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Defence service records

The National Archives’ collection of records about service in the armed forces dates principally from Federation in 1901. Some of the more important sources of information held by the Archives about a person’s record of service in the defence forces are described below.

If you want a copy of a defence service dossier please follow the links to:

For wider research, you may also want to consult the Archives records about defence administration and policy as well as the Australian War Memorial for information about unit, operational and administrative records.


Defence service records
Other service-related records

Colonial period records, pre-1901

Merchant Navy service

Boer War, 1899–1902

Veterans’ case files

Boer War to World War I

Courts-Martial files

World War I, 1914–1918

Civilian service

Between the world wars

Munitions workers

World War II, 1939–1945

Soldier settlement

Service after World War II

War gratuities

Colonial period records, pre-1901

Defence was one of the first functions to be passed to the new Commonwealth government from the former Australian colonies at Federation in 1901. For records about defence in colonial Australia before 1901, contact the relevant State government archival institution. Their contact details can be found on Fact Sheet 2 – Addresses of other archival institutions.

The Australian Joint Copying Project, a joint project of the National Library of Australia and the State Library of New South Wales, has information about British Units operating in colonial Australia.

Boer War, 1899–1902

The Boer War was fought between 1899 and 1902 and spans the pre- and post-Federation period. Therefore, records may be held by State government archives or by the National Archives. As a general guide, the colonial period records are held in State government archives, and post-Federation records are held by the National Archives, although there may be exceptions to this.

  • National Archives’ holdings of records about the Boer War are described in our guide The Boer War: Australians and the War in South Africa, 1899–1902. One of the series it cites, B4418, Boer War dossiers, contains attestation papers for soldiers who enlisted to serve in the Boer War after Federation. To find whether a record exists in this series, search the RecordSearch database using the person’s surname and the word ‘Boer’ as keywords, for example:

    Morant Boer

  • Another useful source of information about Australians who served in the Boer War is the Boer War Nominal Roll held by the Australian War Memorial.

Boer War to World War I

  • Published Army lists dating from the latter part of the 19th century are held by the Archives in series and A828. Army lists usually provide only the name, rank, service number, unit and seniority of a serviceperson.

  • Attestation papers and service dossiers for Army service in the Permanent Military Forces (PMF) and Militia for the period 1901 to 1940 are held in series B4747 and B4717.

  • A good source of information about service in the Australian Naval Forces from this period is the Australian War Memorial’s series AWM266, containing Australian Naval Forces Engagement and Service records from 1903 to 1911. Record books of appointments, service and discharge in the Australian Navy from 1903 to 1931 are available in the National Archives series A8363. Record of service forms for the Royal Australian Naval Reserve from 1897 to 1912 are in CT190/1.

World War I, 1914–1918

See Australian Service Records from World War I for information about World War I service records, including an order form for purchasing copies of the records. The service records are for servicemen and women who served in World War I in the:

    • First Australian Imperial Force
    • Australian Flying Corps
    • Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force
    • Royal Australian Naval Bridging Train
    • Australian Army Nursing Service

  • Record of service cards for Naval officers date from 1911 and are held in series A6769, with cards for Petty Officers and Ratings in series A6770.

  • Another source for Naval officers is the Confidential Reports held in series A3978. These reports date from 1912 and are a report on the officer’s performance and suitability for promotion. Sometimes these records contain information that is not suitable for public release.

  • The Archives holds ships’ ledgers dating from 1911 in series A4624. These ledgers list the crew assigned to particular ships and were maintained to determine pay entitlements of Navy personnel. The entries show service on a ship, but give little personal detail.

Between the World Wars

  • Published Army lists in series A1194 and A828 provide the name, rank, service number, unit and seniority of a serviceperson.
  • For Army service in the Permanent Military Forces (PMF) and Militia, the richest sources are attestation papers held in B4747, and service dossiers held in B4717. Records in these series cover the period 1901 to 1940. Contact the National Archives to ask about records for the Permanent Military Forces.
  • Record books of appointments, service and discharge in the Australian Navy from 1903 to 1931 are in series A8363.
  • The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) was formed in 1921, and their collection of service records dates from that time. Access to RAAF dossiers can be obtained by applying through our National Reference Service (see Fact Sheet 1 – Addresses and hours of opening for contact details).

World War II, 1939–1945

See Australian Service Records from World War II for information about World War Il service records.

