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2007-06, 354, Kevin Fewster, War

Bean’s Gallipoli

A talk given to the Sydney meeting of the Book Collectors’ Society of Australia on Saturday, 3 March 2007.

Kevin Fewster 

MY NEW BOOK Bean’s Gallipoli: The diaries of Australia’s official war correspondent (3rd ed., Crows Nest NSW: Allen & Unwin, 2007) is a major reworking of my book Gallipoli Correspondent that was first published in 1983, then re-released as Frontline Gallipoli in 1990.Here I want to look at this new edition from three angles:

1 Why did I first write this book?

2 Why a major reworking now?

3 How has the new edition been reworked to reflect changes in people’s reading habits over the past 25 years?

1. Why did I first write this book?

It was in fact my PhD thesis from the University of New South Wales. Charles Edwin Woodrow Bean (1879-1968) was Australia’s official War Correspondent, then Official War Historian for World War I. He departed with the first convoy that landed at Gallipoli, where he himself was wounded, and he remained there till the end of the campaign. He was, in fact, the only Australian correspondent to go through entire campaign. After Gallipoli, he continued as Australia’s official correspondent in France until end of the war.

Bean’s papers, his notebooks and diaries, from both the Gallipoli campaign and the Western Front, run to some 300 items and are today housed in the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, which has allowed me access to all the Bean material.

In the late 1970s I was instrumental in gaining approval for Bean’s papers to be opened to researchers and was the first researcher to be given access to the collection.


Bean was very nervous about third parties reading his diaries and he insisted that the following note be attached to each diary volume:

These writings represent only what at the moment of making them I believed to be true. The diaries were jotted down almost daily with the object of recording what was then in the writer’s mind. Often he wrote them when very tired and half asleep; also, not infrequently, what he believed to be true was not so – but it does not follow that he always discovered this, or remembered to correct the mistakes when discovered. Indeed, he could not always remember that he had written them.

These records should, therefore, be used with great caution, as relating only what their author, at the time of writing, believed. Further, he cannot, of course, vouch for the accuracy of statements made to him by others and here recorded. But he did try to ensure such accuracy by consulting, as far as possible, those who had seen or otherwise taken part in the events. The constant falsity of second-hand evidence (on which a large proportion of war stories are founded) was impressed upon him by the second or third day of the Gallipoli campaign, notwithstanding that those who passed on such stories usually themselves believed them to be true. All second-hand evidence herein should be read with this in mind.

The importance of this cautiousness on Bean’s part is borne out by his assessment of General John Monash, later regarded generally as the greatest of the Australian—even of the Allied—officers in that war. In his diary entry for 6 August 1915, the day he himself was wounded in the leg, he wrote quite scathingly of Monash’s leadership in one action, referring to one of Monash’s decisions as “a decision which many weak commanders would make but utterly unjustifiable”. This was certainly the strongest criticism Bean had levelled against any Australian officer. This and other comments he makes there seem less than fair, but may have been due to the painful wound he had suffered. Because of it he had gained most accounts of Monash’s operation secondhand. Had he been able to observe the action or interview the participants as was his normal practice, he would have realised that Monash had been set an almost impossible task.

The fact of Bean’s being wounded points up how rather than merely working from behind the lines, he endeavoured always to be up where the action was. Though he remained a civilian, he was given by the Australian Army the honorary rank of captain, provided with a close copy of an officer’s uniform, but without badges, and provided too with a horse, rations and a batman, one Arthur Bazley, who as his assistant in the field typed up his despatches and articles for the newspapers that provided his £600 salary.

Bean, who was “paid to write, not to fight” went into the trenches with the men armed only with notebook and pencil and jotted down his observations under the most difficult of circumstances and, as a result, in a hand that often makes the notebooks difficult to read. These notebooks he subsequently used over the next day or days to write up his accounts in his diary. There are altogether 24 diaries from his time at Gallipoli. Bean also took his own photos, over 1000 of them.

I chose to focus on Gallipoli rather than deal with his entire World War I experience because

1 his Gallipoli diaries were on a manageable scale;

2 they would give the book a tight focus; and3 Gallipoli always held a special fascination for Bean.

When armistice was declared in late 1918, Bean immediately set about organising an expedition back to Gallipoli so that he might retrace the ground in an attempt to better understand what had happened.

