The Man Who Carried The Nation’s Grief
James Malcolm Lean MBE & the Great War Letters
By Carol Rosenhain
Published by Big Sky Publishing
RRP $29.99 in paperback • ISBN 9781925520170
Major James Lean’s work was pivotal to the effective operation of the AIF in the Great War. Lean was in charge of a department commonly known as ‘Base Records’ established soon after the outbreak of war. It was tasked with being the “repository for all the records pertaining to the AIF”. It eventually became the principal point of contact for families seeking news of loved ones killed or missing in action.
It began life with Lean in charge and just two clerks. By the end of 1918, the staff had grown to over 400. At its peak, Base Records was receiving thousands of letters weekly from distressed families.
Lean’s work was all-consuming. He worked daily from 9.00am-10.30pm with an occasional weekend afternoon off.
While Lean did not compose every letter sent, he personally signed each letter once he was satisfied with its content.
The letters selected by Carol Rosenhain for inclusion record the anguish of loss and hardship inflicted on those who remained at home while many of the letters received from men in the trenches document the horror confronting the young soldiers. She believes that Major Lean’s work was extremely important and it’s hard to disagree with this sentiment.