first steps in researching family military service records

My paternal grandfather and maternal great-uncle both served in the First World War.  An increasing amount of source material is now readily available to begin to understand some of the experiences of soldiers at war.  Some links to those sources are provided here to assist new researchers to discover their own family stories.

Alfred Buckler

George Elliott 1889-1917

George Elliott

The National Archives of Australia holds the personal service records of Australians at war.  Many of those records are digitised and available for download.   This mine of information can include movements from country to country, training, periods of leave, wounds suffered, hospitalisation periods, promotions and letters from family members particular to the soldier’s service.

The personal service record of a soldier only includes so much information as to specific whereabouts.  However, knowledge of the Division in which someone served can lead you to the battles and incidents of the war your ancestor may have experienced.

Alfred Buckler’s service record includes details of the Military Cross he was awarded.

Once you’ve got some clues, you can take your research to another level.

Charles Edwin Woodrow (C E W) Bean, compiled the multi-volume Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918.   The military sections of old and new book stores provide indexes to scour.  I found the following reference to A J Buckler in Volume VI (The AIF in France: May 1918 to The Armistice) of Bean’s magnum opus.  It relates to the Battle of Hamel on 4 July 1918.

Engineers of the 4th Field Company with specially trained platoons from the infantry constructed strong points in that alignment. Footnote 77. The 4th Brigade was to have dug three of these points; but the allotted platoon of the 15th Bn apparently became involved in the heavy fighting at Pear Trench, where Lt E S Davidson (Neutral Bay NSW), the engineer officer detailed to direct the digging of the northern post, was killed.  After his NCO had been wounded, a sapper R A Miller (Sydney) helped with the fortification of the front line.  Lts R S Carrick (Sydney) and A J Buckler (Sydney) duly saw to the completion of the other two positions.”

My mother’s uncle George Elliott was 28 years old and serving as a stretcher bearer when he found himself right in the thick of the Battle of Messines.  The long planned assault on the ridge in the early hours of 7 June 1917 saw 19 huge mines detonated within 20 seconds.  The blast was so loud that it was heard across the English Channel and in Ireland.

According to Robert Likeman’s Men of the Ninth – a History of the Ninth Australian Field Ambulance 1916-1994, ambulance bearers encountered heavy shell-fire on the first day.  George  suffered gun shot wounds to his neck and both knees and succumbed to those wounds on 8 June.

The Australian War Memorial now has Red Cross records available on its Biographical Database.  This note in George’s Red Cross file demonstrates the work of the Red Cross in following up details for the grieving families.

Details of his grave in Pont D’Achelle are also available at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission site.

Service records provide all sorts of interesting information.  I won’t go into the details here, but this link hints at the reason for other medical treatment George received before his death.  Frankly, if I’d been him …..

If you’re browsing for your own interest, have a look too at The National Library’s Trove : Australian Newspapers 1803-1954 – a source of news of battles, awards and, sadly, family notices of loss.

library and museum blogs – finds worth the browse

Trove Australia provides access to thousands of articles, pictures, photographs, book references, maps, diaries and more.  The digitised newspaper collection was the inspiration for establishing this blog.

If you ever doubted the value of libraries (and I sincerely hope that none of this blog’s readers fall into this category), take a stroll through the internet for the wealth of material that gets shared via the blogs of libraries, museums and galleries across Australia.

A  quick browse this morning unearthed these treasure troves.

Who were the first retailers in Fortitude Valley in Brisbane?    The John Oxley Library blog.


What was the first state funeral ever held in Australia?    State Library of Victoria – Such Was Life blog.


Why a duck, Michael Leunig?    State Library of Victoria – Arts blog.


What was the meaning of embroidered floral postcards sent back from the front in World War I?   Australian War Memorial blog.

Australian War Memorial RC06231

What sort of toys did children play with in the 1940s in country Australia? – Powerhouse Museum, Sydney – Inside the Collection blog.


billy carts

Image: Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum

The billy-goat cart, shortened to billy cart, was one of Australia’s favourite make-yourself-amusements.  Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum has a billycart in its collection and a comprehensive historical background is available in the object’s Statement of Significance.  A couple of articles from the 1930s appear below.  I can’t help feeling less than warm towards the ‘socially important resident’ whose influence on Parliament might put a stop to some fun in the streets of Elizabeth Bay.  Australian Women’s Weekly – 10 February 1934.  I love that the police were foiled from solving billy cart crime because the kids weren’t moving the stolen goods on.  Sydney Morning Herald – 26 May 1932

Unfortunately though, many newspaper reports about billy carts are of injuries and fatalities that occurred as a result of collisions with motor vehicles or falls off fast moving carts.

Sydney Morning Herald 26 May 1934

Australian Women’s Weekly – 10 Feb 1934

On wildlife and other “goods” for sale

Fortunately these days trade in Australian wildlife is highly regulated and in many cases prohibited.   This item appeared in 1845, before such rules and laws were in place to protect native species.  Follow ups on Mr Roach and his business lead to a more disturbing find.

Sydney Morning Herald – 27 January 1845

In 1843, J W Roach was advertising his taxidermy museum and aviary in the Australasian Chronicle. It read in part:

“The collection already contains, amongst others, some hundred specimens of the birds and animals of Australia, set up, and arranged in their most natural and pleasing forms. The want of such a repository has long been felt by the scientific and curious, and J. W. R. trusts that his collection, to which he respectfully invites the attention of the public, will meet the approbation of all who are engaged in the interesting and pleasing study of the most beautiful and perfect works of the Creator.”

In 1849, Roach was leaving the colony and instructed auctioneer Charles Newton to sell household goods and stock in trade.  Sydney Morning Herald – 3 September 1849

Items and ‘curiosities’ for sale from his museum and aviary are found in the auction notice. Distressingly, listed near the bottom of this ad is this – “a number of skulls of the natives of the various islands which will be found well worthy the attention of phrenologists

No words can atone for some past behaviours in the name of ‘science’.