Speakers Corner - Shining the light on personal war experience

This is a transcript of Speakers Corner: Shining the light on personal war experience – presented by Anne-Marie Condé and Elise Edmond at the National Archives of Australia on 1 November 2015.

Shaun Rohrlach: Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. My name is Shaun Rohrlach. I'd like to welcome you all here today and especially our special guests Anne-Marie Condé, who is our senior curator here at the Archives and Elise Edmonds, one of the senior curators from the State Library of New South Wales, who together brought together the exhibition that we have in our temporary gallery, Life Interrupted: Gallipoli Moments.

I'd like to begin by acknowledging the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet and pay my respects to their elders past and present.

Today's Speakers Corner is the last in the series whilst we've been hosting this special collaboration, entitled 'Shining the light on personal war experiences', and it's a reflection on the current exhibition, Life Interrupted: Gallipoli Moments. It's a partnership exhibition based on an original concept developed by the State Library of New South Wales, part of a much larger exhibition that was on display in Sydney last year, which featured personal records from their collection spanning the duration of the war and included personal diaries, letters and photographs revealing the captivating personal experiences of servicemen and nurses.

The National Archives of Australia has been thrilled to be able to partner with the Library to expand the focus on Gallipoli in this current exhibition, combining aspects of both the National Archives' unique collection to present a fresh take on the Gallipoli story.

The complementary nature of both organisations' collections have aligned nicely with individual words to remind us that everyone was a volunteer and they came from all walks of life to serve their country. The Library's collection of war records is very special and to see them paired with the original service records from the Archives has enriched the visitor experience.

The National Archives' collection of World War I service records are among our most accessed records, which is not surprising. Our website, Discovering Anzacs ‒ and if you're interested in learning more about how to use it and to search up records, take this with you, it's got the web address and some details about what the website's all about ‒ has been one of our key initiatives during the centenary period to increase access to these important and iconic records. It's also allowed the public to help transcribe the material and add additional information, letters, personal diaries, records and related documents and images to the profiles of those servicemen and women, further enhancing their individual stories beyond the narrative accessible through the original records. We've been working closely, obviously, with the State Library with their diaries, but also Queensland State Library and Public Record Office Victoria and State Library of South Australia, as well as partnering with Archives New Zealand in linking up other related records into that collection.

I'd like to now briefly introduce our special guest speakers. Up first is Elise Edmonds, who works as a senior curator at the State Library of New South Wales and received a staff fellowship in 2009 to research the Library's World War I collections. She curated Life Interrupted at the State Library in 2014 and helped co-curate the exhibition on display, Life Interrupted: Gallipoli Moments.

Anne-Marie Condé is our senior exhibitions curator here at the national archives and curated the NAA component of the exhibition for presentation here in Canberra. Anne-Marie is a historian and a curator with experience at the Australian War Memorial, the National Museum of Australia and we're very proud that she's now a member of the National Archives team. She researches and writes about the history of archives and recordkeeping.

Please welcome now Elise to the microphone for her presentation. Thank you.

[Applause]

Elise Edmonds: Thanks Shaun and it's lovely to be in Canberra again and lovely to be able to see some of our State Library material in Canberra.

So what I'm going to do today is just give you a brief background as to why we have such an amazing collection of personal World War I diaries at the State Library ‒ how we got that collection. Then I'm going to bring out some of the diarists that are on display, I'll talk about some of their writings and some of the items that you will see in the gallery space.

So we don’t know for certain how many serving Australians wrote diaries during World War I, but certainly thousands did. Some of these diary collections are now housed in cultural institutions across the country, such as the Australian War Memorial, the National Archives, the national and state libraries. In fact the State Library of New South Wales has recently published one of the, or we think it's the, longest entry on Wikipedia, which lists the known World War I diary collections held in institutions across Australia. So this list now includes some 1154 diary collections, but of course there's still so many out there housed with family members.

So the significant collection of World War I diaries and letters held at the State Library of New South Wales was the result of one man's foresight. Just seven days after the signing of the armistice, the principal librarian of the then Public Library of New South Wales, William Ifould, recommended to the Public Trustees that the Library begin to collect original diaries and letters written by servicemen and women. The Library's European War Collecting Project commenced with advertisements published in Australian and New Zealand newspapers from early December 1918 and you can actually, if you're interested, go into the Trove database of digitised newspapers, narrow down your time period to, say, 1919 and if you do a search on the Mitchell Library, you will see the many and varied advertisements that the Mitchell Library were publishing. They didn't use template advertisements that we would use today, but they were all different advertisements, encouraging servicemen, nurses and the family members to consider selling these personal diary collections to the Library.

