Tracing a Relative or Friend's Military Service?

This is a brief guide as to how to find Australian military records. However, for overseas visitors the principles remain the same. The words in bold describe items which are common to all military forces.

Most people who want to research a Relative or Friend's Military Service want two aspects revealed. They firstly want the subject’s service record given in detail, and then they want the subject’s military unit history, including battles, deployments, and movements, explained so they can see where the person’s career took them.

In most countries military forces don’t permanently keep their records themselves. When a serving member leaves – which includes fatalities – the service record is given to a central archives. There is often a caveat attached to the service record, saying it may not be accessed while they are alive, or even after they have died, without family consent. This is to protect their privacy. Official secrecy about how operations were carried out may preclude usage. Eventually though, most records become “Open”, which means anyone can see them

In Australia the best place to find Service Records is in the National Archives of Australia. At www.naa.gov.au they operate an excellent website which allows online searches. Some service records have already been Accessed, meaning they have are Open and have been viewed, and you can see the photographed pages online, and also print them. Some are Closed, meaning you will have to pay a fee (possible online) to have the record physically found, photographed, and placed online.

At www.awm.gov.au you can access records of the Australian War Memorial (AWM). They hold listings of all Australian who have died in all conflicts. This is a summary rather than a service record.

At www.ww2roll.gov.au/ you can visit the World War II Nominal Roll. This holds listings of the over one million Australians who served in WWII. It helps if you have the date of birth and/or the Service Number of the person concerned. A Certificate of Service can be printed. This is also where you can request usage of a Service emblem. All veterans who served in the Royal Australian Navy, the Australian Army or the Royal Australian
Air Force are entitled to have their Service emblem/badge inscribed on their private memorial. However, permission must be obtained via the online form submission service.

Military unit histories can be obtained from the official records, compiled as books, which governments usually commission after a war. Australia’s histories date from the Boer War, and can be obtained through libraries. For WWII, 22 volumes, written by 14 authors, were published by the AWM over a 25-year period between 1952 and 1977. They are listed at http://www.awm.gov.au/histories/second_world_war/ 

Bear in mind that compilation of your subject’s history is going to require some judgment and considerable thought. For example, although service members become part of a unit, they are often detached temporarily for training, sickness, delay etc. Some specialized personnel such as commandoes carry out very small operations which require further analysis – and perhaps interviews with survivors – to complete.

The Darwin Military Museum has staff personnel who can perform Australian service research for a fee. A one page Service Record compilation can be completed for $90. A Service Record compilation with relevant military unit history costs $150.  A form can be found here. Payment may be made at Reception or mailed to us.