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 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.
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.
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:
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:
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).
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.