Other records for the World War II period include:

  • RAAF casualty files, documenting the circumstances surrounding the death or injury of an RAAF service person, whether on active duty or not. These files are held in our Canberra office and can be identified on our RecordSearch database by using the surname of the serviceperson in the keyword field and the series A705 in the Reference number field. In some cases these casualty files can lead to other sources, such as a Court of Inquiry file.
  • There is an interesting collection of photographs of RAAF funerals held in Europe during World War II in series AA1969/100, consignment /543. Search on RecordSearch using the serviceman’s surname and the word ‘funeral’ as a keyword search, for example:

    Cheatle funeral

  • Information about Naval officers is sometimes found in Confidential Reports held in series A3978 dating from 1912 and covering the World War II period. Sometimes these records contain information that is not suitable for public release.

  • Proof of service in the Navy can be obtained by consulting the crew lists held as ships’ ledgers in series A4624. These ledgers were maintained in order to determine pay entitlements of Navy servicepersons and give little personal detail. Published Navy lists are another ready reference to confirm naval service details.

Service after World War II

Most records of service in the Army and RAAF after World War II, including service in Korea, Malaya and Vietnam, are still held by the Department of Defence. Some Navy records are held by the National Archives. Contact our National Reference Service to gain access to these records (see Fact Sheet 1 – Addresses and hours of opening for contact details).

Published Army lists (series A1194 and A828) held in Canberra may provide a useful source of information.

  • Other pay and enlistment records can generally be located in the Archives office in the State in which the person enlisted. These may be a good supplementary source of information if the service record is not available. Pay records are generally held for Army personnel and may also be available for RAAF and Navy personnel.

  • Our Canberra office also holds service cards (series A6242) for Army and other service and civilian personnel who served at Maralinga.

Merchant Navy service

Merchant Navy Record of Service cards for people who served on Australian Merchant vessels are held in our Canberra office on microfilm in series A8877. As well as some personal information, the name of ships and dates of service are recorded.

Other Merchant Navy service information can be sought from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority. The authority’s address is on Fact Sheet 30 – Navy service records.

Veterans’ case files

Case files, sometimes known as repatriation files or Department of Veterans' Affairs (DVA) case files, were created for each veteran who sought the services of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, and may include medical, hospital, clinical treatment or pension files. Sometimes these different types of case files are incorporated into one set of papers, but in most cases they are kept separately.

The files may contain personal information on such matters as the veteran’s physical or mental health, disabilities, and domestic and financial affairs. Because much of this information may be personally sensitive, veterans’ case files are not always available for public access. The files generally contain very little service information not also found on the service dossier or other, more accessible, sources.

Fact Sheet 54 – Veterans' case files describes the Archives' policy on access to veterans’ case files.

Courts-Martial files

Proceedings of courts-martial cases were passed from the three service arms to the Attorney-General’s Department. This department registered and indexed the proceedings, and then transferred them to the Archives’ Canberra office in series A471.

Often a service dossier will refer to a court-martial. In many cases the number will be cited and can be used to apply for access to that file number in the courts-martial series.

If no number is present, the Canberra office can consult the name index to determine the number for you. Because courts martial were held in open court, they are generally released for public access after 30 years.

Civilian service

Civilian service during World War II has recently been recognised by the granting of an award, the Civilian Service Medal. Civilian service refers to the work in administrative, construction and other support services between 1939 and 1945 under arduous circumstances.

Service recognised includes the work of women in agriculture, war construction or civil aviation, and as medical volunteers, guides and observers.

Generally civilian service information is located in the Archives office corresponding to the area in which the service was performed.

Records that have survived are rather piecemeal, and proving service can often be difficult. Fact Sheet 39 – Civilian service in World War II lists organisations for which we hold some personnel information, those for which we hold only administrative records, and those for which, sadly, we hold no records.

In most cases the records are service cards, but these are adequate for proving entitlements.

Munitions workers

Records of service are held for those civilians who worked in the munitions industry during World War I. The dossiers date from 1914 to 1919 and are held in series MT1139/1.

Soldier settlement

The Commonwealth’s role in soldier settlement was solely to do with the selection and acquisition of land. State government authorities processed applications and granted land. Records of individual grants are generally found in the relevant State archival institutions. See Fact Sheet 2 – Addresses of other archival institutions for contact details.

The Archives has information about some soldier settlement cases that were referred to the Commonwealth in series A2784. These date from 1919 to 1929.

War gratuities

After each of the world wars, the Commonwealth government granted veterans a one-off payment – distinct from any pension entitlements – in recognition of service. These payments were known as war gratuities. Personal information in records about war gratuities is limited, but there are occasional references to next-of-kin.

War gratuity registers and records are generally located in the Archives office in the State in which the person enlisted.

For World War II, some war gratuity records may be found in the Treasury’s Defence Division records, series A649, with a separate name index, series A2468.

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