The service record gives a snapshot of a person's service career in the defence forces. It provides an essential record of service.
A typical service record includes an attestation or enlistment form giving personal information, and a record of service in some format with information such as movements, postings and transfers between units, changes in rank, and brief mention of injuries, illnesses and disciplinary charges. It notes when a person was discharged at the end of service, or if killed, or taken prisoner.
At least a name, but a place and/or date of birth will also be helpful. If you know where the person enlisted, that could also be useful. It will be helpful, but not necessary, to know if the person served in World War I, World War II or another conflict.
Start by gathering as much information as you can about your relative, as set out in Chapter 2. Talk to family members who may know about your relative and consider using birth, death and marriage records to confirm names, places of birth and dates of birth. See for example, the National Archives' Beginning your family history research – Fact sheet 200.
When searching keep in mind that people sometimes lied about their age so they could serve overseas, and some enlisted under an alias.
The National Archives holds the service records of Australians who served with the Australian Army, Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) and Royal Australian Navy (RAN). The two main collections are the defence service records of Australians who served in World War I and World War II.
Records from pre-1901 are usually held in state government archives, including pre-Federation
Boer War records. However the National Archives does hold some Boer War records. These consist of attestation forms relating to individual servicemen who enlisted to serve in the Boer War during 1901 and 1902.
Records for more recent campaigns, including Korea, Malaya and Vietnam are still held by the Department of Defence but can be requested through the National Archives. If you are a former serving member you can obtain a copy of the record of your post-war service from the Department of Defence. Check the Department of Defence website.
The contact details are:
Finding defence service records 85
PO Box 225
Queenscliff VIC 3225
Tel: (03) 5258 0675
In World War I records you can usually expect to find:
The three service arms (Army, Navy and RAAF) were keeping very different records by World War II. Below is some information for each of the services.
Information relating to the military service of those called up for national service will be found in the personal service records mentioned above. See also National Archives' Fact sheets 160–164.
A list of common abbreviations used in the records is on the Archives' website. Enter 'abbreviations' in the 'Search the website' option.
The records do not include detailed descriptions of actions a person was involved in. This information is usually found in the Australian War Memorial's unit histories and other operational records. Nor do they contain a day-to-day account of the life of people or detailed medical records. They include only a brief note of injuries and illnesses.
The Archives holds other material relating to defence service (for example, pay, war gratuities, Merchant Navy and Veterans' Affairs records) and some relating to civilian service that supported the war effort (for example, the Australian Women's Land Army, Civil Construction Corps and North Australia Railway).
For further information, consult the National Archives' website.
Contact the National Archives Reference Service for assistance by using one of the forms on the Archives' website at www.naa.gov.au/collection/using/askquestion/index.aspx or by mail at
PO Box 7425
Canberra Business Centre ACT 2610
A wide range of material relating to defence is held by a number of institutions. Also as part of the commemoration of World War I, many have special sections relating to defence on their websites.
The Australian War Memorial's collections and online resources contain a wealth of material that can help you research the service and wartime experiences of relatives who served in Australia's military forces during conflict. The Memorial holds Commonwealth records relating to overseas conflicts in which Australia has been involved and private records donated by individuals and organisations, including diaries, photographs, collections of letters and personal papers (see the entry for the Memorial).
The state and territory government archives also hold material, for example relating to the Boer War and soldier settlement records. It should be noted that only a handful of Indigenous servicemen were granted land under soldier settlement schemes. For the archives' websites and contact details, see Appendix 6.
The state and territory libraries hold material such as books, articles, personal papers, diaries of servicemen, photographs and oral histories. For the libraries' websites and contact details, see Appendix 6.