So this is a photograph here of William Ifould who was actually the principal librarian for 30 years at the State Library and this is an example of one of the advertisements that was published. It was published in the British Australasian, a British newspaper published, I guess, primarily for expats living in the UK. This is a very detailed advertisement trying to encourage people to deposit their collections.

Basically in each of the advertisements they had this by-line ‒ good prices for good material. So they wanted to purchase quality, detailed, descriptive accounts, so they didn’t want just any diaries and letters to come into the Library, it was a curated process. They wanted, as I said, detailed accounts from all theatres where Australians served, accounts were sought from soldiers, sailors, airmen and nurses of all ranks and each diary collection was appraised and suitable collections purchased. Ifould estimated that purchase prices would vary from £5 to £50 and in fact the most expensive diary collection was for Major General Charles Rosenthal's diaries and he received £75 for his. You will see one of those volumes on display and it's a very large volume that he wrote in.

While the advertisements published in the press varied, each placed significance in collecting the personal diaries. Ifould wanted collections which provided an insight into the men who served, quote, 'their thoughts, feelings and their relationships with each other'. This was the point of distinction from the collecting activities of the Australian War Memorial in that period who were beginning to primarily focus on the unit histories, the memoranda and official records from the war.

One of the advertisements that was published in a South Australian newspaper emphasised this, this personal nature. Quote:

For the personal feelings, doings and the relationships of the men, their thoughts and actions, the diaries or journals kept by the men themselves will be of the greatest value, the trustees of the Mitchell Library recognise the importance of collecting and preserving these records, which is the treasure house of Australia for choice manuscripts and rarest books.

So that was published in the register in 1918.

So this collecting drive, and obviously the war was being referred to then as the European War, this European War collecting drive was the first of its kind and reflected Ifould's strategic forward thinking. Library staff were selective in their acquisitions and they purchased material which complied with agreed criteria. Not many of the diarists reveal really detailed strategic accounts of battles, but they do describe preparing for battles, what it was like in the middle of a barrage, the work of stretcher-bearers rescuing wounded from no man's land and a number of diarists mention friends and acquaintances that they meet behind the lines.

The Library holds correspondence between the Library staff and the servicemen and women or family members, acknowledging the purchase of the material, the price the material was purchased for and also correspondence rejecting some of the collections as being, you know, too brief, merely copies ‒ they placed great importance on the original diaries coming into the library, not re-written copies ‒ and also narratives that were written after the war. They particularly wanted diaries that were written during that time.

So material continued to be purchased into the 1920s. This collection drive went on until probably by the mid-'20s it slowed and then by the end of the 1920s, pretty much ceased. The collection that came in as part of this drive amounts to around 240 collections, so 240 individuals who wrote diaries and sold them to the Library. They range from just one volume to multiple volumes ‒ so one of the diarists we have on display, Archie Barwick ‒ he filled 16 volumes of diaries; he served from '14 to '18.

As I mentioned, these accounts acquired soon after the war take in all theatres of war where Australians served. There are diary and letter collections written by soldiers and sailors who served in New Guinea in September 1914 and witnessed some of the first Australian confrontations and casualties. The formation of the AIF, the departure of the first contingent from Albany to Egypt is represented strongly in the diaries, with descriptions of leaving home, life on board those troop ships, the stories of arriving in Egypt, training in the desert, exploring Cairo and the historical sites. So the diaries document not just the military life, but also provide a really rich social history of Australians abroad, describing travels in the Middle East and Europe, interactions with locals and foreign troops and always comparing that with home.

So the diary collection holds a number of accounts of the landing at Anzac Cove, many of which are included in this exhibition, as well as those who witnessed the landing from ships anchored off the coast. There are accounts from soldiers, signallers, members of the medical corps who treated the early casualties. There are accounts from those who arrived as part of the reinforcements throughout the campaign and the collection also includes an account from nurse Anne Donnell, who was stationed at the 3rd Australian General Hospital on Lemnos Island where many of the wounded were treated.

Our collection also holds accounts of Australians arriving in France in June 1916 and the early battles that the Australians served in on the Western Front, including Fromelles and Pozières, and the collection also holds a number of significant diary collections written by stretcher-bearers, who served in these battles and described their duties of rescuing and treating the wounded. The collection also holds diaries by men of the various light horse regiments who served in the Middle East, the Sinai Peninsula and Palestine and also includes those who served with the Australian Flying Corps.

A number of diary accounts and narratives were purchased from men who had been prisoners of war in Germany. Diary accounts, most of which were actually written up after the war, include those captured during the battles at Fromelles and Bullecourt.

