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Maps and mapmakers of the 1914-18 official history: a brief overview.

Mapmakers, no less than writers, adapt their medium to the needs of their audience. Before 1914 there were two main audiences for war maps: Staff Colleges used them to teach the military art to students: newspapers used them to illustrate the progress of campaigns for readers. In both cases it was taken as given that the reader was map-literate but it was thought that their requirements differed. Staff Colleges looked for topographical fidelity, display of the dynamics of manoeuvre and extensive conventional signage for units. For them, the map was an indispensable tool for the planning and recording of events on the battlefield, of equal or greater importance than textual description. Newspaper readers, on the other hand, were believed to want general orientation, broad outline and a clean presentation that illustrated the story; with them, background technical knowledge, specifically military conventional signs, could not be assumed.

Charles Bean was writing the Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-18 (hereafter Official History) for neither of these audiences. His would be the history of a citizen army, written as a memorial to its members and to inform their fellow citizens. It would be accessible because in his days at Oxford he had resolved "never if possible to write a sentence which could not be understood by, say, a housemaid of average intelligence" (1). It followed that any maps illustrating his text should not demand too much of readers. It would be sufficient that a map summarized the text in graphic form, adding to its intelligibility. The aim was modest but the scope was large; in the end, the Official History would include more maps than had previously been published in any Australian work.

The cartographical assistance that Bean was able to call on was sufficient for these limited purposes. At the outbreak of the war military map-making in Australia had been in its infancy. By 1916 it was obvious that the Australian Imperial Force (A.I.F.) needed in-house mapmaking capability for operational planning. A Topographic Section was assembled by drawing from other A.I.F. units soldiers who pre-war had been surveyors, engineers and draughtsmen. At the end of the war several of these topographers were asked by Bean to work on the Official History. Two of them, Herbert Buchanan and George Hunter Rogers, were members of the Historical Mission that Bean took to Gallipoli to collect relics and assess the battlefield from the other side of the hill. At Constantinople the Turks generously presented the Mission with the most recent maps of the peninsula, which their survey corps had prepared in 1916 to record the victory. The maps were understandably much superior to the British maps that had been compiled under combat conditions.

Two other topographers joined the Mission in Egypt for return to Australia but none of the party was a surveyor. That slot was not filled until Peter Wightman, also ex-Topography Section, returned to Australia late in 1919. In Melbourne the mapmakers were placed on six-month civilian contracts and got to work. In late 1919 the Official History enterprise was transferred to Tuggeranong in the Federal Capital Territory. Free of distractions, the team had the first volume ready for the publisher by December 1920. Hunter Rogers recorded that a lot of trial and error went into deciding the printing processes to be used for the maps. He spent some busy days in Sydney with W. C. Penfolds, the printers, "making drawings where gradations of tone in shading gullies could be shown without making half-tone blocks" (2). As printed the effect was less than uniform, with some of the shading out of alignment with contours (3). There is also evidence of poor planning or last-minute decision making: many of the maps drawn as double-page landscapes were printed sideways as single-page portraits; worse, some drawn as portraits were printed as left-is-north landscapes, leaving much of the labelling upside down (e.g. Fig. 1.).

In those pages of volume one that are devoted to the first eleven days of the Gallipoli campaign there are 21 maps and 86 sketch maps and diagrams, an average of one map or diagram on every four pages, or ten for each day. Wightman was credited with a majority of the full page maps and all of the sketch maps inset in the text. The latter were an innovation that amounted to a running commentary on the text and are amongst the most distinctive features of the Official History. They reveal a number of different approaches to rendering the terrain of Anzac, which was nearly as daunting for the cartographers as for the troops who fought over it.

That first volume set the pattern of mapping practice for all subsequent volumes. There are no foldout maps. These were thought to be no better than page-sized maps and more likely to suffer damage and illicit removal in public libraries. In Wightman's contribution to Vol. 1 we can see most of the Official History's mapping conventions displayed in one man's work.

* Each map designated as such is attributed to its maker (unlike the sketch maps and diagrams) (Fig. 2.).

* Maps are rarely larger than a single page and are handicapped by the book's small format (octavo). In a larger format Wightman could have provided wider topographical context at the same scale (Fig. 3.).

* Half of the maps are printed in colour and on them relief is shown as a subtle underlay, making it possible to give prominence to position and movement without distraction (Fig. 4.).

* By way of contrast, the need to use contours, stippling or hatching for relief on the monochrome maps muddies the message when showing terrain as broken as that inland from Anzac Cove (Fig. 5.).

* Complexity is even more of an issue with the inset sketch maps, some of which are as small as 45 mm x 35 mm. Some of Wightman's simplifications, as of the ridges and plateaux of Anzac (Fig. 6.) are masterly. Others are hard on the eyes and uninformative (Fig. 7.).

