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Anzac to Amiens : War Popular Penguins - C.E.W. Bean

Anzac to Amiens

War Popular Penguins

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The First World War was the blooding of the young Australian nation and Charles Bean witnessed it all. Appointed official war correspondent with the Australian Imperial Force in 1914, he spent the entire war in Europe at the cutting edge of the military machine. An acknowledged classic of military history, Anzac to Amiens is compelling and compulsory reading for every Australian interested in the nation's bloody coming of age.

About the Author

Charles Edwin Woodrow Bean was born in Bathurst, NSW, in 1879. An Oxford graduate in law, he soon turned to writing and joined the Sydney Morning Herald as a reporter in 1908. His researches on the wool industry resulted in his classic account of outback life On the Wool Track, which was published in 1910. At the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, Bean was appointed war correspondent with the Australian Imperial Force and spent the five years of the war in Europe.

In addition to filling countless notebooks with descriptions, interviews and impressions of that time, Bean stayed on after the war to study the relics of battle and learnt, as historian Patsy Adam-Smith has remarked, "those things that the soldiers could not know while hostilities were taking place."

On his return to Australia in 1919 Bean commenced the enormous task of editing the Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-18, the twelfth and final volume of which was published in 1942. Bean was instrumental in establishing the Australian War Memorial, which opened in 1941, and was its guiding spirit between the wars. Much honoured in his lifetime for his contribution to Australian military history, Bean died in 1968.


In Australia in 1914, as in England and America, there had been ample warning of the possibility that Europe and the Atlantic would soon be plunged into a great war because of sharpening differences between the big European powers. The Pacific seemed to slumber, because there the leaders of Japan-the one power with a strong urge, and reason, to expand-were for the moment content peacefully to extend their trade while they built up their army, navy and industrial equipment. Japan was at the time the ally of Great Britain, an arrangement which relieved Britain of the necessity for maintaining a powerful fleet in the Pacific, and assured for Japan the time needed for establishing herself as a great power.

But though no breath of quarrel directly associated with the Pacific stirred the air, yet most of the civilised peoples of that ocean were intensely interested in what was happening on the other side of the world. As has generally been the case with civilised peoples, most of them were, in their organisation for defence, bound to other peoples in other regions. Normally it is by such groupings that mankind has, of necessity, defended itself against itself. The motive of any grouping may in the first instance have been trade, or domination, or even the conversion of the pagan-and the group may be an Empire, a federation, or an alliance; but when once its common defence system has been set up, it becomes, among other things, a group for self-protection; and a threat to any part of its body is felt, often acutely, by each of its members.

Australians formed part of the defence group represented by the British Empire; and, like people of the other Dominions, they were keenly sensitive to stirrings of the air of Europe where lay the one power, Germany, which at that moment appeared likely to become an active enemy of their group. A German colony – north-eastern New Guinea and the neighbouring islands – was Australia's nearest neighbour; and many Australians thought that, if war came, the German Pacific squadron would use New Guinea as a base for raiding Australian cities and sea trade.

Nevertheless that local danger was a minor one, and might never arise. The Germans had only slightly developed New Guinea; it possessed no land force except a few volunteers, and the German naval squadron in the Pacific, based on the German port of Tsingtao in China, was not powerful enough to raise serious fears in view of the protection that could fairly soon be brought to all British territories by the British Navy– and, as part of it, the Australian squadron. Australians judged, and judged rightly, that the real danger to themselves existed, if at all, in developments on the other side of the world.

Concerning the daily events of the world Australians were as well informed as most Anglo-Saxon people. The newspapers that city folk received with their breakfast – and country ones up to a week later according to distance from the capitals on the coast– set forth in their 'cable pages' a gleaning of the world's news sent by their common agencies in London and Vancouver. The news was wide if rather thin; but among grown citizens and even children the facts of the Kaiser's recent expansion of his navy, of the race of British 'Dreadnought' building to meet it, and of the German sabre-rattling in Morocco and the Balkan wars, were at least as well known as among their cousins in Great Britain. The average Australian family was as well aware as the average London one of the German goods– generally held to be inferior– which because of their cheapness and of thoughtful, untiring salesmanship, had of late been 'peacefully penetrating' the British Empire; and of the German steamers which– helped, it was said, by German government subsidies– were shouldering British ships from many berths in Australian harbours. German shipping arrangements had virtually, though not formally, closed to the British-Australian steamship lines the old traffic with German New Guinea and its neighbouring islands.