So these diaries provide general readers as well as historians with an extraordinary source of contemporary detail of travelling to war, preparing for battle and how they were mentally and physically affected by warfare. They provide details of the various activities undertaken whilst on leave, highlight the language and the humour of the troops, their beliefs and their observations on foreign cultures, and of course the accounts written by nurses detail their work undertaken in the war and a female response to the conflict.

So William Ifould viewed these diaries, written by ordinary Australians, as being just as historically significant as the journals and the diaries that the Mitchell Library already held by the great explorers, the navigators and the statesmen. He believed that their names will be forever connected with the history of the Commonwealth. So this type of collecting that was happening immediately after the war was a type of memorialisation carried out by the Library. Of course we know it was taking place at a time amidst a large memorialisation that was taking place in Australia after the Great War ‒ the planning and the construction of physical monuments in Australian cities and towns. Ifould wanted to collect the voices of those who had experienced this enormous upheaval, for them to be heard by readers down the centuries.

So for almost 100 years these diary collections have remained in the Library stacks and it was probably in, sort of, the '70s and '80s that some of these collections were microfilmed and some were made available to researchers and students. But it's really only been in the last couple of years that every diary and letter collection has been fully described on our catalogue and in the last 18 months, all of the pages, the diaries, the letter pages, have been digitised as we were preparing for the 100-year commemoration of the First World War.

We've had library volunteers actually transcribe each of these diaries and really, as each of these items have been transcribed, you really then began to hear the voices of these people reveal themselves. They're all individual voices, some are naïve, some are forthright, many are funny, some are heartbreaking. Some were written very plainly, some were aware of the importance of the events and felt inclined to write in high, flowery language.

So when 100 years on, these collections are being released to a very different audience to that that Ifould envisaged in 1918, digitised, transcribed, displayed online, in exhibitions. Recently this collection has been added to the UNESCO Memory of the World Register.

So as we began to make these collections known to the public and to researchers, there's a real interest and a fascination in hearing these personal voices from 100 years ago. These diary accounts allow us to hear the war in the first person. They're accounts from people who were there and who witnessed these events ‒ so it was really in hearing these people's voices ‒ that was the primary aim of this exhibition and also the original Life Interrupted exhibition. It was for them to tell their own stories and to see their characters come through, whether it is the humour, the horror that they were experiencing and we've done that by showing the diaries, by trying to, sort of, reproduce some larger quotes on exhibition panels.

It's about listening to voices from 100 years ago, so accounts that perhaps were written hurriedly whilst on trains or ships, at nights in tents or abandoned French farm buildings, whether they were on leave in London in a hotel room with sheets, you know, they write about that, being so excited by that. Many of them dedicated time each day or every couple of days to sit down and to write up what they had done or witnessed.

So one of the diaries that is on display, the first volume of diaries, is written by a soldier, Archie Barwick and he was a farmer originally from Tasmania and he, sort of, wrote, why write, why fill up these many volumes of diaries? He wrote in the first volume of his diary,' I hope all at home will find something of interest in it for them, that is the reason why I wrote it'. He served from '14 to '18, he was at Gallipoli and the Western Front. His first volume, which is shown there on the slide, was actually written up though, when he was on the ship leaving Gallipoli heading to France. So his first volume is his remembering back to his first year basically as a soldier. But then after that he becomes much more regular in his writing.

He writes of the first couple of days being at Gallipoli, it being very harrowing, as you would expect. He wrote on his third day at Gallipoli:

…it was when we were in a perfect hail of bullets and men were being killed all around me that I felt frightened and I'm not ashamed to say I had a terrible fight with myself that day. One part of me wanted to run away and leave the rest of my mates to face it and the other part said, no, we would stop and see it out at any cost rather than show the white feather. This sort of thing went on for about an hour and a bayonet charge settled the argument for me and I was fairly right after that.

When his mate, Reg Duke, who Archie called Young Duke or Wagga, obviously because he was from Wagga, he was killed very suddenly and I think that's the page that we have open in the exhibition. It's a pretty graphic account, but it's quite extraordinary the way that Archie wrote. He said, he was sniping at the time and Len was observing for him:

…and I was sitting down having my breakfast when without any warning he fell at my feet with half his head blown off. I got a terrible shock, I can tell you, a bigger one that you have any idea of. I couldn't touch him and called someone in else to take him away. I was a good bit downhearted for some time after this. I know I got what things I could of his and sent them home to his people as he asked me to do if ever he got knocked and Len went round to the orderly room and got his revolver, which he promised him if he ever got knocked. Poor Wagga was buried down by the beach and this much I know, that a clergyman read the burial service over him. But try as I would, I could never find his grave. He was as game a lad as ever looked through the sights of a rifle and I shall never forget him.

