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.
He then reported on the Australians on the Western Front where his admiration of the AIF crystallized into a desire to memorialize 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.
Bean received a number of honorary degrees and declined a knighthood. He said he could not bear the thought of his wife going to the butcher and asking for meat for Sir Charles Bean. 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.
Source: Digger History
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His original Diarys and sketch book are on display at the AWM.
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