A recent newspaper article appearing in the Herald Sun in Victoria, Daily Telegraph in NSW, Courier Mail in Queensland and Adelaide Now in South Australia highlights the need to use a variety of sources to verify information collected when researching the war service of members of the First AIF.
The Australian War Memorial has an extensive data base which is an excellent starting point for research in this field. It includes within the Biographical Database: the Roll of Honour; Nominal Rolls including Embarkation Rolls; Honours and Awards and Red Cross Wounded and Missing Files. Good research technique involves consulting as many sources as possible to confirm the validity of information by identifying errors and omissions which may occur.
The National Archives of Australia contains within its digitised records all the Service Records of World War 1 soldiers held within the archives. These records provide an opportunity to compare from primary sources the information recorded on the Australian War Memorial data base. The NAA also has on its internet site a project known as Mapping Our Anzacs which identifies the service men who enlisted at each place of enlistment and is gathering information and photographs of those who served during the Great War.
The internet has the capacity to provide the descendants of servicemen and women, students as well as researchers with a host of different data bases and information to help in researching Australian soldiers who served in the Great War. Australia has one of the most comprehensive collections in the world on which to base historical research. An example is the New Zealand database of soldiers who served in the Great War only contains the service records of those soldiers who remained in the army and were not discharged.
The Australian Defence Academy (ADFA) AIF Project has also compiled a database with summaries of service records of those men who served in the AIF drawing on information from the Australian War Memorial and National Archives and as a secondary source is therefore constrained in its accuracy by the sources it has used. This once again highlights the need to consult multiple information sources.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission provides information on those who paid the ultimate sacrifice in the Great War. The CWGC data base allows researchers to search by name and can provide the location of graves or where the soldier’s sacrifice is commemorated. This source, like others, may contain errors, however processes are in place for having information corrected.
Beyond the sphere of these websites there are many sites which contain additional information which may be of assistance in clarifying inconsistencies in data gathered. One example of such a site is the Australian War Graves Photographic Archive which was established and is maintained by FFFAIF member Matt Smith. The AWGPA is committed to digitally photographing every Australian War Grave and contains photos of the graves of all Australian who made the ultimate sacrifice during the Great War while serving overseas. These photos are available on request through the AWGPA.
To add an extra dimension to a Digger’s story it is also possible to access the Unit Diaries of each of the AIF Battalions through Australians at War on the Australian War Memorial website along with the Official History of Australia in the Great War.
It is also possible to expand research beyond the Allied perspective of the Great War as the Australian War Memorial Collection also contains 900 First World War German Official and Regimental Histories in its Published Collection (see AWM Blog dated 20 October 2009).
The efficient use of available data bases and collections is a valuable research tool and skills can be continually updated and expanded. For people interested in finding out how to start their own research or improve and enhance their skills, the Families and Friends of the First AIF (FFFAIF) is holding a Members’ Forum on 15 November at Ashfield RSL Club in Sydney. On the day information will be available on research techniques from the basic skills through to advanced techniques e.g. overlaying original trench maps onto Google Earth.
Visitors are welcome.
The Families and Friends of the First AIF applauds the joint Australian–UK decision, announced by The Hon Greg Combet AM MP and the Hon Kevan Jones MP, to conduct a full DNA testing program on the remains of Australian and British soldiers found in mass graves at Pheasant Wood (Fromelles), and for their continuing commitment to identify as many of the fallen as is possible. We also thank the Australian, UK and French governments for affording dignified individual reburials for these soldiers, buried by German soldiers following the Battle of Fromelles on 19/20 July 1916, in the new Fromelles (Pheasant Wood) Military Cemetery presently under construction at Fromelles.