So Archie filled 16 volumes of diaries. He mailed 15 volumes back home as he completed them and the last volume he brought home with him in January 1919. He ends his final volume when the troop ship is due to dock in Melbourne.

Archie's diaries, while particularly detailed and well-written are, you know, the typical World War I diaries that we have in the collection. He chronicles his experiences away at war and these diarists really understood the significance of where they were and they want to document it for themselves, for their families, their part in the Great European War. They describe their travels, as I said before and there are all these new experiences and great adventure, so different to home and it was all worth reporting back to the family in detail and to reminisce on in later years.

It's also this idea of connection to home, so war separates families and it was the written correspondence which linked those serving on the front lines with those at home. So with the soldiers and nurses serving, letters were yearned for, and the wait for letters and the joy of finally receiving letters much written about. At the front line and also at home in the suburbs and regional hamlets, letters would be re-read, sometimes learnt by heart and carefully hidden away with the other personal treasures like pressed flowers, leaves from gardens back home, prayer books and lucky tokens.

Sister Anne Donnell, a nurse from Adelaide, as I mentioned before, served with the 3rd Australian General Hospital on Lemnos and then she went on to serve in Egypt, in the UK and in France at a clearing station. She wrote circular letters back home to her Adelaide friends, which they passed between themselves. At the beginning of a first letter home on the troop ship, she wrote:

…it's May 1915 ‒ well when I said farewell to all my dear friends in South Australia on the 20th, I secretly made up my mind that I would set aside each day some time to write a few lines. First I must tell you that now we have left dear old free Australia, all our letters will be censored, so have no idea when these lines will reach their destination. It's rather agreeable to feel the air of military discipline all around one, but I'll draw the line at my diary being read by others than my friends.

So originally intended to be read by an intimate audience of family and friends, these diaries became publicly accessible, historical documents when they were acquired by the Library. So what was originally private became public.

So on display are not just diaries, but also photographs and watercolour drawings. My final example to talk about here, from our collection are the photographs by photographer Henry Charles Marshall. We have reproduced many of them in the exhibition space and they were originally in a photograph album, which is also in the exhibition. These photographs were by a professional photographer. He was working at the Grace Bros photograph studio in Sydney and he decided to enlist in August 1914. These photographs mirror many of the diary accounts. Henry took photographs of his friends at the training camp at Kensington, but he also had friends photographing him. He himself features in a number of photographs throughout the album and each time he appears, he captions himself as 577, which was his enlistment number. You can see him here in this third image ‒ he's standing up at the back and he always wears a ID medallion around his neck.

He's also shown in his album modelling his soldier's kit before departing for Gallipoli. This is him here and he really likes to document every facet of the soldier's experience, including marching in the deserts around Cairo, taking photographs of his friends climbing the pyramids and also in the trenches at Gallipoli. Also, when he's in Egypt, he has a photograph of himself taken developing some of his photographs there, in this last slide.

So he created his first album of photographs which document his soldiering from Kensington in Sydney to Cairo. He wrote captions for 356 photographs, which are fantastic because they often describe who else is in the photograph, or where they are. The remaining 167 images which include arriving at Gallipoli and his last days fighting on the peninsula are not captioned. The last photograph of himself shows him sitting in his dugout shaving, and he was documenting life at Gallipoli right up until the end. So that's a few more photographs there. I think that photograph's actually taken practising the landing a few days before it actually occurred and then the photographs of men in the trenches at Gallipoli.

So he created his first album of photographs which document his soldiering from Kensington in Sydney to Cairo. He wrote captions for 356 photographs, which are fantastic because they often describe who else is in the photograph, or where they are. The remaining 167 images which include arriving at Gallipoli and his last days fighting on the peninsula are not captioned. The last photograph of himself shows him sitting in his dugout shaving, and he was documenting life at Gallipoli right up until the end. So that's a few more photographs there. I think that photograph's actually taken practising the landing a few days before it actually occurred and then the photographs of men in the trenches at Gallipoli.

Among his personal effects mailed back to his family in Tasmania was a brown paper parcel containing a photograph album, camera film and three printing frames. So we know this because it was on the papers of course that are held here at the National Archives, so it's a perfect blend of research here with these two institutions.

