Charles Bean: Man, myth, legacy
By Peter Stanley (editor)
Published by New South Books/UNSW Press
RRP $39.99 in paperback • ISBN 9781742234892
As Australia’s official war correspondent during World War I, Charles Bean shaped Australia’s interpretation of the Great War. He was also the driving force behind the creation of the Australian War Memorial.
This book results from a conference held in July 2016 to examine Charles Bean’s legacy. It includes a stellar cast of Australia’s top military historians – including Peter Stanley, Peter Burness, Michael McKernan, the late Jeffrey Grey, Peter Edwards, David Horner, Peter Rees and Craig Stockings.
An exhibition Charles Bean: Life and Work was mounted at the Australian Defence Force Academy Library to complement the conference. It included, as Peter Stanley notes, family items which revealed facets of Bean’s life and character not easily visible in his official writing.
Bean’s granddaughter Anne Carroll OAM was a co-curator of the exhibition and has written a foreword for this book. In this she reveals that her grandfather had a bullet lodged in his right thigh, fired by a Turkish sniper on 6 August 1915. It was to remain there until his death in 1968. It’s interesting to hear of his social campaigns and his wish to see Australia become a compassionate, educated and healthy nation. It’s sad to know that he developed dementia in his final years, a cruel disease from which no one is immune.
Peter Stanley notes that one of the contributors – Jeffrey Grey – died suddenly just three days before the opening of the conference. His more-or-less finished paper was delivered by Tom Frame but his unexpected death overshadowed the conference.
The holy grail for collectors of Australian military history books is The Official History of Australia in the War of 1914 – 1918 (15 volumes), of which Bean was editor and of which he wrote six.
As this collection demonstrates, Charles Bean is not a footnote to history. He remains an important figure for Australian military historians and those who seek to understand and interpret Australia’s military history.
Examining the man, the myth and his legacy aims to contribute to the scholarship surrounding this most important of observers of Australia’s involvement in the Great War.