Charles Edward Woodrow Bean was born on 18 November 1879 in Bathurst, New South Wales. In 1889, his family moved to England where he attended the Brentwood School in Essex, then Clifton College in Bristol.
While at Clifton, Bean developed an interest in literature and in 1898 won a scholarship to Hertford College, Oxford, to read classics. He graduated with second-class honours in 1902 and went on to study law, being called to the Bar of the Inner Temple in 1903. For a short time he taught at his old school, Brentwood, before becoming a tutor in Tenerife.
Bean returned to Australia in 1904. He was admitted to the New South Wales Bar and retained his parallel passions for teaching and writing. He was an assistant master at Sydney Grammar School and wrote some articles for the Evening News, then edited by Andrew ‘Banjo’ Paterson.
Between 1905 and 1907, he travelled extensively around New South Wales as a barrister’s assistant and wrote a book entitled The Impressions of a New Chum. Though he failed to find a publisher, the Sydney Morning Herald printed a series of articles from his book in mid-1907. Likely as a result of this success, Bean resolved to focus on his writing career and spent four months learning shorthand before joining the Sydney Morning Herald as a junior reporter. In 1908, his major assignment was as a special correspondent on HMS Powerful, the flagship of the Royal Navy squadron in Australia, on a voyage to Norfolk Island, Fiji and finally Auckland to meet the American Fleet. He compiled his articles into an expanded volume entitled With the Flagship in the South, which he published the following year at his own expense. Within the book, he argued for ‘Australia and New Zealand … to have navies and flagships of their own’.
After a series of articles on the wool industry, he transferred to London in 1910 to report on the construction of what would become HMAS Australia, the powerful flagship of the new Royal Australian Navy, and two other warships, HMAS Sydney and HMAS Melbourne. In 1913 he turned these reports into another book, Flagships Three.
By mid-1914, Bean was writing articles about the war crisis unfolding in Europe. A month after war broke out in August 1914, the British government invited each dominion to attach an official war correspondent to their force. George Pearce, the Australian Minister for Defence, asked the Australian Journalists’ Association to nominate their preferred candidate. Bean won the ballot and became Australia’s official war correspondent. He was appointed to the AIF on 28 September 1914.
Bean embarked at Port Melbourne on 21 October 1914 on board HMAT Orvieto. His mother and father had travelled from Tasmania to see both he and his brother John depart. After a five-day passage, Orvieto arrived in King George Sound, Albany, on 26 October 1914. The ship set sail with the First Convoy on 1 November, destined for Egypt.
As the Australian official war correspondent, Bean was regarded as a captain. As such, he received a batman (Arthur Bazley), an officer’s salary, a horse and rations. He wore a copy of an officer’s uniform but no badges.
Aboard ship, Bean dined with Captain Arthur Gordon Smith and AIF officers, but spent much of his time keeping up his diaries and writing articles for the morning and evening papers. He wrote an article on the encounter between HMAS Sydney and the German raider SMS Emden which was printed in Australian papers on 4 December. He also found time to take part in an Australia vs England cricket match – which Australia lost.
The Orvieto reached Suez on 1 December 1914 and passed through the canal. It docked at Alexandria on the morning of 3 December and disembarked troops.
After landing in Egypt, Bean prepared a small pamphlet for the troops titled What to Know in Egypt: A Guide for Australasian Soldiers. All proceeds from the sale of the pamphlet went to the Red Cross Society.
He was based at Mena Camp, just outside Cairo, with the 1st Australian Division. On New Year’s Day 1915, Bean and fellow journalist Phillip Schuler climbed one of the pyramids.
Before Christmas Bean had penned an article, at the request of Major General Sir William Bridges, which highlighted the risk that Australian troops could lose their good reputation through their rowdy behaviour in Egypt. This was very unpopular with the men, many of whom subsequently gave him a hard time.
