Charles Bean was 35 years old when he went off to the Great War as Australia’s official war correspondent; from this position as an eye-witness he was also duly appointed the official war historian. Australian-born and English educated, he had been working as a journalist, author and newspaper feature writer before he was selected for his new task.
The war would change Bean’s life and set him on a course dedicated to the recording and telling of his countrymen’s part in the war. No nation was as well served by a war historian, and no country’s participation was as thoroughly detailed as in the volumes of the Official History of Australia in the War of 1914–18 that he wrote. Bean also became the driving force in the creation of the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, one of the nation’s most renowned institutions.
It has been said that no other Australian saw as much of the fighting in the war as Bean did. It is certainly unlikely that anyone saw more. When it was over, the 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.”