Charles Edward Bean

Charles Edward Bean

Charles Edward Bean was born in Bathurst, New South Wales, on 18th November, 1879. His family moved to England in 1889 and on the completion of his secondary education he won a scholarship to Hertford College, Oxford, where he studied classics.

In 1904 Bean returned to Australia where he was admitted to the New South Wales Bar. Four years later he joined the Sydney Morning Herald as a journalist. His account of outback life, On the Wool Track, was published in 1910.

On the outbreak of the First World War Bean became Australia's official war correspondent. He was given the rank of captain and travelled to Egypt with the Australian Imperial Force (AIF). He was with the first contingent of the AIF that landed at Gallipoli on 25th April, 1915. Two weeks later Bean was recommended for the Military Cross for his bravery during the Australian charge at Krithia. However, as a civilian he was ineligible to receive it.

In 1916 Bean went to the Western Front where he reported on the Battle of the Somme. Later that year he published The Anzac Book (1916).

After the war Bean began work on The Official History of Australia. His 4 million word history took 22 years to produce and the 12th and final volume was not published until 1942. He was also the author of From Anzac to Amiens (1946), a single volume of the war.

Bean was instrumental in establishing the Australian War Memorial and in 1952 he became chairman of the Board of Management of the War Memorial. He also chaired the Promotion Appeals Board of the Australian Broadcasting Commission (1947-58). Charles Edward Bean died at the Concord Repatriation Hospital in August 1968.

Primary Sources

(1) Charles Bean, report sent to Andrew Fisher (17th May, 1915)

The Australians and Maorilanders landed in two bodies, the first being a covering force to seize the ridges around the landing about an hour later. The moon that night set about an hour and a half before daylight. This just gave time for the warships and transports of the covering force to steam in and land the troops before dawn.

It had long been known that the Third Australian Brigade, consisting of Queenslanders, South Australians, Western Australians, and Tasmanians, had been chosen to make the landing. This brigade consists largely of miners from the Broken Hill and Westralian gold-fields. It had left Egypt many weeks before the rest of the force, and had landed on Lemnos Island, where the troops were thoroughly practised at landing from ships and boats. During the second week in April the greater part of the Australian and New Zealand troops from Egypt followed, and had been just a fortnight in Lemnos when they sailed to effect a landing at a certain position on the northern shore of Gallipoli Peninsula, about 60 miles away.

The covering force was taken partly in four of our own transports, partly in three battleships. The night was perfect; about three o’clock the moon set, and the ships carrying the troops, together with the three warships which were charged with the protection of the flanks, stole in towards the high coastline. It was known that the coast was fortified, and that a battery on a promontory 2 miles southwards, and several other guns amongst the hills inland covered the landing place. The battleships and transports took up a position in two lines. The troops were transferred partly to the warships’ boats, and partly to destroyers, which hurried in shore, and re-transferred their occupants to boats, which then made by the shortest route for the beach.

It was eighteen minutes past four on the morning of Sunday, 25th April, when the first boat grounded. So far not a shot had been fired by the enemy. Colonel McLagan’s orders to his brigade were that shots, if possible, were not to be fired till daybreak, but the business was to be carried through with the bayonet. The men leapt into the water, and the first of them had just reached the beach when fire was opened on them from the trenches on the foothills which rise immediately from the beach. The landing place consists of a small bay about half-a-mile from point to point with two much larger bays north and south. The country rather resembles the Hawkesbury River country in New South Wales, the hills rising immediately from the sea to 600 feet. To the north these ridges cluster to a summit nearly 1,000 feet high. Further northward the ranges become even higher. The summit just mentioned sends out a series of long ridges running south-westward, with steep gullies between them, very much like the hills and gullies about the north of Sydney, covered with low scrub very similar to a dwarfed gum tree scrub. The chief difference is that there are no big trees, but many precipices and sheer slopes of gravel. One ridge comes down to the sea at the small bay above mentioned, and ends in two knolls about 100 feet high, one at each point of the bay. It was from these that fire was first opened on the troops as they landed. Bullets struck fireworks out of the stones along the beach. The men did not wait to be hit, but wherever they landed they simply rushed straight up the steep slopes. Other small boats which had cast off from the warships and steam launches which towed them, were digging for the beach with oars. These occupied the attention of the Turks in the trenches, and almost before the Turks had time to collect their senses, the first boatloads were well up towards the trenches. Few Turks awaited the bayonet. It is said that one huge Queenslander swung his rifle by the muzzle, and, after braining one Turk, caught another and flung him over his shoulder. I do not know if this story is true, but when we landed some hours later, there was said to have been a dead Turk on the beach with his head smashed in. It is impossible to say which battalion landed first, because several landed together. The Turks in the trenches facing the landing had run, but those on the other flank and on the ridges and gullies still kept up a fire upon the boats coming in shore, and that portion of the covering force which landed last came under a heavy fire before it reached the beach. The Turks had a machine gun in the valley on our left, and this seems to have been turned on to the boats containing part of the Twelfth Battalion. Three of these boats are still lying on the beach some way before they could be rescued. Two stretcher-bearers of the Second Battalion who went along the beach during the day to effect a rescue were both shot by the Turks. Finally, a party waited for dark, and crept along the beach, rescuing nine men who had been in the boats two days, afraid to move for fear of attracting fire. The work of the stretcher-bearers all through a week of hard fighting has been beyond all praise.

The Third Brigade went over the hills with such dash that within three quarters of an hour of landing some had charged over three successive ridges. Each ridge was higher than the last, and each party that reached the top went over it with wild cheers. Since that day the Turks have never attempted to face our bayonets. The officers led magnificently, but, of course, nothing like an accurate control of the attack was possible. Subordinate leaders had been trained at Mena to act on their own responsibility, and the benefit of this was enormously apparent in this attack. Companies and platoons, little crowds of 50 to 200 men, were landed wherever the boats took them. Their leaders had a general idea of where they were intended to go, and once landed, each subordinate commander made his way there by what seemed to him to be the shortest road. The consequence was that the Third Brigade reached its advanced line in a medley of small fractions inextricably mixed. Several further lines of Turkish trenches were swept through. On the further ridges the Turks did not wait for the bayonet, and when at sunrise ships bringing the first portion of the main body arrived and steamed slowly through the battleships to disembark the men, those on board could see figures on the skyline of the ridges near them, and on a further ridge inland. Presently a heliograph winked from near the top of the second hill. They were our men. They could be seen walking about and digging just as you see them any morning at Liverpool Camp during annual training. The relief which flooded the hearts of thousands of anxious watchers on the ships can be better imagined than described.

(2) Charles Edward Bean, From Anzac to Amiens (1946)

In round figures this period cost the two allies three quarters of a million casualties against half a million on the German side. These figures include the casualties incurred during the latter stages at Verdun and also on quiet parts of the front; but they may safely be assumed to indicate, at least roughly, the proportion of the German loss to that of the Allies in the First Battle of the Somme.

Far from the German loss being the greater, the British Army was being worn down - numerically - more than twice as fast, and the loss is not to be measured by bare numbers. The troops who bore the brunt of the Somme fighting were the cream of the British population - the new volunteer army, inspired by the lofty altruistic ideals traditional in British upbringing, in high purity of aim and single-minded sacrifice probably the finest army that ever went to war. Despite the indignation expressed by one of the higher commanders at the criticism current in England, a general who wears down 180,000 of his enemy by expending 400,000 men of this quality has something to answer for.