Media statement: Australian War Memorial's Military History Section response to the article by Kit Cullen, titled "The First Casualty".
Published: Thu 3 Oct 2013
Please find below the Australian War Memorial's Military History Section response to the article by Kit Cullen, titled "The First Casualty", published in The Weekend Australian Magazine, September 14-15, 2013, pages 18-22.
Australian War Memorial historians have examined Kit Cullen's claims that Charles Bean "deliberately altered the historical record" and purposefully "denied [some Australian soldiers] their place in history." The following is a summary of some of our findings and conclusions:
- Bean may perhaps be legitimately criticised for one minor omission. The commanding officer of the Portsmouth Battalion Royal Marine Light Infantry did commend Heane and D Company of the 4th Battalion for their assistance in extracting the isolated British section of a platoon, and although Bean quotes this document, he does not link it to the battalion. For this action, Heane was recommended for the Distinguished Service Order. However, Bean was perfectly correct in that the 3rd Battalion were clearly involved, and Meager and McLeod of the 3rd Battalion also received commendations for their actions. There is some indication that they were promoted as a result of their actions here, and not earlier in the day as Bean writes, but it is impossible to be sure.
- Cullen fails to recognise that this event was so insignificant at the time that it does not even rate a mention in the 3rd Battalion war diary, the 4th Battalion war diary, or the 1st Brigade’s war diary (except for the letter of commendation by Lieutenant Frank William Luard, OC Portsmouth Battalion RMLI). It is not a major element of Bean’s narrative, being only a later addition to his preface to the Third edition in 1934 of volume 1 of his official history volume, The Story of Anzac. Bean's detailed preface updated his research findings since the original publication of his volume in 1921. His receipt of further information allowed him to cast ‘further light’ on the matter in the preface, under the section: "The Marines on MacLaurin's Hill", pp. liii-lvi. This section, incidentally, contained Bean's first reference (footnote 25) to the first VC awarded at Anzac to L/Cpl Parker of the Royal Marine Light Infantry--surely a more serious "omission" in the first edition, if a reader was searching for such items.
- Cullen’s conclusion that this demonstrates that Bean "deliberately altered the historical record" in order to claim "the credit for his brother’s battalion" makes no sense unless one accepts Cullen's tenuous conspiracy theory. Firstly, a reader should question what credit? This is not a part of Bean's main narrative, merely a postscript. Nor is it a part of the narrative of these battalions or their brigade at the time. It is simply not important in the broader context of the major events of those crucial days during the consolidation of the Anzac positions, particularly the desperate fighting to attempt to seize the pivotal Turkish-held feature of Baby 700.
- It might be considered curious that Bean omitted covering the role of D Company 4th Battalion in his account, but given that this is not mentioned in official records of the time, he had very little to base his description of the event on. It is quite likely that his principal source was an eye-witness (perhaps a deeper examination of his diaries and notebooks will reveal this) which could provide the explanation for the supposed "bias" of his account.
- Cullen makes much of his "eureka moment" with his "discovery" . . . "with heart thumping and palms sweating" of a diary purportedly covering the events of 1/2 May 1915. Yet Cullen seems utterly unaware that the much-transcribed and annotated "diary" of Les Lott, which he quotes from in his article, is a contentious source; in particular, he failed to notice that Lott mentions the battle of Lone Pine, so his account could not have been written until after August 1915, and possibly much later - in which case it is a constructed "memoir", lacking the immediacy of a diary record. This amounts to an elementary error in the application of internal and external criticism of evidence in a source document, an oversight which would be penalised in an undergraduate history student's work. Bean himself would have exercised greater caution in the use of such sources as he was aware of the risks in historians using such material, even to the extent of placing his well-known caveat on every volume of his own diaries and notebooks.
- Cullen should have recognised that Lott was clearly writing with hindsight long after the action he describes. He states, for example, that 50 members of the attacking party were killed or wounded but the 4th Battalion did not possess accurate enough records to say what their casualties were for 1 May - although a cursory glance at the AWM Roll of Honour records does indicate that they were heavy, approximately 30 Killed in Action in comparison with some 4 or so for the 3rd Battalion.
- In conclusion, it should be perfectly clear to any reasonable person that Charles Bean did not "betray" these men, nor had he "denied them their place in history". Bean was above all, a seeker of truth, and a man of conspicuous integrity: but he was human and prone to error, like all of us, and was researching and writing his history from one of the largest collections of documents ever amassed. Cullen has identified just one almost insignificant omission. The remainder of his claims are extravagant and unsustainable. He would need to present much more substantial evidence to verify his claim that Bean "deliberately altered the historical record" in any meaningful way.
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