The second Gallipoli volume did not appear until 1924. Working practically alone in the intervening years, Wightman had managed to compile 412 maps and sketches, which is about one to every second page. Of the 28 maps only two are credited to other makers, Hunter Rogers and Thomas Robinson. This time nearly all of the maps were in colour and Rogers introduced a minor refinement: to overcome the problem of showing topographical context in a small format he included a larger scale inset (Fig. 8.).

There were also innovations.

* A relief model of Anzac made by a NSW judge was photographed and its oblique perspective used as a template for illustrating developments (Fig. 9.).

* As the trench systems developed, Wightman tracked them over time in maps and keyed aerial photographs (Fig. 10.).

There is no indication in the second volume that Bean took any particular interest in the full size maps. In acknowledging Wightman's work on the inset sketch maps, however, he did note that, unless otherwise shown, north was at the top. This he apparently thought necessary because the key to one aerial photo was oriented to the photo rather than north.

Three other volumes, not authored by Bean, had appeared in 1923. The most important of these was Volume 7, Sinai and Palestine. Its maps were all attributed to Alan Stewart Murray assisted by William Shakespeare Perry. Murray had been a professional military surveyor with the Royal Australian Engineers before the war and became a member of the Australian Survey Corps when it was formed in 1915. At the end of 1916 he transferred to the AIF and served with the Egyptian Survey Corps. He was decorated for his work under fire, which involved taking a plane table out between the lines to plot terrain. He preferred to work by himself; that way the enemy snipers and machine gunners usually left him alone. His war work was ideal preparation for the Official History, and illustrating terrain in the relatively featureless desert was not a difficulty. Open warfare, however, created another problem, which was that of showing the free-flowing and complex movements common in mounted engagements. In keeping with Bean's editorial policy, Murray felt a need to identify units down to battalion and regiment level, which left little room to indicate changes of position. Most of his battle maps are uncomfortable compromises, none more so than his rendering of the Battle of Rafa (Fig. 11.).

The nadir was possibly his stodgy rendition of the charge at Beersheba, the most dramatic and one of the most important moments of the campaign. By attempting to encompass both the charge and the Turkish withdrawal he does the action itself less than justice (Fig. 12.). Many reviewers complained of the maps, the New Statesman describing them as inadequate (4). This was an unwarranted generalization. Some of the monochrome maps, free of the distraction of colour, are both clear and concise (Fig. 13.). And Murray is to be commended for his attention to communications and logistics, which dictated so much of the desert campaign (Fig. 14.).

He also knew how to make a political point. His map of Damascus could have been drawn for tourists with its hotels, transport etc. The only military feature is a red line through the centre, which is the route taken by the six-bob-a-day tourists of the Third Light Horse Brigade when they captured the city--a day before Lawrence and the Arab army arrived looking for a propaganda triumph (Fig. 15.).

In 1924 a number of maps by Wightman and Murray, supplied by Bean, were featured in the Australasian volume of the Royal Colonial Institute's Empire at War series (5). Murray presented his overview of the Eastern theatre as a large-scale foldout, showing what would have been possible in the Australian history. It noted every substantial action of the ANZ mounted units from the Canal to Aleppo, which was appropriate given the scope of the book, but left the impression that they were fighting the war alone (Fig. 16.).

Wightman contributed ten maps, eight of which dealt with the Western front. Bean was generous to allow these to be published because the first of his own Western front volumes was not to appear for another five years. None of the Empire maps by Murray and Wightman were used in the Official History, probably because they treated their subjects too broadly for Bean's intimate canvas.

Wightman contributed maps for each volume of the Official History published up to 1928, but these contained nothing like the number published in the Gallipoli volumes. Economy with maps continued throughout the depressed and depressing 1930s as Bean completed the four volumes that he devoted to the Western front. There are only nineteen full-page maps in total and inset sketches are proportionately fewer. All are attributed to a man who had previously assisted Murray and Wightman. William Perry was a mechanic by trade and had served as a gunner with the AIF. In 1919 he had worked with Wightman in the War Records Section in London. Perry's work maintained the standard set by his predecessors. Some of it is poignantly evocative. Bean devoted 120 pages to the disastrous attack at Fromelles: Perry was able to sum it up just by showing the insignificant amount of ground gained and lost, but the point would have been even more strongly made if the trenches captured had been highlighted in another colour or black (Fig. 17.). Note the scale. On a front of 900 yards the Fifth Division crossed 300 yards of No-man's Land to take the German trenches. The division suffered 5533 casualties in a single night, one for every 50 square yards gained. The ground was retaken by the Germans on the following morning.

Bean finished his literary memorial to the AIF in 1942. It filled twelve volumes--which would have tried the endurance of the most intelligent readers, housemaids included--so he rounded off three decades of work with a one-volume summary. In From Anzac to Amiens Bean painted with broader strokes. He had been impressed by The Empire at War, which he described as "a work less widely known than it deserves to be", and decided that its Wightman maps were suited to his change of emphasis. Wightman had died in 1938, so W.H.G. Guard of the Australian War Memorial was asked to adapt some of them. Guard had an eye for the important and a sense of justice. To select an example: Wightman's original take on the Battle of Messines is finely drawn and contains a wealth of information on position and movement (Fig. 18.). But by simply thickening up significant lines and acknowledging the contribution of the British corps to the north of the Australians and New Zealanders, Guard's adaptation makes the action more dynamic and puts it in context (Fig. 19.).