On 10 April, Bean boarded the Minnewaska, bound for the Dardanelles. He landed on Gallipoli around 10 am on 25 April 1915, about five and a half hours after the first troops had gone ashore. His account of the landing appeared in Australian newspapers on 15 May; however British correspondent Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett beat him into print, his story running on 8 May. Bean’s report, which had been held up in Alexandria, was a more sober and precise account. He had been much closer to the action and was ashore almost 12 hours ahead of Ashmead-Bartlett, who watched the landing from the deck of a ship. Both accounts were energetically circulated, and also distributed in a pamphlet to Australian schools.
In early May, Bean was with two ANZAC brigades at Krithia, Cape Helles, and witnessed their unsuccessful attack there.
While he was in and around Tommy’s Trench on the night of 8 May, Bean tended to the wounded. The area was then under heavy fire. He rescued one man who had been shot in the leg and helped him back into the relative safety of the trench; later, he dragged another man, wounded in both legs, to ‘the nearest thing to a dimple in the ground’ he could find, and used packs to protect him. He thought the man was too badly injured to survive. (It is not known whether he did.) Bean was recommended for a Military Cross, but as a civilian was not eligible to receive a military decoration. However, he was Mentioned in Despatches.
Bean remained on the peninsula for the duration of the campaign, leaving only a couple of days before the main body of troops. His diaries of the fighting on Gallipoli make reference to Albert Jacka’s Victoria Cross won at Courtney’s Post, the battles at Chunuk Bair, Lone Pine, The Nek and Hill 60, and give a detailed account of the successful evacuation in December.
The only correspondent to stay on the peninsula for the whole campaign, Bean was often near the front line. On one occasion, just before the fateful charge at The Nek at the start of the August offensive, he was wounded. He was known as a brave, conscientious and accurate reporter.
After leaving Gallipoli, Bean travelled with the AIF to France, where he continued to cover the Australians’ efforts. His extensive diaries refer to the terrible fighting at Pozières, Fromelles, Bullecourt, Passchendaele and Messines. Unlike at Gallipoli, he did not live in the trenches in France but instead went up to the lines each day from a billet behind the line.
Early in 1919, Bean led the Australian Historical Mission back to Gallipoli in order to answer some unsolved puzzles about the campaign, collect relics of the fighting, and create an artistic and photographic record. While on the peninsula, Bean was also expected to report on the state of Australian graves and determine what work needed to be done to identify and maintain them. Bean’s account of the Historical Mission’s work, Gallipoli Mission (1948) is one of his finest works.
On his way back to Australia, Bean drafted a proposal for both an official Australian history of the war and a national memorial to honour the Australian dead. He had originally conceived the idea of an Australian war memorial while in France in 1917.
In 1921 Bean married Ethel Young, known as ‘Effie’, and with the help of Arthur Bazley, who had served as his batman throughout the war, wrote six of 12 volumes of the Official History of Australia in the War of 1914–1918. In later years, he also composed a condensed version of the official history, Anzac to Amiens, which was published in 1946, and Two Men I Knew about William Bridges and Brudenell White, published in 1957.
Along with John Treloar, who had led the Australian War Records Section set up during the war to collect relics, photographs, and official and private records, Bean was responsible for the creation of the Australian War Memorial which opened on Remembrance Day 1941.
In 1964 Bean was admitted to Sydney’s Concord Repatriation General Hospital, he died on 30 August 1968.
Australian Dictionary of Biography, Bean, Charles Edwin (1879–1968)
Australian War Memorial: Bean, C. E. W., War Diaries, AWM38, 3DRL 606
Bean, CEW c. 1909, With the Flagship in the South, T. Werner Laurie, London
Fewster, Kevin ed., 2009, Bean’s Gallipoli: The Diaries of Australia’s Official War Correspondent, Allen & Unwin, New South Wales
McCarthy, Dudley, 1983, Gallipoli to the Somme: The Story of C.E.W. Bean, John Ferguson, Sydnen
National Archives of Australia: Australian Imperial Force, Base Records Office; B2455, Charles Edwin Woodrow Bean’s First Australian Imperial Force personnel dossier, 1914-1920; BEAN C E W, 1914-1920
Winter, Denis, 1992 Making the Legend: The Writings of C.E.W. Bean, University of Queensland Press, Queensland