Charles William Bush

Service number V52583, VX128043
Birth Date 1919-11-23
Birth Place Australia: Victoria, Melbourne, Brunswick
Death Date 1989-11-13
Death Place Australia: Victoria, Melbourne, Footscray
  • Second World War, 1939-1945
  • Second World War, 1939-1945

Charles William Bush had an association with the Australian War Memorial well before the official opening in 1941. He would recall in a letter to Lt. Col. Treloar in 1946 that “… I can remember, when as a kid of 9, standing outside the then incomplete memorial at Canberra… little knowing that some day I should have a share in weaving of the tapestry of the memorials historical work.”

Bush’s formative years were marked by tragedy, when Charles was only ten years old his younger brother Gordon was accidently killed; and his mother died five years later. Bush’s artistic training began assisting his father, who worked as an independent signwriter and decorator. Aged 14 Bush secured a place at the National Gallery Art School, Melbourne, and attended drawing and painting classes between 1935 and 1938.

Bush’s military service began when he enlisted in the Army on 27th May 1940, and he was drafted into the 2nd Survey Company of the Royal Australian Artillery. In 1941 Bush was promoted to the rank of Lance Bombardier and attended a camouflage training course.

Bush’s artistic talents were recognised by his superiors and, in 1942, he was seconded to the public relations branch of the Land Headquarters. Bush was deployed to New Guinea in May 1943, and was attached to the Military History Section of New Guinea Force Headquarters. While there, he collected material and made pictorial documents for the Australian War Memorial annual publications. Bush contributed illustrations and paintings to a number of these publications, including Soldiering On: the Australian Army at Home and Overseas and Khaki and Green.

A makeshift exhibition of Bush’s New Guinea work was held in a grass hut at New Guinea Force Headquarters in Port Moresby, a photograph in the collection is dated 25th July 1943, and documents the show [AWM 057541]. The duration of the exhibition is unknown, yet it is a rare example of display techniques within the field.

On his return to Australia, Bush travelled to Hobart in December 1943 to observe the Volunteer Defence Corp, and made illustrations for the Australian War Memorial publication On Guard.

In May 1944, Bush was dispatched to Headquarters of the 1st Australia Corp, Military History Section stationed in Queensland. Here, he was tasked with documenting Army activities in the Atherton Tablelands and Cairns, where jungle training camps, convalescence depots and recreational facilities were established.
By 1945 Bush had affectively been working as an artist with the Military History Section for a number of years, but it wasn’t until the 23rd July, 1945, that he was appointed an official war artist and promoted to Lieutenant. Bush was responsible for recording the activities of Australians who had served in Timor.

Once Japan entered the Second World War in December 1941, the “bird forces” were hurriedly dispatched to defend islands north of Australia. The 2/40th Infantry Battalion and the 2/2nd Independent Company made up the bulk of “Sparrow Force”, which was sent to occupy Timor.

The Japanese invaded Timor just before midnight on the 19th of February 1942. The invasion caught Sparrow Force off guard, and the majority of the Australian fighting force were taken prisoner within three days. The remaining Australian soldiers primarily comprised of the 2/2nd Independent Company began to wage a guerrilla war against the occupying Japanese force. Members of the 2/2nd independent Company were reinforced by the 2/4th Independent Company. The gruella war continued to harass the Japanese garrison, until their position became untenable in January 1943.

Bush arrived in Koepang, Timor via Catalina flying boat on the 13th October 1945 and was attached to the Headquarters of Timforce. A few weeks after his arrival, Bush wrote to Lt. Col. Treloar describing his improvised studio.

“We have set ourselves up in a bombed house, excellent for storing materials and working in… Work is progressing satisfactorily, even though the very clammy weather makes outdoor work rather trying.”

Bush arrived in Timor after the Japanese surrender on 11th September, 1945, he travelled to places where Australians had seen action in the years previous, and created studies of these significant sites. These preparatory studies later became larger works. In December 1945, Bush described his experience of working in the field:

“…rain pinned us down here [Dili] for a while but as these conditions coincided with those of 1942, my colours as well as subject will be of value in bringing these places back to the memory of those who were here.”

In March 1946, Bush returned to Darwin, where he attended the trials of Japanese soldiers accused of committing war crimes in Timor between 1942 and 1945. Bush filled two sketchbooks and later completed paintings illustrating the trial proceedings.

Bush also initiated contact with veterans of Sparrow Force. He listened to their personal accounts of battles and shared with them his preliminary sketches. Paintings such as Ambush at Nunamogue [ART26652] are composites of the artist’s in-country observations and the personal accounts of veterans.

Bush completed his commission as an official war artist in October 1946. There are over 400 works in the Australian War Memorial collection by Bush, yet the majority are illustrations intended for publication in the service annuals, and made outside of his commission as an official war artist.

In 1961 Bush was commissioned by the Air Ministry to record the operations of the RAAF in Malaya. In the same year Bush held an exhibition of these works in Melbourne, six of which were acquired by the Australian War Memorial.


Date of birth 23 November 1919
Date of death 13 November 1989