Enlistment in the Australian Imperial Force, 1917

I have previously written about the service file Douglas James Stewart (1899-1918), downloaded from the National Archives of Australia’s website. The file is 61 pages long, and I was unable to do it justice in a single post.

The Application to Enlist in the Australia Imperial Force form shows that Douglas enlisted at Victoria Barracks in Sydney on 18 February 1917.

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

He was a telegraph messenger, residing in Albury Street, Holbrook, NSW. He was 18 years and 2 weeks old, and both his parents signed the form, giving their consent to the enlistment of their under-aged son for active service abroad. He was 5 foot 9 inches, with a chest measurement of 31-36 inches fully expanded. He was declared fit for Active Service.

The instructions on the back give us an idea of the enlistment process:

Citation as above

The form, filled in and signed by the applicant and additionally signed, in this case, by his parents, was given to the Recruitment Officer. Provided the applicant fulfilled all other requirements the form was given directly to the Medical Practitioner, who examined the applicant for medical fitness. The form was then returned to the Recruitment Officer, who then sent it to the Officer in Charge of the Central Recruiting Depot to which the recruit had been instructed to report.

Douglas was examined at Victoria Barracks on the same day:

Medical History, page 1

He weighed in at 146 lbs; his chest was measured at 36 inches when fully expanded, a range of 5 inches; his pulse rate was 78 [beats per minute, presumably] and his physical development good. He had two vaccination marks on his left arm, given in 1913. His vision, was measured as 6/6 on both sides, which I assume was good. He apparently had no marks indicating congenital peculiarities or previous diseases.

Most of the remaining pages of the Medical History are blank. He was re-examined at Liverpool Field Hospital on 9 May 1918 but not admitted.

Medical History, page 2

Medical History, page 3

At his initial examination he was asked a few questions about fits, insanity, consumption:

Medical History, page 4

He was vaccinated on the same day, on 20 March, 2 April and again on 21 April 1917.

Douglas was then examined at the Sydney Showground Military Camp on 26 March 1917. His teeth were intact, with 13 on each side (feel inside your mouth and count yours).

“]

[Dental examination record

So he was good to go. This telegraph messenger from a small town in southern New South Wales was ready for the biggest, and worst, adventure of his life.

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.

Digital Microfilm at the National Archives

From the webpage of the new Digital Microfilm pilot project of the National Archives in the UK:

Introduction

Digital Microfilm is a project piloting a new way to deliver records online. The National Archives has a large collection of microfilmed records, and by making these available online we hope to increase their accessibility. This will ultimately allow the microfilm readers used at The National Archives, Kew to be retired.

We have digitised four records series Link to glossary - opens in a new window of military and naval records. If the project is successful, we intend to add a wide variety of record series covering many different areas of interest. Many of the records are indexes and we hope that these will be helpful in locating other relevant records.

The new way of delivery is by using very large pdfsLink to glossary - opens in a new window, each of which contains a whole pieceLink to glossary - opens in a new window, which could be up to 800 pages long. This means that Digital Microfilm is only available to online users with a broadband connection, and to users in the Reading Rooms at The National Archives.

These records have not been indexed, and so you will need to scroll through the pdfs, much as you would when using a microfilm. However, we would be more than happy for users to transcribe any of the Digital Microfilm content, and post it on Your Archives, The National Archives’ online community of records users.

These documents are free of charge to download. If you try out the Digital Microfilm pilot, we would be grateful for your comments.

Browsing the documents

The Digital Microfilm pilot means that we have made entire piecesLink to glossary - opens in a new window available free of charge. We have not indexed the detail within the records and so you would not be able to search them in the same way as you could search for a medal card, for example. Instead you will need to scroll through the pdfs, much as you would when using a microfilm.

You can use our Quick and Advanced search forms to search for the full catalogue reference, for example WO 144/1. Alternatively there is also a specific search form for these documents.

If you are unsure which catalogue reference interests you, we would recommend searching the Catalogue first. In each of our guides to the records below, we have included a link to the catalogue entry for each collection to help you with your search. When you are viewing the catalogue entry for a piece which interests you, click on the ‘Request this’ button and follow the instructions to download the item.

Technical Requirements

These are large pdf files, and you will need to have a broadband internet connection in order to download them. It may take your computer some time to download each file. Once you have downloaded the pdf file, we recommend that you save the document to your computer for future reference.

These are large files to download, being on average 400MB. You may wish to contact your broadband provider to check whether large downloads will incur a cost to you.

To view the pdfs you will need to have Adobe Reader installed on your computer. Read more about Adobe Reader

When printing from these files, be careful that you do not opt to print the whole document, because some of them are over 800 pages long. Instead, specify which page numbers you would like to print.

I’ve tried this and although it’s slow it does work. I downloaded a coastguard file from Ireland which was 314MB. I have a broadband connection but we must remember that the speeds we get in Australia are very slow compared to other countries.

The files that are available so far are probably of limited use to NSW genealogists. The names in the files are not indexes so you have to have an idea that you might find something useful in them to start with, and then go looking. The usual problems of reading old handwriting and microfilm quality are apparent.

Notwithstanding the problems I think this is a brilliant way to get records out there quickly. If we were to wait for the National Archives staff or volunteers to index the records we would be waiting for many years. The alternative is for a commercial company like Ancestry or FindMyPast to do it. Searching would be easier but the cost is a factor and the perceived value of these records may be such that they may not get around to them for some years.

Show your support for this project by giving it a go. The more people they have using it the more successful they will see it, and hopefully the more records they add.

The webpage is here.

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