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Charles Bean Dies


30 AUG 1968: Death of Captain Charles Edwin Woodrow (C E W) Bean. Charles Bean did more than any other individual to establish the Australian War Memorial. Australia’s official war correspondent during the First World War, Bean wrote six volumes of the Official History of Australia in the war of 1914–1918 and edited the remaining volumes. Charles Bean is perhaps best remembered for the official histories of Australia in the First World War, of which he wrote six volumes and edited the remainder.

Before this, however, he was Australia’s official correspondent to the war. He was also the driving force behind the establishment of the Australian War Memorial.

Bean was born on 18 November 1879 at Bathurst, New South Wales and his family moved to England when he was ten. He completed his education there, eventually studying classics and law at Oxford.

Bean returned to Australia in 1904 and was admitted to the New South Wales Bar. He travelled widely in New South Wales as a barrister’s assistant and, struck by the outback way of life, wrote and illustrated a book, The impressions of a new chum.

The book was never published but in mid-1907 much of its content appeared in a series of Sydney Morning Herald articles under the by-line ‘CW’. In these articles Bean introduced a view of Australia, particularly its men, which foreshadowed much of what he would write about the AIF.

Having dabbled in journalism, Bean joined the Sydney Morning Herald as a junior reporter in January 1908. He published several books before being posted to London in 1910. In 1913 he returned to Sydney as the Herald’s leader writer.

When the First World War began, Bean won an Australian Journalists Association ballot and became official correspondent to the AIF. He accompanied the first convoy to Egypt, landed at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915 and began to make his name as a tireless, thorough and brave correspondent.

He was wounded in August but remained on Gallipoli for most of the campaign, leaving just a few days before the last troops.

As a war correspondent, Bean’s copy was detailed, accurate and also dull – he lacked 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.

Bean’s influence grew as the war progressed and he lobbied (along with Keith Murdoch, father of Rupert Murdoch) unsuccessfully against the appointment of General John Monash to the command of the Australian Corps in 1918.

He disliked Monash for not fitting his ideal of Australian manhood (Monash was of Jewish background) and his promotion of his men – he had earned Monash’s wrath for failing to publicise his brigade at Anzac – which Bean viewed as a penchant for self-promotion 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 favoured the appointment of the Australian Chief of General Staff, Brudenell White, the meticulous planner behind the successful withdrawal from Gallipoli, or General Birdwood, the British commander of the Australian forces at Gallipoli.

Despite his opposition to the appointment of Monash, Bean later acknowledged Monash’s success in the role, noting that he had made a better Corps commander than a Brigade commander (and as an aside admitting that his role in trying to influence the decision had been improper).

He then reported on the Australians on the Western Front where his admiration of the AIF crystallised into a desire to memorialise their sacrifice and achievements.

In addition to his journalism, Bean filled hundreds of diaries and notebooks, all with a view to writing a history of the AIF when the war ended.

In early 1919 he led a historical mission to Gallipoli before returning to Australia and beginning work on the official history series that would consume the next two decades of his life.

Along with his written work, Bean worked tirelessly on creating the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. He was present when the building opened on 11 November 1941 and became Chairman of the Memorial’s board in 1952. He maintained a close association with the institution for the rest of his life.

During the Second World War, Bean liaised between the Chiefs of Staff and the press for the Department of Information. He became Chairman of the Commonwealth Archives Committee and was instrumental in creating the Commonwealth Archives.

Between 1947 and 1958 he was Chairman of the Promotion Appeals Board of the Australian Broadcasting Commission and continued to write – a history of Australia’s independent schools and finally a book on two senior AIF figures.

Bean received a number of honorary degrees and declined a knighthood. He had married Ethel Young in 1921 and the couple adopted a daughter. Bean, one of the most admired Australians of his generation, died after a long illness in Concord Repatriation Hospital in 1968.


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