Several newspaper reports were published in July and August lamenting these early deaths at Gallipoli and Henry's portrait is among nine that were published in the Sydney Morning Herald on 20 July 1915 under the headline, Heroes of the Dardanelles. The Sydney Mail published a letter written by a captain in Henry's unit to his father in Tasmania, also a photograph and he said:

I have the greatest respect for your son who was of a modest and retiring nature and throughout the campaign, the trials of troopship and camp life, he did his duty without a single complaint and, moreover, always bore himself as a gentleman. Although his death is to be much regretted, I can assure you, you have the greatest and best reason to be proud of your son and that he lived a true British gentleman and died fighting for his country.

So just to end, the Library is, as I said, continuing to contribute to many of the World War I commemorations. If you're interested, we have created a World War I website and we've released all of the completed transcriptions of the diaries online. That is what it looks like. I think there's a terminal in the exhibition space that has that, along with the National Archives' websites up. We have recently built a transcription tool, which allows you to actually keyword search across all of the transcribed diaries. So most of our diaries have, indeed, been transcribed now, although we are slowly acquiring more, so it's really sort of a never ending process.

So this transcription tool allows us to interrogate the diaries in many ways and so hopefully it will bring more research to light as we go on continuing to research. That's what it looks like, you can let me know if you need any help or contact the Library and we can help you further with searching it.

So just to end, William Ifould's legacy continues to live on today. We're continuing to remember the men and women who served and whose diary and letter collections were acquired almost 100 years ago. A kind of living memorial, this collection remains significant and powerful for Australians today, and we hope that you will enjoy and be amazed and impressed by some of these diaries that we have on display. Thank you.

Anne-Marie Condé: Thanks Elise, can you hear me okay? Cool. So as you'll have heard, the Life Interrupted exhibition just down here, down the corridor there, focuses on personal experience of a small group of Australians on Gallipoli. Diaries, letters and albums from the State Library are matched with the service records held here at the National Archives in Canberra. Elise has described for us how the State Library collected these records, so I thought I would do a similar exercise from the National Archives' perspective, to tell you something about the history of the service records.

It might be a bit of a surprise to hear that archives have histories of their own, but they do. Archives aren't born under a cabbage leaf and they certainly don't arrive at the repository without any human intervention. So creating, collecting, preserving and making records available is a very human endeavour, worth knowing about and maybe worth stopping to think about.

So just briefly, I'm not going to talk about the content of the service records particularly, but I thought I'd run through them a little bit just so we all know what we're talking about. They are, as Shaun said, probably the most used records at the Archives, known internally and unromantically as B2455. The records were transferred to the Archives in 1993 from the Department of Defence. They are personal dossiers which contain the essentials of a person's wartime service. The principal types of records include ‒ this is an attestation paper, it's the form that a person first filled out when they enlisted, contained some personal details, the result of a medical examination, a signing that they'd sworn the oath to serve in the AIF for the duration of the war. Then that record was further used to record movements, promotions, demotions, honours and awards and so on, related to that individual.

This is, by the way, this is my grandfather's. I thought I'd just use my moment here and just bring up my grandfather's record, which is a fairly typical one. This is the service and casualty form, otherwise known as form B103. This provides basic details about a person's service and casualty history in Australia and overseas, and you often see duplicates of those, handwritten ones and typed ones.

Then after that, there's a very wide range of other documents, not necessarily all consistently kept across all of the 376,000 or so files. They include notifications to families of the whereabouts and fate of a member of the AIF and I admit, I didn't research this particular individual, but I had a bit of a nerd-out moment and located the original that was sent to his family, which is at the War Memorial and the carbon, which is at the National Archives here.

[Laughter]

Sometimes there's correspondence, or quite often there's correspondence from members of the person's family. It's not necessarily voluminous, although occasionally it is. This is again from my grandfather's: 'this is to certify that I give my permission for my son George to go to the war', signed by his parents. I strongly suspect that George actually wrote it out himself and then got them to sign it, but maybe that's not true. Certainly Laura's handwriting is different from the other.

So it's important to say that the records are not like a daily diary of a person's service. It's not a diary, you can't trace their experience from day to day or month to month and the documents are not generally in chronological order. Most researchers use them today in conjunction with other records, some held at the War Memorial, in the state libraries and archives, and some derive from their own homes and districts. This way we can build up a fairly rich picture of the service of an individual.

Well, the history of the service records is inextricably linked with the records offices that created them, the chief of which was known as Base Records. Base Records was a unit of the Department of Defence in Melbourne. It was established in September 1914 within weeks of the outbreak of war. It was located at Victoria Barracks on St Kilda Road. It began with a staff of three. By mid-1915 there were 55 staff and at its peak, there were over 300, including 133 women. So these images will give you a sense of the scale of the operation. These are in the War Memorial's collection. I think they were all taken in 1919 which was the busiest year for Base Records.

