Australian Military Records

Continuing the "getting started" series - lets find military records for Australia.
I have found some really interesting family stories from the military records I found.  One of them was the two Stettler brothers who signed up at the same time, when one of them was shot in France, he must have told the army about his brother who enlisted underage.  He was then sent back due to his underage, back to Australia.  Fortunately both brothers survived.  It made me wonder about them, when the older brother was injured I bet he had a wake up call, and he wanted to make sure his brother survived.
Then there was my Great Uncle who nearly got shot in WW1 as a deserter but was sentenced to 10 years in goal instead, and my Uncle who died in WW2, and his brothers put wattle on his grave on Australia day.  Where did they get it from?  When I obtained my dear father's papers, I found that he had not only been shot in WW2, but was involved in hand to hand combat with the Japanese after seeing his best friend killed.
My Dad, Ron.


 Australian Records

When I am searching for Australian military records here is the system I have:
Start with the National Archives who hold records about service in the Australian defence forces from Federation in 1901.  Of particular interest will be the attestation (enlistment) forms that give information about the next of kin of those enlisting.  National Archives hold full files on many personnel, and most are available digitised online.  That means you can really find out a lot about what a person did during the war.  If a file is not digitised, it costs very little to have it done, and for genealogists is very rewarding.  Many also include a photo.
The next place to search is the National War Memorial where information about POW's, honours and awards, and Red Cross records are found.  Also on this site is the Nominal Roll which contains the name of those who served. Don't forget to search the picture collection on this site, there just might be a photo of your ancestor.  I did not find one of my Uncle, but I did find one of his grave:
The Grave in El Alemain of Frederick Heard
The photo was taken on Australia Day,
 and is strewn with wattle.
 Here is also the  Roll of Honour where  you will find details of members of the Australian armed forces who died while on active service, and the  Commemorative Roll with details of Australians who were not members of the armed forces who died during or as a result of wars in which Australians served.
If someone in your family died in a war, next go to the Commonwealth War Graves site, here you will usually find the exact place they are buried.  On this site you will find information about the burial through digitised grave registrations and headstone reports.  You will find a lot of information about the regiment, date of death, next of kin etc, and can download a commemorative certificate.
If you find a casualty, next step is to the Australian War Graves Photographic Archive and search for a photo, or ask for one to be taken.  Here is some information about the wonderful project:
The next step is to go to State Archive sites.

Early (pre federation) Resources

A good place to start for pre-federation records is this army site.
Early Victorian resources can be found at the Defending Victoria site.  This includes Victorian colonial, military and naval forces up to the Boer War and AIF, Australian Flying Corps and nurses up to the end of World War I.
NSW Archives has some information on Boar war veterans, but make sure you search all the possible state archives for early information.
South African War (Boer War) 1899 - 1902
Those who served in the South African War (Boer War) from 1899-1901 served in various colonial contingents. Only those who enlisted after 26 January 1901 into one of the contingents of the Australian Commonwealth Horse actually served in the Australian Army.

The records of those who served in colonial contingents (Queensland Mounted Infantry, Victorian Mounted Rifles, NSW Lancers, various drafts of Imperial Bushmen etc) should be located in the relevant State Archives. You may find that personal files, in the post 1914 sense, were not kept in colonial military forces. You will have to enquire at the relevant Archives about how you can search.

A number of these men did not immediately return to Australia following their tour of duty, and enlisted in local South African units such as the Bushveldt Carrabineers.

English soldiers who served in Early Australian regiments

Numbers of British officers and soldiers joined the various colonial units as they were raised, especially in time of perceived defence emergency. The colonial or Australian Army records may refer to prior British service, but details will have to be sought from British records. To get started, try the Army Museums Ogilby Trust (UK).

History - puts everything in context

Next I research the history of the unit, ship or regiment that an ancestor was attached to.  To do this, start with the official history site. This amazing site contains  the First and Second World War official histories are available in digital format. Images of the original pages can be viewed and words in the text searched.
Google search the regiment - many have websites that will give you a lot of information about where your ancestor may have served.  Some even have copies of old post-WW2 regiment magazines.
The Australian War Memorial also has digitised, and undigitised unit diaries, that are fascinating to read.  You will find out where your ancestors fought and what was going on.  If they are not digitised, you may need to go to the War Memorial in Canberra to view them.

A hand written instruction for a message from the 8th Battalion in WW2

Other good resources:

Army Records & how to start army research
Digger History holds 6,000 pages related to the history of the Australian and New Zealand Armed Forces including databases, photographs, histories and a great deal of background information on uniforms, weapons, equipment, food and other great historical detail.
Uni of NSW   has a free, online searchable database for more than 330,000 men and women from WW1 with information taken from embarkation rolls, the nominal roll, details of military decorations and/or promotions, Roll of Honour circulars, personal dossiers and post war deaths recorded through the Office of War Graves or by individual submissions.
ASAC will tell you all about what medals were awarded for.
Aust. and NZ Civil War website is a dedication to the Australian Union and Confederate Veterans of the American Civil War of 1861 – 1865.
Coraweb for even more resources.


  1. Hi,

    I want to let you know that your blog is listed in today's Fab Finds post at

    Have a great weekend!


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