This post was first published in May 2010 as ‘A World War I Service File’. This month (August 2014) is the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of The Great War, and interest in these files will only grow, so we need to understand what is in them.
The National Archives of Australia holds the service records of Australian defence servicemen and women from Federation in 1901. Records are closed for thirty years. If your ancestor served in the Boer War, World War I, World War II or in between, the records you need will be in Canberra.
Many of these records have been digitised, and are available to view and download online.
Some of the first to be digitised were the World War I service records.
World War I service records usually contain, at the very least, the following documents:
- attestation paper – the attestation paper was completed by the person on enlistment and normally gives next-of-kin, employment details, marital status, age, place of birth and physical description
- service and casualty form – this form, known as ‘Form B103’, shows movements and transfers between units, promotions, when and how the soldier was injured and where treatment was received
- military correspondence – correspondence between the Department of Defence and the soldier’s next-of-kin may include notification of wounds or death, awards and medals and questions about the whereabouts of the serviceman or woman [NAA]
Here is the first page of the Attestation Paper of my grandmother’s cousin Douglas James Stewart, downloaded from the website. Douglas, a telegraph messenger, had barely turned 18 when he enlisted in Sydney on Sunday, 18th February 1917.
His next of kin was his father, James Simpson Stewart, of Albury Street, Holbrook NSW. The next page is a bit more instructive:
We can see that he was a Presbyterian; 5 foot 9 inches tall, 146 lbs in weight, with a scar on his left knee and a lump on his left thumb. By looking at a copy of the Attestation Paper in the file we can see the headings for the information that has been pasted over: his chest measurement was 31-36 inches, and he had a medium complexion, with brown hair and brown eyes. I presume that the numbers in red next to his eye colour refer to eyesight testing.
He was pronounce fit for service and was appointed to A Company, 1st Infantry D Battalion.
The pages that were taped inside tells what happened to his afterwards:
And on the other side of the paper:
This appears to be much the same thing only typed:
I am not knowledgeable about the codes and abbreviations used, but it looks to me like he embarked on His Majesty’s Australian Transport Marathon at Sydney on 10th May, 1917, for a journey of a little over two months to Devonport, England. After some months of training in England he was shipped to France, arriving in Havre 20th March, 1918.
He survived the fighting in France for nearly five months, and was killed in action on the 8th August 1918.
The big blue stamp on the last page of the Attestation Form says it all:
Other documents in the file include the original Application to Enlist in the Australian Imperial Force and a certified copy. The form was signed by both his parents, since he was under 21 years and needed their permission. How difficult that must have been!
This file is 61 pages, and much of it is made up of correspondence between the Office and Douglas’ father James Simpson Stewart after his death. Further examinations of the file will be posted in the coming days.