I like to imagine, if you know it, the Budawang Building out at Exhibition Park where the Lifeline book fair is held, that filled with records gives you some sense of the scale of the operation here. There's some women at work, obviously in yet another large building and there's a couple of these shots where the military staff are being paraded there. So these would all be clerks. A poor shot there, but that is the women. Something's happened to that photograph obviously.

So Base Records kept copies of each person's attestation paper and was responsible of handling all the records we looked at earlier, queries relating to members of the AIF, casualties, wills, medals, personal effects. The records were also used to provide information later to the Repatriation Department when former members made a claim for benefits.

Now, presiding over all this was Major James Malcolm Lean. If that name seems familiar, it's because you might have looked at service records and seen his name there as officer in charge. Major Lean's name or initials would have appeared on millions of letters, cablegrams and memoranda and I think these little squiggles that you see on both of those, I think, yes, I think those are his initials. Lean was a record keeper of extraordinary talent and dedication, a hero of the war in his own right and held in high esteem amongst archivists and historians today. This picture was taken in 1919, he's still in his office, the war had ended but his work was far from done.

Born in Sydney, Lean was a member of the Permanent Military Force before the war and a military staff clerk. He was appointed to Base Records at the very start, one of those three originals and he served in that role throughout the war until he left the army in 1922. He was the man whose organisation kept Australian families in touch with their soldier overseas in an official sense. Not only was he responsible for the hugely complex recordkeeping system that tracked down every member of the AIF, he was the public face of the organisation as well. His name would have been known in hundreds of thousands of homes across the country.

In September 1915 The Age sent a journalist to Base Records to observe the daily routine at the enquiry room at Victoria Barracks. In a drab and undignified room, an officer sat for 12 hours each day receiving members of the public, mostly women. A, quote, 'constant stream of stricken, broken humanity, the journalist noted, all hoped for news of loved ones'. The journalist noticed 'a mother with a baby who was enquiring if it was just possible that her Ted, reported missing and later killed, was still alive. The officer treated her with great tact and sympathy, but she left sobbing bitterly, the child clutched despairingly at her breast'.

Apart from Base Records in Melbourne, there were a series of records offices in the theatres of war overseas. It was a network. Just for the moment I'll just skip back to one of these so we sit on that slide for a little while. Base Records received its notifications of the movements and fate of members of the AIF from parallel recordkeeping offices overseas. Here I acknowledge the work of archivist Paul Dalgleish, a former member of staff here, who has undertaken some detailed research into this system. So there was an intermediate base at Cairo, a records section at AIF administrative headquarters in Horseferry Road in London and that's in Westminster, an Australian records section at 3rd Echelon GHQ in Alexandria in Egypt, and the same in Rouen in France. So the service records which so many of us use for various research purposes over the years are the final result of information flowing through this structure.

While the records can look challenging to read and understand, in fact they give us only the merest glimpse of the complexity involved in administering personnel in the AIF. We might wonder, for instance, why there are at least two copies of an attestation paper on a file. This was simply because a copy was retained in Australia and two copies went overseas with a person's unit and were kept in the records section of the theatre he was engaged in.

As the war progressed, many refinements to the recordkeeping system were introduced. In 1916 in London, the records were divided into 'A' and 'B' sections. 'A' was for effective personnel, ie those who were in combat and 'B' referred to non-effective personnel, those were ill, wounded, missing, prisoner of war, discharged in Britain or Australia or who had been killed. Obviously the administration of 'B' cases was different to 'A' cases, hence the division, but even the 'B' cases were later subdivided further to deal specifically with different circumstances. This included dealing with records related to courts-martial and venereal disease; a whole section in London was devoted to just recording forfeiture of pay of soldiers who had contracted venereal disease.

Eventually it became necessary to create an extra section to create systems to mediate between flow of information from theatres of war and the primary records at Base. The need to update attestation papers became so physically cumbersome that intervening systems, card indexes, were created to record information that could be transferred later to primary records.

The records didn't just track individuals. The staff compiled statistics and casualty lists for publication in the press. But with changing recordkeeping procedures, error crept in, generating a need for constant checking and auditing of records. It's enough to make your head spin, or least it does mine, so I'll stop there and consider what happened when the war ended.

As far as we know, most of the records kept overseas were returned to Australia and housed at Base Records in Melbourne, although there is a hint that some records destruction took place before the records came back. In 1919, probably Base Records' busiest year, it consolidated records from all these sources and continued the business of issuing and despatching medals, plaques and scrolls and dealing with myriad other matters.

