How to Research your Grandfather’s War Service in 7 Easy Steps

The last decade has seen a surge of interest by ordinary Australians in the wartime activities of previous generations of family members who served in the Australian armed forces during World War I.

Many young Australians now travel to overseas battlefields as a ‘rite of passage’ and to honour the memory of relatives who never returned home and made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.

Interest in Australian military history, and in the ANZACs who formed an important part of this legacy is growing every day.

A large number of families are now researching the service of family members to gain a better understanding of what a grandfather or great grandfather may have experienced, what he did and where he served wartime.

A total of 331,814 Australians went to war during World War 1 and another 600,000 served during World War Two and which has seen many Australians today become very interested in the hard fought campaigns of their descendants.

Are you looking to discover the military service of a relative or uncover the details of a hard fought battle?

This research guide, based upon years of experience in searching for information about Australian soldiers, is a quick and easy reference to finding out about the war service of ANZACs – the Australian soldiers who courageously served during World War I.

In seven easy steps, you will be shown how to:

Find a soldier’s service details

Locate what battles and campaigns he may have fought in

Details of wounds and illnesses he may had

Find out where he may have died and been buried Interpret information found in their service records How to track down photos of your soldier

And it may even reveal the occasional secret or two!

Step 1 – Identify the soldier

The more starting information you have about a particular soldier, the easier the research becomes. A name and a service number is usually enough to get started and if you know what unit they served in then that’s even better! A lot of soldiers joined the AIF and if you only have a common name such as John Smith than you will potentially be looking through a LOT of records so the more starting information the better.

The best place to start in looking up a World War 1 soldier is the highly recommended ADFA AIF Database.

Select the Click here to search

You will then be taken to the search page where you can search by Name, Regimental Number or Address.

Bear in mind that if you only have a common surname to search with, you will probably have lots of pages to scroll through.

An example of the type of information you will find is below: John MONASH

Date of birth: 27 June 1865

Religion: Jewish

Occupation: Civil engineer

Address: 36 Collins Street, Melbourne, Victoria

Marital status: Married

Age at embarkation: 49

Next of kin: Wife, Mrs V Monash, ‘Iona’, St Georges Road, Toorak, Victoria

Previous military service: 13th Infantry Brigade

Enlistment date: 19 September 1914

Rank on enlistment: Colonel

Unit name: 4th Infantry Brigade Headquarters

AWM Embarkation Roll number:   23/4/1

Embarkation details: Unit embarked from Melbourne, Victoria, on board HMAT A38

Ulysses on 22 December 1914

Rank from Nominal Roll     Lieutenant General Unit from Nominal Roll       4th Infantry Brigade Promotions   Major General

Unit: Australian Corps

Promotion date: 10 July 1916

Temporary Lieutenant General

Promotion date: 1 June 1918

Recommendations (Medals and Awards)

Mention in Despatches

Awarded, and gazetted, ‘London Gazette’, second Supplement, No. 29251 (5 August

1915); ‘Commonwealth Gazette’, No. 133 (28 October 1915). Mention in Despatches

Awarded, and gazetted, ‘London Gazette’, Supplement, No. 29455 (28 January

1916); ‘Commonwealth Gazette’, No. 44 (6 April 1916). Recommendation date: 15 October 1915

Companion of the Order of the Bath

Recommendation date: 15 October 1915

Mention in Despatches

Awarded, and promulgated, ‘London Gazette’, 4th Supplement, No 29664 (11 July

1916); ‘Commonwealth Gazette’ No 176 (30 November 1916). Recommendation date: 28 January 1916 and 13 July 1916

Knight Commander of the Order of St.Michael and St.George

Recommendation date: 4 October 1917

Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath

Recommendation date: 1 January 1918

Legion d’Honneur

Recommendation date: 3 October 1918

Croix de Guerre

Recommendation date: 3 October 1918

L’ordre Couronne

Recommendation date: 12 November 1918

Croix de Guerre (Belgium) Recommendation date: 12 November 1918

Distinguished Service Medal (American) Recommendation date: 25 November 1918

Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St.Michael and St.George

Recommendation date: 1 January 1919″ Mention in Despatches

Awarded, and promulgated, ‘London Gazette’, Second Supplement No. 30448 (28

December 1917); ‘Commonwealth Gazette’ No. 57 (18 April 1918). Mention in Despatches

