Australia War Memorial


One of Bean’s obsessions was telling the Australian story. He learnt at Gallipoli that British reporting of the war would often fail to mention the Australian contribution. Likewise records and artefacts collected on the Western Front would all be taken back to British museums and British archives.

In the aftermath of the battle of Poziéres in 1916, the Australian official war historian Charles Bean began to develop plans for a national memorial to commemorate the sacrifices made by his fellow Australians. He felt it was important for such a memorial to include an extensive military collection, in order to help Australians at home understand the wartime experience:

“It had always been in the mind of many Australian soldiers that records and relics of their fighting would be preserved in some institutions in Australia, and to several of us it had seemed that a museum housing these would form the most natural, interesting, and inspiring memorial to those who fell.” (C.E.W. Bean, Gallipoli mission, 1948, p. 5)

war memorial

In keeping with the sombre commemorative tone of the Memorial, Bean drew up a list of exhibition principles, suggesting among other things that the galleries should “avoid glorification of war and boasting of victory” and also “avoid perpetuating enmity … for both moral and national reasons and because those who have fought in wars are generally strongest in their desire to prevent war”. In general, the former enemies of the Australian Forces should be treated as generously as were the Australians.

Bean was instrumental in initiating the collection of war relics from the First World War and now the institution holds a comprehensive list of pieces of interest from all Australian conflicts.

Today, the Memorial continues to commemorate the sacrifices of Australians who have died in conflict. Each subsequent war has had its casualties and the Roll of Honour is updated with each life lost to help Australians remember and understand the import of their sacrifice. The Memorial continues to host a number of national commemorative ceremonies and presentations to honour the valour of Australian soldiers both past and present.

The Australian War Memorial looks after an extensive collection of publications, photographs, art and military relics across all conflicts in which Australia has participated. The Memorial ensures that they are accessible in order to facilitate the continued honour and memory of Australia’s military history.

war memorial

Many of the archive stills that are seen in CHARLES BEAN’S GREAT WAR have been provided with the kind permission of the Australian War Memorial.