In 1922 when Major Lean resigned, he reported that his team was still dealing with thousands of letters per week, ranging from burial information, photographs of graves, repatriation matters and, as he put it, enquiries on every conceivable subject affecting the AIF. Base Records then held 750,000 personal files and a whopping 1.5 million correspondence and policy files.

Although the work declined, the records were still used for decades after the war for a range of administrative purposes. Ex-soldiers who needed to prove aspects of their service would write for written confirmation. Eligibility for medals and other entitlements still needed to be proven. In the 1960s a special medallion was struck for everybody who had served on Gallipoli and this is a letter from my grandfather then back in Hobart, requesting the issue of his.

In 1941, Base Records shifted from Melbourne to Canberra surprisingly, and was housed in the basement of the Australian War Memorial. Apparently this was to facilitate the compilation of the Memorial's Roll of Honour and there's a whole other story. I'm a bit unclear about all those details, but it's the subject of some research I'd like to do in the near future.

In 1948, the records office merged with the equivalent office that had been set up for the Second World War and the agency became known as Central Army Records Offices or CARO. You might have heard of CARO. In the early 1950s it appears to have returned to Victoria Barracks and this is where the First World War service records were housed just prior to transfer to the National Archives in 1993, so we're almost back to the present.

Over the years, it appears that Base Records disposed of perhaps a considerable quantity of records. Some disposal seems to have occurred in 1931 and the move to Canberra may also have promoted some more records disposal ‒ just as you do when you move house or you move office, you feel like you need to slim down a little bit. As regards to the service records, the files themselves demonstrate that duplicates from overseas were amalgamated onto one file, but I've also heard anecdotally from some historians who have used the files intensively that certain sorts of documents might have been culled at some point. It may have been that secondary documents were disposed of in order to obtain a basic record of service for each person, which was adequate for establishing identity and checking entitlements and nothing else.

The transfer to the National Archives began a new chapter in the history of the records and indeed probably a new chapter in the history of the National Archives. It took some time to organise the storage and preservation of the records and the listing onto the RecordSearch database. The discovery of insecticide amongst the records caused some delay while cleaning was done. There was considerable interest from the public, though and from the beginning, a special unit was set up to answer public enquiries and requests for photocopies. Some of you may remember that process. You couldn't see the records, you could just write in, fill in a form and fill in a credit card thing and eventually a photocopy would arrive in the post.

Digitisation was the obvious answer to this high level of demand. The task was not complete until the mid-2000s. In 2007 it was promoted by the National Archives as a gift to the nation by the Howard government. This is a few images from the launch here in Parkes ‒ John Howard studying the originals and looking on as students discover the digital versions.

Also at this time, the National Archives launched a new website dedicated entirely to service records, separate from its corporate website, known as Mapping our Anzacs. This matched the item descriptions of the files, which include the place a person enlisted and was born, onto Google Maps, so it allows for geospatial searches, as well as by name. This was a big step forward. For the first time, people could easily track down everyone who was born or enlisted in a particular town or suburb or district, including those born overseas. It was a bonanza for local historians and schools. It was also possible for registered users to upload their own stories and photographs.

So this brings us to the present. Shaun mentioned Discovering Anzacs, the website, which is the one that has now replaced Mapping our Anzacs. It preserves the mapping functionality that Mapping our Anzacs had, but includes other military related records series and enhanced crowd source capability and education tools for students. Very significantly, the equivalent series of service records from Archives New Zealand is included. You can see the logo up there on the top right. This makes this a truly Anzac collaboration.

Well to end ‒ just one last slide there of an event that occurred here last year, just in this room, when some students from Telopea Park school just down the road came in to look at service records under the provisions of a particular program we were running at the time.

To end, I'll just tell you a little bit more about Major Lean. He was never himself a member of the AIF, ironically; he remained an officer of the Permanent Military Force. The unevenness of the system was such that some members of his staff were better off than him. His chief clerk received £50 more a year than he did and Lean had to fight to carry over leave that he was unable to take due to pressure of work. He received an MBE in recognition of his service however, and in 1920 a Queensland newspaper wrote admiringly of Major Lean, that he could unfold a thousand stories of heroism, sacrifice, loyalty or despair. After his retirement in 1922, he returned to Sydney where he was born and took up some business interests. He died in 1931, aged only 53.

The power of digital access to records is amazing. Recordkeeping is all about making data available in whatever form is required for administrative and business purposes and I'm sure, or at least I hope that Major Lean would have been amazed and delighted at the possibilities. I'm pleased to see that the service records he helped create are now such a critical source for the study of Australian history. Thank you.

[Applause]

Shaun Rohrlach: Thanks very much Elise and Anne-Marie. Does anyone have any questions?