Awarded, and promulgated, ‘London Gazette’ No. 30706 (28 May 1918);

‘Commonwealth Gazette’ No. 165 (24 October 1918). Mention in Despatches

Awarded, and promulgated, ‘London Gazette’ No. 31448 (11 July 1919);

‘Commonwealth Gazette’ No. 124 (30 October 1919). Fate   Effective abroad (still overseas)


Order De la Couronne – Grand Officer

Source: ‘Commonwealth Gazette’ No. 91

Date: 23 July 1919

Croix de Guerre (Belgium)

Source: ‘Commonwealth Gazette’ No. 91

Date: 23 July 1919

Legion D’Honneur ; Grand Officer (France) Source: ‘Commonwealth Gazette’ No. 191

Date: 12 December 1918

Croix de Guerre (France)

Source: ‘Commonwealth Gazette’ No. 119

Date: 17 October 1919

Another good place to also start is the Australian War Memorial’s website. The following are good places to seek information about your soldier:

World War I Nominal Roll

This is the list of all the Australians who served during W orld War I.

World War I Roll of Honour

This is the list of all the Australians who served during World War I and died on active service – either through illness, disease or Killed in Action.

World War I Embarkation Roll

This is a list of all the troopship departures from Australia – find out when and where a soldier departed from.

World War I Troopships

Troopship information – what ships transported the troops and when during World

War I.

Australian Red Cross Wounded and Missing Files

If your soldier was wounded in action, there may be information here about them.

It’s an Honour

This is a good place to find information about any Australian soldier who may have received a decoration for gallantry or meritorious service.

Commonwealth War Graves Commission

And if the soldier was killed in action, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission will assist you with a gravesite location:

Step 2 – Find Their Service Record

You should now have enough information to really get stuck into your research.

The  Australian National Archives contains all the Australian World War 1, World War

2, Korean War (and soon Vietnam War) service records of Australian soldiers, sailors and airmen!

Fire up your favourite web browser and go to this link:

Next click on:  Search as a guest

This will take you to the NAA’s General Search page. From here you will be able to search for a soldier’s service record.

Simply enter his surname and service number and hit Search.

This is where it’s important to have more information than just a name as it will reduce the amount of records you will need to scroll through. Entering a date range such as 1914-1918 or 1939-1945 in the Date field will also help reduce the number of records to go through.

After you have done this, it will take you to the Search Results page where you can click on Display to show the records it found.

Here you can click on View digital copy to look at the original service record.

Note: 99.9% of World War 1 records have been digitised but many World War 2 and Korean War service records are still not digitised. What this means is that you will either have to have to travel to the NAA In Canberra to access them or request a copy (there is a cost involved for them to digitised the records and they will then be available online or get them printed out and sent out – again for a fee).

When you have accessed the service record, you will be able to view attestation (ie enlistment) papers, see where a soldier went, if he was wounded or was sick, what ships he was on and details of hospitalisation and if he was awarded any medals.

Private correspondence from the soldier to the government can also generally be found here (though on occasions you may come across sealed records – these are mostly correspondence or mundane items that have not reached the 30 year mark to be unsealed).

Note: Any offenses committed, punishments received or other activities such as instances of venereal disease are also recorded – not all soldiers were well behaved!

His discharge information or Killed in Action documentation is also found here as are any letters written about the person’s service.

Another great related resource is the National Archive’s Mapping our ANZACs website:

It’s a map interface to Australian service records and again worth checking out.

It should be noted that service records were most hand written and some handwriting can be difficult to read though many also have typed versions as well.

