A World War I service file

The National Archives of Australia holds the service records of Australian defence servicemen and women from 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 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.

NAA: Base Records Office Australian Imperial Force; B2455, First Australian Imperial Force Personnel Dossiers. 1914-1920; 3013311, Stewart Douglas James : SERN 3718

His next of kin was his father, James Simpson Stewart, of Albury Street, Holbrook NSW. The next page is a bit more instructive:

NAA: Base Records Office Australian Imperial Force; B2455, First Australian Imperial Force Personnel Dossiers. 1914-1920; 3013311, Stewart Douglas James : SERN 3718

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 I 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:

NAA: Base Records Office Australian Imperial Force; B2455, First Australian Imperial Force Personnel Dossiers. 1914-1920; 3013311, Stewart Douglas James : SERN 3718

And on the other side of the paper:

NAA: Base Records Office Australian Imperial Force; B2455, First Australian Imperial Force Personnel Dossiers. 1914-1920; 3013311, Stewart Douglas James : SERN 3718

This appears to be much the same thing only typed:

Citation as above

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:

NAA: Base Records Office Australian Imperial Force; B2455, First Australian Imperial Force Personnel Dossiers. 1914-1920; 3013311, Stewart Douglas James : SERN 3718

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!

The 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. We will continue to examine this file in the near future.

A map of Sydney from 1802

A message on the AUS-CONVICTS mailing list on Rootsweb has provided a link to this wonderfully detailed German map of Sydney in 1802.

Plan von Sydney der Hauptstadt der Englischen Colonien in Australien.

Aufgenommen von Hrn. Lesueur; und berichtigt von Hrn Boullanger i. J. 1802

[Map of Sydney, the capital of the British colonies in Australia.

Recorded by Mr. Lesueur, and corrected by Mr Boullanger AD 1802]

http://archivemaps.com/mapco/sydney1802/sydney.htm

It is an excellent reminder to all of us to look at maps of the places where our ancestors lived from the time that they lived there. Even if they didn’t live in Sydney, as my ancestors didn’t, they passed through here on their way out to the areas where they eventually settled, and probably stayed a day, or a week. Imagine them walking down these streets, past the Barracks or the Hospital, and seeing convict gangs and red-coated soldiers, and trying to find a bed and a meal for the night.

Look for maps of the area where your ancestor lived or might have visited. Here are a few examples:

  • Mapco, where the above map came from. They are constantly finding new maps for our pleasure.
  • National Library of Australia’s MapSearch, over 100,000 maps held in libraries across Australia.
  • Historical Parish Maps – NSW Department of Lands
  • Old Maps UK for UK maps

And don’t forget Google Maps, to see what the place looks like now, in both map and satellite views, and street view in some areas. Perhaps the old house is still there!

French Genealogy anyone?

For those of us with French ancestors here is a blog that focuses on research in France. It has articles, links to websites, book recommendations, and everything you need to get over your first dismay when you discover that your ancestor came from France.

Anne Morddel has been writing this blog for a year now, and to celebrate her first anniversary she is giving away a copy of her five-page checklist of research you can do on your own before you need to contact a professional in France, called Preparing to Research an Ancestor in France.

To obtain a copy you need to send her an email. You can find her email address here.

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