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 remaining six. He was also the driving force behind the establishment of the Australian War Memorial and was Australia’s official correspondent to the First World War.
Bean was born November 18 1879 at Bathurst, New South Wales and his family moved to England when he was ten. He completed his education there, studying classics and law at Oxford. He returned to Australia in 1904 and was admitted to the New South Wales Bar.
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 leading writer and was chosen by an Australian Journalists Association ballot to become official correspondent to the AIF.
Accompanying the first Australian convoy to Egypt, he landed at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915 and began to make his name as a thorough and brave correspondent. He was wounded in August but remained on Gallipoli until just a few days before the last troops. He then reported on the Australians on the Western Front where his admiration of the AIF inspired him to memorialise their sacrifice and achievements. 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 his next twenty years.
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.
During the Second World War, Bean liaised between the Chiefs of Staff and the press for the Department of Information. He became Chairman of the Commonwealth Archives Committee and was instrumental in creating the Commonwealth Archives. Between 1947 and 1958 he was Chairman of the Promotion Appeals Board of the Australian Broadcasting Commission and continued to write, earning a number of honorary degrees and declining a knighthood.
Bean died in Concord Repatriation Hospital in 1968.