Many soldiers joined the AIF under false or different names so it is something to be aware of if service information is not able to be found for someone who served during World War I.

Step 3 – Identifying units and campaigns

Now that you have accessed their service record, you will have some idea as to what they went through and the next step is to try and expand this by discovering what their role was during the war and where their unit served and what campaigns they were involved in.

This is where the Australian War Memorial’s website comes in handy.

A wide variety of units of the navy, army and air force have served Australia in times of conflict. Here, you will find profiles of some of these. Each includes a short history of the unit, details of its casualties, decorations, battle honours, commanding

officers, and, in the case of technical units, the specifications of the equipment it used. Within each profile you are able to search the Memorial’s collections for items relating to the unit: photographs, works of art, film and sound recordings, personal records, and relics.

This will give you a good overview of the unit. Click here to search:

Note: Not all units will be found here – some of the smaller ones will not be mentioned.

Step 4 – Further Reading

Now that you have a good idea of the campaign they were involved with and in what unit(s) they served in, the next step to gain an expanded knowledge is to peruse a unit history book. Many units (but sadly not all) had books written about their war service either by ex officers, unit associations or historians.

They are the best place to read about the campaigns the unit was in and they usually mention medal recipients, officers and other notable personalities.

Many also contain a nominal roll which is the list of soldiers who served in that unit and a roll of honour (list of the deceased). You will probably find your man (or woman!) listed in the nominal roll.

Many unit histories were published originally in small numbers and are quite rare but now have been reprinted and readily available.

Regimental Books has Australia’s largest range of unit history books which can be securely purchased from their online shop:

Step 5 – War Diaries

It is also worth looking for a unit’s official war diary to gain an understanding of the unit’s activity – many were hand written by the commanding officer as well and these can be a great source of information.

They can be found at the below links:

World War 1 – Official War Diaries

World War 2 – Official War Diaries

Korean War – Official War Diaries

Malaya and Vietnam – Official War Diaries

Step 6 – Finding Photos

Thanks to the internet, there are now many places to search for pictures of a World War I soldier.

Picture Australia

This is a great resource for looking for pictures of a soldier – it will check the Australian War Memorial collection and also those of various state libraries – highly recommended!

Australian War Graves Photo Archives

This is a good place to search for a gravestone picture.


The National Archives trove database of books, images, historic newspapers, maps, music, archives is a great place to search for pictures and possibly even old newspaper articles that may mention a soldier.


ANZACs Online is an online museum which displays photographs, diaries and letters, which relate to the many Australians who served in the Australian Imperial Force during World War I.

The aim of this museum is to allow for these items of our Australian military history are both preserved and be made freely available as a shared resource, for current and future Australian generations alike.

This is a good place to search for pictures of soldiers.

Step 7 – Service Record Interpretation

The services records of Australian soldiers can run from a handful of pages to well over a 100, depending on the rank and service of a particular soldier.

A service record will generally include:

Attestation Papers

The paperwork that was completed by a soldier at the time of enlistment and represents the information gathered by the army and generally includes personal particulars, previous military service, criminal convictions and the state of a soldier’s health.

Discharge Form

All service records will also include a Discharge Form that will include the details of the discharge from the army, casualty information if he was wounded or killed and any medal entitlements.

It is common to see three stamps to represent the issue of the 1914/15 Star, British

War Medal and Victory Medal. Only Gallipoli veterans or soldiers with service prior to

1st January, 1916 are entitled to the 1914/15 Star – for post 1/1/1916 enlistees, this non eligibility is indicated by an N/E written on the 1914/15 star stamp.

Casualty Form Active Service

The casualty forms are where all the details of a soldier’s service can be found – enlistment, training, transport overseas, leave, sickness, wounds, deaths, crimes, punishments, promotions and return to Australia.

These are all hand written but typed copies generally are also found.

Other forms such as court martial proceedings can also be found in a soldier’s service record.

Bonus – Service Record Abbreviations

To assist in the interpretation of service records, the following abbreviations can be found useful.

