The Prime Minister, the Honourable John Howard today (11 April 2007) launched A Gift to the Nation, a project that gives Australians online access to the service files of 376,000 men and women who served during World War I.
The three-year project by the National Archives of Australia has digitised 12.3 million individual pages. The gift is twofold: free online access to the service files for all Australians, and their preservation for future generations.
While most Australians have relatives who served during World War I, many have never had the opportunity to discover the details. They can now download entire service files, which sometimes include personal letters.
'With these records online, people can use them at a time and place of their own choosing,' said Ross Gibbs, Director-General of the National Archives of Australia.
'Our World War I records are among the most requested documents in the National Archives’ collection. To protect and preserve them, we made a decision to digitise them so that access is primarily online.'
As the digitised records have gradually become available, family and historical researchers have expressed their appreciation. From isolated Australians 'you are a godsend to us bushies' to family historians 'very emotive stuff … seeing my great-grandfather’s letter' and professors of history 'very useful and important information', many have welcomed the project.
The National Archives’ project included a three-step process: cataloguing unregistered service files, storing them in archivally-sound folders and scanning the individual pages.
The National Archives’ collection preserves the history of interaction between the Australian Government and the Australian people for future generations. It is committed to making its records as accessible as possible on www.naa.gov.au.
Elizabeth Masters (02) 6212 3957.
Selected photographs and images of service files are available on CD and online for use by the media at http://www.naa.gov.au/Publications/media_releases/mediaimages/ww1/index.html
Date of release: 11 April 2007