WWI & Australian military history

by Meg
Publish date
20 August 2013
Comments (3)

Question: My great-great-grandfather served in Egypt during the Great War – where can I find out more information about soldiers’ war-time experiences and Australia’s military history more generally?

Answer: A useful starting-point for general archival research of Australian military history is the National Archives of Australia Fact Sheets – enter the term ‘military’ in the search field to refine your results.

Private Albert Edward Kemp, 1916-1917: Albert Edward Kemp Mourning Collection Service photo of Private Albert Edward Kemp, who served in France + Belguim in World War 1 and was killed in action in 1917.
Source: Museum Victoria

Your next port of call might be the Australian War Memorial. The War Memorial is a rich source of information about specific conflicts, terminologies and people. Examples of documents held by the Australian War Memorial include:

You can also find information specific to Victorian military service on the Veterans’ Unit website.

Extreme right of Anzac showing soldiers outside dug out and supplies on the beach. Extreme right of Anzac Cove showing soldiers outside dug out and supplies on the beach.
Source: Museum Victoria

If you’re interested in undertaking research on particular soldiers, such as your great-great-grandfather, there are a number of approaches to take:

  • Nominal rolls list members of Australia's defence forces who served during particular conflicts. A handy short-cut to the rolls is hosted by the Federal Department of Veterans’ Affairs.
  • The Australian War Memorial can help you ‘Research a Person’.
  • The National Archives of Australia holds military service records and attestation documents. World War I records are extensively available online, while World War II records are partially online and may be ordered.
  • Trove, hosted by the National Library of Australia, facilitates searches for newspapers, maps, books, images, historic music, archives and more.


'Captain Hunter', Egypt, Captain Edward Albert McKenna, World War I, 1914-1915: : Military Memorabilia Collection Portrait of Captain Hunter in the camp.
Image: Captain Edward Albert McKenna
Source: Museum Victoria

Finally, another good source of general information on military history is the museum collection. Today museums typically have at least some of their collections online – the Museum Victoria Collections Online may be a useful starting point, and you could also browse the Australian War Memorial collection online.

While the Shrine of Remembrance is synonymous with the military history of Australia, traditionally it is not a collecting institution, although it does hold a small collection of objects for display purposes.

Beyond Australia, most nations hold national military collections, often in national museums, and some battlefields have museums specific to those conflicts. International collections that may be of particular interest include the National Army Museum and the Imperial War Museums in the UK.

World War I, Two Nurses, Heliopolis, Egypt, 1915-1917: Sister Selina Lily (Lil) Mackenzie Collection Two nurses standing on a street out the front of Heliopolis Dairy building.
Image: Selina Lily Mackenzie
Source: Museum Victoria

If you have a collection of material you need advice on managing, the Veterans’ Unit in Victoria provides workshops and information guides. Museums Australia (Victoria) also provides training workshops and printed information on managing collections.

Comments (3)

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E.B. 21 August, 2013 10:12
This is a very comprehensive military history research guide, thank you Megan!
Mary Beckett 7 January, 2016 13:34
I found on your site a photo of a WWI Patriotic handkerchief with Harold Begbie's poem 'Fall In' on it. Our family has one of these handkerchiefs found among her belonging after she died recently. Can you tell me anything about the handkerchief, when was it sold, what it funded, and anything about its heritage. Thank you in anticipation. Mary
Discovery Centre 9 January, 2016 14:50

Hi Mary,

You can find more information about WW1 souvenir handkerchiefs on this page on our website or more specific information on your handkerchief on this page on the Australian War Memorial website. Hope that helps!

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