AAH   Australian Auxiliary Hospital AAMC Australian Army Medical Corps AANS Australian Army Nursing Service AASC Australian Army Service Corps

AB/Dvr          Able Bodied Driver – rank no longer used

ADBD Australian Divisional Base Depot ADH   Australian Dermatological Hospital AFA   Australian Field Artillery

AFC   Australian Flying Corps

AGBD Australian General Base Depot AGH   Australian General Hospital AIBD  Australian Infantry Base Depot

AIF (1st AIF) Australian Imperial Force (WWI)

AIF (2nd AIF)          Australian Imperial Force (WWII) AL Rwy         Australian Light Railway

AM     Aircraft Mechanic – rank no longer used AMGBD        Australian Machine Gun Base Depot AMTS Australian Mechanical Transport Service

AN&MEF      Australian Naval & Military Expeditionary Force

AOC   Army Ordnance Corps

Arty    Artillery

ASC   Army Service Corps

ASH   Australian Stationary Hospital also Australian Special Hospital

AVES Australian Veterinary Evacuating Station

AVH   Australian Veterinary Hospital

AWL  Absent without Leave

BEF   British Expeditionary Force

Bde    Brigade

BGROC        Broad Gauge Railway Operating Company

Bn      Battalion

Bty     Battery

CCS   Casualty Clearing Station Con Dep       Convalescent Depot Coy    Company

Cps    Corps

Cyc    Cyclist

DAC   Division Ammunition Column also Division Artillery Column

DCM  District Court Martial

DD     Details Depot

Den Cps       Dental Corps

Div     Division

DSC   Divisional Supply Column

EEF   Egyptian Expeditionary Force

EMM&B Coy Electrical and Mechanical Mining and Boring Company

Engrs Engineer

F Amb Field Ambulance

FAB   Field Artillery Brigade

Far     Farrier – rank no longer used FCE   Field Company Engineers FTD   Full-time duty

GDD  General Details Depot

GSR   General Service Reinforcements

GSW  Gun Shot Wound

HMAT His Majesty’s Australian Transport

HS     Hospital Ship

HT      Hired Transport also Horsed Transport

ICC    Imperial Camel Corps

Inf      Infantry

LGROC        Light Gauge Railway Operating Company

LH Bde         Light Horse Brigade LHFA Light Horse Field Ambulance LHR   Light Horse Regiment

LHRR Light Horse Reserve Regiment LHTR Light Horse Training Regiment LoC    Lines of Communication

L/Sgt  Lance Sergeant – rank no longer used

M Vet Sec     Mobile Veterinary Section

MD     Military District

MEF   Mediterranean Expeditionary Force (Gallipoli) MG Coy/ Sqn          Machine Gun Company/Squadron M/I     Marched In

M/0    Marched Out

MT/Dvr         Mechanical Transport Driver – rank no longer used

Mtd Reg        Mounted Regiment

NYD   Not Yet Determined/Diagnosed

PO     Petty Officer (Navy) – rank no longer used

Pnrs   Pioneers

PUO   Pyrexia (fever) of unknown origin

RAA   Royal Australian Artillery

RAE   Royal Australian Engineers

RANBT         Royal Australian Naval Bridging Train

RBAA Reserve Brigade Australia Artillery

Regt   Regiment

RMT Unit      Remount Unit

RSD   Railhead Supply Detachment

SAN Sect      Sanitation Section

SB      Siege Battery

Sig     Signals

STS   Sea Transport Staff

S/Smith or SS         Shoeing Smith – rank no longer used

Sjt      Serjeant (variant of Sergeant) Sqn    Squadron

SW     Shrapnel Wound

TMBty Trench Mortar Battery also LTMB, MTMB, HTMB (Light, Medium or Heavy

Trench Mortar Battery TOS   Taken on Strength Tp      Troop

Tun Coy       Tunnelling Company VDC   Volunteer Defence Corps Vet Sect        Veterinary Section

Whr    Wheeler – rank no longer used