The Australian of every class felt, as keenly as most, the excitement maintained by aggressive newspapers in England and Germany, dealing each other blow for blow (and greatly increasing their sales) in a warfare of words that obviously was likely to end in actions tragic for everybody; and the Australian tried, as conscientiously as did the Peace Movement in Europe, to see the right and wrong behind it all. In the Peace Movement far-sighted leaders in many countries were striving to avert the catastrophe that seemed to be needlessly approaching. To this end they were following up the establishment of the World Court of Arbitration at the Hague by trying to spread the habit of peaceful arbitration. The British Minister for War, Lord Haldane, had visited Germany to see if he could not bring about a friendly understanding with the German government and people. It was felt that, behind their governments (and, in the case of Germany, their military staffs), the peoples had not the least wish for war, nor had they any intention or desire to pursue aims that would harm other peoples; and that, if only their suspicions of each other could be allayed, there was no reason why the gigantic armament race of the last few years should not cease.

But Germany's great and sudden expansion of her fleet provoked uneasiness which would not be allayed. All the great nations were, in consequence, feverishly increasing their forces, especially their navies. Obviously this race could not go on indefinitely. As men of Lord ANZAC TO AMIENS Haldane's wisdom realised, not even any of the autocratic rulers wanted war; they disliked and feared the prospect of it. But there are degrees in dislike. Few rulers, especially among the autocrats, hated war as much as did their peoples; and, when once the rulers had built their huge armaments, there was always an increasing chance that in the next crisis, instead of waiting to reason, one of them would say: ''What are this army and navy for? I will negotiate no longer.'

Nevertheless, though in Australia as in England everyone was intellectually aware of these dangers, the general run of men and women of all classes, having grown up in the splendid stability of Anglo-Saxondom in the nineteenth century, found it hard to feel that a general upheaval might be immediately ahead of them. The British Navy had lain between them and the past when such things happened. But not many realised that only the Navy had prevented these things from continuing. As in all the Anglo-Saxon countries at that time, the grown citizen going to his business, just as much as the schoolboy at his desk, felt that the ruthless action and bad faith of Napoleon's time could hardly occur nowadays – Western nations and governments, on the whole, were too civilised. There might be local wars; but as for a world war– even among those who spoke of its possibility the conscious or unconscious conviction often was that in 1815 the world had finally entered the age of general, and almost perpetual, peace.

In Australia this feeling was all the more natural as war never had happened there. In the 126 years, from the day when Captain Arthur Phillip's eleven ships landed their 1100 white folk in the strange silence of grass and gum trees at Sydney Cove, to that on which the same foreshore clanged with the whirl of trams and crowds in the hub of Sydney's 800,000 people– for four generations pioneers, squatters, farmers, city folk had gone their ways without a serious thought of being interfered with except within the law. The serious business of their lives– to carve homesteads from the intact bush; to organise the carriage of most of their necessities from the growing coastal capitals or the smaller ports, and the carriage thither of their products in return; to establish the machinery of sales, shipping, land transport and-in the latest generation– of manufacture; their recreations, some of these already grown to extensive businesses; their education, their fashions, their holidays; and not least their 'White Australia Policy'– a vehement effort to maintain a high Western standard of economy, society and culture (necessitating certainly, at that stage, however it might be camouflaged, the rigid exclusion of Oriental peoples) – all these had been carried on without the least realisation that some great jackboot might smash down within a year or two the whole careful and careless structure, overturn every rule, tear husband from wife, son from parent, savings from those who had spent a lifetime in patient thrift.

In 1914 Australians were only 126 years from their first settlement in this continent – even when these words are written Europeans have been here less than half the time that the Romans were in Britain; in 1914 we were only 101 years from the first crossing of the Blue Mountains, only 63 from the first gold rush, 58 from the first establishment here of democratic self-government. Some Australians who went to the war had ancestors still alive who could remember some of the first generation of their countrymen; many had grandparents or great grandparents who could tell them of the gold rush, the bushrangers, the later – explorers and the imported convicts. Even among the men who went to the First World War not a few had childish recollections of some old shepherd seen sleeping off his liquor outside a country town, to whom the whisper, that he was an 'old lag', gave an awesome halo of romance and crime that sent a childish head deep under the blankets at night.

ISBN: 9780143571674
ISBN-10: 0143571672
Series: War Popular Penguins
Audience: General
Format: Paperback
Language: English
Number Of Pages: 576
Published: 26th March 2014
Country of Publication: AU
Dimensions (cm): 18.3 x 11.1  x 3.8
Weight (kg): 0.34