His diaries reveal his inner thoughts and are sometimes startlingly different to what is presented within the Anzac Legend, a legend that C E W Bean did more than anyone else to foster. His Gallipoli diaries are the most complete direct single recording of the Gallipoli campaign. Although in his newspaper articles and despatches Bean adhered rigorously to the principle that it was not the journalist’s place to question authority or to criticise, but only to report, in his diaries he is often frank and critical, as we have seen in the case of his comments on Monash.

Why a major reworking now?

By the early 1980s the Gallipoli campaign had been fading in Australian public memory, but since the 1990s there has been a resurgence of interest in it, especially among younger Australians. Today, Gallipoli seems to have developed into an annual industry around the 25th of April. Every media outlet seems to want a new angle on Gallipoli for Anzac Day. While previously Anzac Day remembrance ceremonies took place largely in Australia, though in every city and town here, in recent years young backpackers have been taking themselves in increasing numbers to Gallipoli itself for remembrance services there and so have developed a personal link with the campaign, all the more so if they know of a forebear or other relative who took part in it back in 1915. A description of recent changes in the commemoration of Anzac Day is dealt with in chapter 1 of K Fewster, V Basarin and H Hurmuz Basarin, Gallipoli: The Turkish story (Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 2003) and in B Scates, Return to Gallipoli: Walking the battlefields of the Great War (Melbourne: Cambridge University Press, 2006).

Les Carlyon’s book, Gallipoli (Sydney: MacMillan), published in 2001, has, my publisher believes, opened up new interest in Gallipoli and World War I and so a new market for books on this subject. My book was at first scheduled to appear soon after the appearance of Carlyon’s book, but I got diverted onto another project. My book was released yesterday, and already I have numerous media interviews lined up, some well before Anzac Day on 25 April, thus my publisher’s instinct seems to have been well founded.

How has the new edition been reworked to reflect changes in people’s reading habits over past century?

The new edition contains a greatly reworked Introduction and a new Epilogue as well as a chapter placing Bean and Gallipoli in their contemporary historical context.

There has also been a total restructuring of the extracts: the original edition had five chapters, while Bean’s Gallipoli has twelve chapters. Why? Because people today want a shorter, tighter focus. And because activities other than reading nowadays take up so much of people’s time—especially the computer with its access to the internet—their attention span tends to be shorter. They want to be able to pick up and put down a book at shorter intervals because of the generally faster pace of life. For this reason I have reworked endnotes into the body of the text, so readers don’t have to go back and forth between the main text and the notes at the end of the book.

As to the use of photos, I told the publisher I’d do the new edition only if I could make full use of modern digital technology and use many more of C E W Bean’s own photos. The original edition had 35 photos, whereas this new edition has nearly 90. I think this book makes more accurate use of photos than any previous Gallipoli book. The photos are not used as simple illustrations, but are an integral part of the text. I have analysed all of Bean’s 1000 plus Gallipoli images, and I have dated all of his photos, in numerous cases revising the dates within the Australian War Museum’s records. Photos are generally inserted at the actual date they relate to. Thus text and photo cross-support each other, e.g.

p. 81, Stepping ashore, 25 April;

pp.137-9, Turkish officer seeking truce (carried by two naked bathers), 22 May.

There have been revealed some wonderful links between images:

pp. 130, 159, Lieutenant Stan Watson’s 8-inch dud Turkish shell

pp. 217, 264, Poppy Valley: Bert Lowing, 16 October 1915; Harold Buchanan, February 1919.

Some photos have been selected for their modern day relevance—p.196, chief supply depot, North Beach (site of the modern day Dawn Service).

Charles Bean was very much a man of his times—racially intolerant, respectful of authority, highly principled, and very Edwardian in many of his ways and in his values. I will be interested to see if today’s readers can identify with him in the way that was demonstrated by the strong response to the book back in the 1980s. Or will it be the case that over the past century we’ve moved significantly further away from the Edwardian era.

In the ‘In Search’ column of the Sydney Daily Telegraph earlier this week, a person said they were trying to find a copy of Gallipoli Correspondent. I was able to tell them the book, greatly improved, will be readily available later this week! I hope they like it.



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