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November 17th 2018


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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY An election-winning policy: a development bank for Australia

VICTORIAN ELECTION The left gets ready to scream 'haters!'

CANBERRA OBSERVED Nats fracas points up need for vigilance

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Divisions undermine Morrison's leadership

SOCIETY UNDER THREAT The time is now for a real deal for the family

NCC SYDNEY DINNER Speakers spark keenness for a challenging 2019

NORTHERN DEVELOPMENT Aborigines hope to benefit in Kimberley development

CLIMATE CHANGE Rising sea levels? Pacific island data says 'no'

ROYAL COMMISSION Big banks shaken and stirred in their swamp

U.S. HISTORY Slavery: a yet unresolved legacy

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS The U.S. and China: more than trade is at stake

SOCIETY UNDER THREAT Partisan divide must vanish for defence of civilisational foundation: Christianity

MUSIC ABBA live: just not in person or on stage

CINEMA Coco: Family and home trump 'identity'

BOOK REVIEW Remnant hopes for post-Brexit Britain

BOOK REVIEW The Great War, raw and uncensored

HUMOUR A few more snippets from Forget's Dictionary of Inaccurate Facts, Furphys and Falsehoods

POETRY

LETTERS

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BOOK REVIEW
The Great War, raw and uncensored




News Weekly, November 17, 2018

 

 

THE WESTERN FRONT DIARIES OF CHARLES BEAN

edited by Peter Burness

NewSouth, Sydney
Hardcover: 640 pages
Price: AUD$79.99

Reviewed by Anthony Staunton

Charles Bean sailed to the Middle East in 1914 with the first Australian contingent as Australia’s official war correspondent and would later be appointed Australia’s official war historian. He wrote six of the 12 volumes of the official history and edited the other six.

Bean’s Gallipoli diaries edited by Kevin Fewster have been in print for more than 30 years. This volume covers his diaries on the Western Front from 1916 to 1918 and is most welcome. Its editor is Peter Burness AM, recently retired Australian War Memorial senior curator, historian and author.

For three years, Bean was a keen observer of the Australian effort on the Western Front and would dedicate the rest of his life to telling the story of Australia’s part in the war. Bean was present at nearly all the major actions of the Australian Army on the Western Front and wrote many despatches published in Australian newspapers during the war.

As official historian, he produced comprehensive and detailed volumes of the Official History of Australia in the War of 1914–18.

British Army Censor Colonel Neville Lytton, who knew Bean’s work well, wrote: “He is now writing a history of the Australian achievements in the war, and it should be one of the most interesting of all war books, for he has seen and felt.”

Bean’s dispatches were subject to censorship during the war, but his personal dairies, notebooks and papers were uncensored. Bean kept detailed notes of what he saw, heard and thought.

Often, he wrote his diary during the night because that was the time of least interruption. Bean wrote: “Sometimes daylight found me still at it – occasionally, by some strange process of mental effort, falling asleep at each full stop and then waking to write each successive sentence.”

He filled 226 notebooks The diaries have not been sanitised. Each notebook has a notice on the cover that includes: “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.”

During his lifetime, Bean gifted personal diaries, notebooks and papers to the Australian War Memorial. Mrs Bean gifted further material after his death. In 1979, Australian Archives cleared all his material, produced both as a correspondent and as official historian.

In 1983, the Australian War Memorial published A Guide to the Personal, Family and Official Paper of C E W Bean, written by Michael Piggott. The guide was 136 pages in length. The material has been available to researchers for many years, but this new work is intended for the general audience and will make the material more widely known.

The Western Front diaries contain selected extracts, extensively annotated, from the diaries that Bean kept while observing Australians in France and Belgium. It includes maps and Bean’s own photographs and sketches. King George V, British Prime Minister Lloyd George, British and Australian generals, officers and soldiers in trenches appear in these diaries.

Perhaps the only major Australian battle Bean missed on the Western Front was the first full divisional attack by an Australian division at Fromelles on July 19, 1916. Bean was with the 1st Division preparing for the attack at Pozieres, which would take place three days later. He heard of the Fromelles attack the next morning and immediately obtained a car and drove to the area.

Bean’s diary entry of more than 1000 words for July 20, 1916, included: “The wounded can be seen crawling into shell craters by the river and we are to try and get them in tonight.”

He returned to Fromelles on November 11, 1918, to walk over the battlefield. His diary for that day commenced: “Found the old no man’s land simply full of our dead.”

The Battle of Fromelles lasted about 24 hours but would take up two chapters for a total of 120 pages in one of the most detailed accounts of any Australian battle in the official history.

Bean preferred Major General Brudenell White to John Monash for command of the Australian Corps in May 1918. Bean recognised Monash’s ability but considered White was better fitted to command the Corps.

In a letter dated June 2, 1918, to Keith Murdoch, who also opposed Monash’s appointment, Bean wrote that it was a big mistake for White to leave the Corps and go with Birdwood to the British Fifth Army. On June 12, 1918, his diary records that he went to congratulate Monash and in a frank conversion said to Monash that “there was no question of [anyone] trying to remove him from the Corps”.

The diaries of Bean reflect his access to politicians, generals and ordinary soldiers and were written not many hours after the events described. They provided invaluable help to him as official historian and this work will be most helpful for anyone writing about Australia in World War I.

It is a monumental work and the Australian War Memorial could not have chosen a worthier project to commemorate the Centenary of the Great War.

Anthony Staunton is vice-president of the Military Historical Society of Australia. He worked for 35 years in the Departments of Defence and Veteran Affairs and is the author of Victoria Cross: Australia’s Finest and the Battles they Fought.


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