One of Guard's so-called adaptations was in fact a correction. The two Bullecourt maps are superficially identical, but Guard found it necessary to swing Wightman's north point through ninety degrees, which perhaps vindicates Bean's cautionary note in the second Gallipoli volume (Figs. 20 & 21.).

The first volume of the WWII Official History (6), was published only six years after From Anzac to Amiens, with maps and sketch maps by Hugh W. Groser. Groser went on to draw the maps for all 22 volumes of the second war series. While acknowledging the work of his predecessors, he explained that he had deviated from their practices to the extent required by a different kind of war. Where they had been able to cut relevant sections from standard base maps of the Western Front and add tactical detail, often reducing the original by as much as six times, Groser said that he was dealing with mobile warfare over areas of widely differing size that precluded use of a common scale (7). In fact his difficulties were much the same as those of Wightman et al. with Gallipoli (i.e. representation of convoluted terrain, as in the Pacific theatre) and Murray with the Sinai and Palestine campaigns (i.e. simplification of complex manoeuvres, as in the North African campaign).

For terrain Groser generally used hachuring or stippling, like Wightman, but in special cases where terrain was all important, he was able to resort to a technique that had been unavailable to his predecessors, because among his talents was landscape painting (he won the Wynne Prize in 1961) and he had mastered the laborious method of pen shading (Fig. 22.). He also derived considerable benefit from the wartime operational maps produced by the Australian Survey Corps.

Fortunately for him there were far fewer sketch maps, less than half the number in Bean's first volume alone. Groser's larger scale maps were also facilitated by letterpress reproduction in a larger format on gloss paper with finer detail. The overall result was a cleaner and clearer exposition, nowhere better seen than in his double page spread illustrating the taking of Tobruk (Fig. 23.).

Groser's work was the final flowering of the Bean approach. Like Bean's mapmakers, Groser was illustrating a national achievement and he was doing it for the nation from which the achievers, the servicemen and women of WWII, had been recruited en masse from civilian life. That war was the last of its kind. The official histories of all Australia's subsequent conflicts were not written as popular accounts because they were not peoples' wars. In the Korea volumes the practice of footnoting biographical details of persons mentioned in the text was abandoned. These soldiers were professionals, not civilian volunteers temporarily in uniform. The maps were more expansive (including a large number of fold-outs, many of which were unnecessary) and less self-explanatory (assuming familiarity with military conventional signs). The Staff Colleges would have been pleased.

The maps in Bean's Official History are part of the work's mystique. The sketch maps of Gallipoli and France particularly, in their frequency of occurrence and intimacy of scale, illustrate the day-to-day outlook of the individual digger in his trench. The limit of his world was the enemy line to his immediate front. It was truly said of the Western Front that in spring the soldier could see where he hoped to be by autumn. Whatever their technical shortcomings, the maps of Bean's history captured that reality.


(1) Quoted in K.S. Inglis, C.E. W. Bean, Australian Historian, Univ. of Qld Press, St. Lucia, 1970, p.7.

(2) G. Hunter Rogers, My First Eighty Years, self-published, [Melbourne], [1982], p.78.

(3) In the first edition the shading was light brown. In subsequent editions it was greyscale, as in Fig. 8.

(4) A.J. Hill's Introduction to a facsimile edition of The Australian Imperial Force in Sinai and Palestine, Univ. of Qld Press, 1984, p.xxxi.

(5) C. Lucas (ed.), The Empire at War, v.3, Humphrey Milford, London, 1924.

(6) G. Long, "To Benghazi", v. 1, Series 1 (Army), Australia in the War of 1939-1945.

(7) H.W. Groser, Cartography for the Official War History, Cartography, 2(1, March 1957): 27-31.


BEAN, C.E.W., (ed.), (1921-42), Official history of Australia in the war of 1914-1918, 12 v., Angus & Robertson, Sydney.

--, (1946), Anzac to Amiens: a shorter history of the Australian fighting services in the First World War, Australian War Memorial, Canberra.

LONG, GAVIN (ed.), (1952-77), Australia in the War of1939-1945, 22v., Australian War Memorial, Canberra.

LUCAS, Charles, (1921-26), The Empire at War, 5v., Oxford Univ. Press, London.

O'NEILL, Robert, (1981-85), Australia in the Korean War 1950-53, 2 v., Australian War Memorial & Australian Govt. Pub. Service, Canberra.

Granville Allen Mawer, Allen Mawer is an independent historian whose works on maritime exploration include South by Northwest (2006) on the search for the magnetic poles and, most recently, Incognita: The Invention and Discovery of Terra Australis (2013). Contact:
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Author:Mawer, Granville Allen
Publication:The Globe
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Oct 1, 2015
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