Female: Thank you both. I was thinking about the current [situation].

Elise Edmonds:Well I think the difference between capturing contemporary serviceman's diaries and those who served in Iraq, Afghanistan, Timor, the difference for us at the State Library is that now there's the Australian War Memorial. So whereas when the State Library began collecting in 1918, 1919, really the War Memorial hadn't been established really. Bean was out there collecting. So really World War II, the State Library has got some material, particularly material written by men who were at Changi, so we still have some amazing collections of World War II, but really after World War II, the State Library sort of stops collecting much more material and so really it's the Australian War Memorial has been collecting of course, that's their main reason for being, is to remember and collect.

So I know that the War Memorial is obviously looking at ways to collect. I mean I think there's been talk of, you know, Facebook and Twitter and collecting social media examples and emails. I remember, you know, they've had some amazing exhibitions in the past couple of years where there's actually been on display email conversations between people who had been serving, a family member in Iraq, et cetera.

So as time moves on, we still have to collect and it's whether we collect now just in the digital format. So the State Library in Sydney, we've got all sorts of projects on how we capture 21st-century people's documents and papers which are now essentially on computers. So how we collect that and how they still will be accessible in 50, 100 years' time so that researchers of the future will be able to access those computer files. So it's an ongoing big challenge for all of our memory institutions, is to capture the material that's being produced today. Yeah, I hope that answers.

Female: Thanks very much, it was a really interesting presentation from both of you. My grandfather was number 400 who enlisted, from north-eastern Victoria. I just wanted to ask ‒ I did miss the beginning and you may have covered this ‒ but does the War Memorial have copies of everything in the Mitchell Library or will we have to go to both places?

Elise Edmonds: Yeah, I'd definitely try both. So as I was saying, the Library, who collected these diaries, they made sure they were the original diaries, so the original diaries there. I think in some cases the War Memorial may have copies of some diaries that might be held. The original is in the State Library, but I think in most cases they're unique collections. So I think you'd want to try searching the State Library's manuscripts catalogue, as well as the Australian War Memorial's online catalogue.

Anne-Marie Condé: So the National Archives doesn't collect personal records except in very confined circumstances, so it does not collect in this particular area. I can speak on behalf of the War Memorial. The War Memorial's collecting program for First World War records started in the late 1920s, by which time a lot of returned men had moved on in their lives. So it found it a little bit harder to collect. It didn't buy, it requested donations. So there was a very significant difference in the quality of the request. The Memorial was asking people to donate ‒ it wasn't about money at all. It did collect ‒ it was broader, it wasn't quite so fussy about the records it took. It would take almost any scrap of paper that had been reproduced during the war, obviously letter collections as well as diaries.

However, probably the biggest difference is that the War Memorial would collect things and if the person wanted it back, the War Memorial would copy and return the original. So there's a compromise in the quality in that respect, in that we don’t know what the original was like, what it contained, what might not have been copied from the original that was lent to the Memorial. On the other hand, it probably collected more, I think, over a period of about 1929 up to the outbreak of the Second World War. I think by that stage it had collected more collections and probably of a broader nature. For instance, the State Library, I think, wasn't tremendously keen on records related to travel and tourism and Cairo and that sort of stuff and the War Memorial didn't care about that. It would take anything, probably because its collectors, John Treloar and Charles Bean and Arthur [Beasley] were themselves ex-soldiers. They knew more about the experience personally and they had a greater knowledge of what those records were going to contain and what their value might be, much broader sort of approach.

Male: I'd just like to ask, firstly the State Library collection, is that ‒ I noticed one of the advertisements seemed to be in South Australia, so is the collection national or is it just New South Wales?

Elise Edmonds: Yes, that's a good question and sorry, I didn't say that, but yes it's indeed a national collection. That European collecting project encompassed the whole of Australia and so we have diaries from each state and territory and also ‒ well state ‒ and also New Zealand. We've got six Kiwi diaries, so yes, it is indeed national. However, as we've gone on in time, now the State Library does acquire through donation still World War I diaries from families, but we're now concentrating just on New South Wales.

Female:Yep, I'd like to echo the other people's thanks for great talks and very interesting talks, and I've used most of your collections and really appreciate the digitisation. Just following up, I think you mentioned there was a crowd sourcing website, whether in fact this is addressing the linking up, because there's lots of little projects around and whether there's a chance to link up the references.

Shaun Rohrlach: So obviously within Elise's slide show, she showed the State Library World War I diaries. There's an access point within the exhibition, but that's a publicly available website. So the digitised copies of the diaries are there. The project that we've got in place is Discovering Anzacs, which Anne-Marie mentioned.

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