This information page has advice and tips on how to obtain further details on Australian servicemen and servicewomen, and others, in World War II. It also suggests how to obtain information on medals. In addition, there is advice on caring for wartime memorabilia or donating memorabilia to the Australian War Memorial and other National, State or Local museums and libraries. Finally, it also offers links to key teaching resources.
A useful fact sheet on researching Australians in war is available on the National Archives of Australia website at http://www.naa.gov.au/publications/fact_sheets/fs63.html.
The best starting point for researching somebody in the Australian Army, Air Force, Navy or Merchant Navy in World War II is the Department of Veterans’ Affairs World War 2 Nominal Roll http://www.ww2roll.gov.au. The Australian War Memorial has several Biographical Databases http://www.awm.gov.au/database/biographical.asp. These databases include:
the Roll of Honour for members of the Army, Air Force or Navy who lost their lives in war; a Commemorative Roll for others who were not formally in the armed forces (like merchant seamen) or were serving in foreign forces when they died; and an Honours and Awards database.
On the AWM site we recommend taking advantage of the Researching a Person tool linked to the Biographical Databases
Another useful resource in relation to those who lost their lives in the war is the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s Debt of Honour Register http://www.cwgc.org.
Finally, the Australian Government’s It’s an Honour website http://www.itsanhonour.gov.au features a Historic List 1901 – 1989 database of decorations and awards, including civilian awards.
Service records of Australians in World War II (and other conflicts) are available from the National Archives of Australia. The DVA World War 2 Nominal Roll can be used to confirm serial numbers and other details ahead of making a request. For information on how to obtain service records, see the Archives’ Defence Service Records www.naa.gov.au/the_collection/family_history/armed_services.html.
Unit War Diaries
The Australian War Memorial has online the digitised unit war diaries of key Army headquarters and is progressively making available online the war diaries of infantry battalions at http://www.awm.gov.au/database/awm52/index.htm. Most other unit war diaries (Army), operations record books (Air Force) and logs (Navy) can only be viewed by actually visiting the Australian War Memorial (www.awm.gov.au) or National Archives of Australia (www.naa.gov.au) in Canberra, ACT.
Other Official Records
The key archives for Australian military records are the Australian War Memorial and the National Archives of Australia. For information on the types of records that may be available, visit the Archives’ The Services information page http://www.naa.gov.au/the_collection/defence/the_services.html. We also recommend conducting a search on the Archives’ RecordSearch http://www.naa.gov.au/the_collection/recordsearch.html. This may turn up relevant records. (Hint: first search under the person’s service number as this may turn up additional records such as RAAF casualty files, POW statements, court martial records or combat reports, bearing in mind that unfortunately not everybody had such files created about them. Also search under surname and/or any other relevant keywords.)
Official and Unit Histories
Australia produced a 22-volume official history of World War II covering each of the armed services, every major campaign and the home front – and a fair number of servicemen and servicewomen are mentioned. For a list of volumes, see http://www.awm.gov.au/research/bibliographies/officialhistories.htm. In addition, many units, including ships, have published histories. The Australian War Memorial Books Database http://www.awm.gov.au/firstopac/ and the National Library of Australia http://www.nla.gov.au catalogue are useful for finding unit histories. There are also some online listings.
Also potentially useful for research are diaries, manuscripts, letters and other private records held by various institutions including the Australian War Memorial, National Library of Australia and State Libraries. The major archive for World War II private records is the Australian War Memorial Research Centre whose Collections Database http://www.awm.gov.au/database/collection.asp can be searched. The databases of other libraries and archives should also be consulted. A useful online database covering many (not all) of these institutions is the Register of Australian Archives and Manuscripts http://www.nla.gov.au/raam. (Information on donating to museums and archives is included below.)
Photographs and Films
Visual images of many servicemen and servicewomen and also places of service, aircraft, warships, events and many other aspects of the war are available from the Australian War Memorial and some other institutions. Australian War Memorial photographs are to be found on the Memorial’s Collections Database at http://www.awm.gov.au/database/collection.asp. The databases of other institutions, including State Libraries, can also produce results. Many photographs from various institutions can be found at Picture Australia http://www.pictureaustralia.gov.au/. In particular note the state Library of Victoria’s World War II picture collection from the Argus newspaper.
For information on Medals, Awards, Commendations and other Honours, visit the Department of Defence Honours and Awards information page http://www.defence.gov.au/dpe (on ‘Quick Links’, hit ‘Honours and Awards’). Note: original medals can only be claimed by the actual recipient of these medals or, if he or she is deceased, by next-of-kin and only if the recipient is deceased and did not claim the medals while alive; replacements for lost or destroyed medals can be issued to the original recipient only. Replica medals can be purchased at various medals and militaria stores. The Government’s It’s An Honour website www.itsanhonour.gov.au is another useful source of information on medals and awards.
Caring for Wartime Memorabilia
The Department of Veterans’ Affairs has produced a useful guide for conserving many types of wartime memorabilia, from uniforms and medals to ‘trench art’ and diaries, entitled Caring for Wartime Memorabilia http://www.dva.gov.au/media/publicat/2001/memorabilia/.
Donating Memorabilia to Museums and Archives
The Australian War Memorial and other National, State and Local museums, libraries and archives do accept, subject to assessment, donations of wartime memorabilia for preservation, research and display purposes. The Australian War Memorial has an information page on how to donate items to the Memorial http://www.awm.gov.au/aboutus/collections/donations.htm. Listings of many other collecting institutions can be found on the Register of Australian Archives & Museums http://www.nla.gov.au/raam and the Australian Museums and Galleries Online National Guide to Collecting Institutions http://amol.org.au/guide.
Teaching Resources (including Museums)
The Department of Veterans’ Affairs has produced a guide, available online or in hard copy, of internet-based resources for teaching, Working the Web: Investigating Australia’s wartime history http://www.dva.gov.au/commem/commac/studies/wtw.htm. The Australian War Memorial also has an Education guide http://www.awm.gov.au/education/index.htm detailing its resources, including Online Exhibitions and Memorial Boxes for use in the classroom. Many stories about local areas during the war can be found on The People’s Voice at http://www.peoplesvoice.gov.au. School visits to military and war-related museums can be arranged, from the Australian War Memorial www.awm.gov.au in Canberra to local historical society museums. The various Army museums are listed at http://www.defence.gov.au/army/ahu/MUSEUMS/museum-index.htm. Many other museums can be found on the Register of Australian Archives & Museums http://www.nla.gov.au/raam and the Australian Museums and Galleries Online National Guide to Collecting Institutions http://amol.org.au/guide.