units fighting on either side of a Dominion unit, as well as all headquarters that issued orders to Dominion units, including the GHQ of the British Expeditionary Force. By the end of the war, the Committee of Imperial Defence (CID) were less than willing to divulge this information, possibly fearing it would be used to criticise the conduct of the war. It took six years of persistence before Bean was allowed access and a further three years for a clerk to make copies of the enormous quantity of documents. Bean therefore had available to him resources that were denied to all British historians who were not associated with the Historical Section of the CID.

Bean was unwilling to compromise his values for personal gain or political expediency. He was not influenced by suggestions and criticism from British official historian, Sir James Edmonds about the direction of his work. Edmonds reported to the CID that, "The general tone of Bean's narrative is deplorable from the Imperial standpoint." For his maveric stance, it is likely that Bean was denied decorations from King George V, despite being recommended on two occasions during the war by the commander of the Australian Corps. Bean was not motivated by personal glory; many years later when he was offered a knighthood, he declined.

In 1919, Bean led the Australian Historical Mission back to the Gallipoli peninsula to revisit the battlefield of 1915. For the first time he was able to walk over ground where some of the famous battles were fought such as Lone Pine and at the Nek, where he found the bones of the light horsemen still lying where they fell on the morning of 7 August, 1915. He also instructed the Australian Flying Corps, one of the few Australian units involved in the occupation forces in Germany, to collect German aircraft to be returned to Australia; they obtained a Pfalz D.XII and an Albatros D.Va.

Upon his return to Australia in 1919, Bean commenced work on the Official History and the first volume, covering the formation of the AIF and the landing at Anzac Cove, was published in 1921. It would be 21 years before Bean completed the last of the 12 volumes (Volume VI). In 1946 he published Anzac to Amiens, a condensed version of the Official History — this was the only book to which he owned the copyright and received royalties.

External links

Charles Bean biography - Australian War Memorial (


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