Research an Australian veteran's war service
If you want to know more about someone who served, advice from our historians is that retracing their footsteps might be easier than you think.
To start, you'll need to know some basic details, such as:
- full name
- date and place of birth
- war, conflict or peacekeeping mission in which they served
- armed force in which they served
- approximate year they joined.
Some military service records are difficult to find if the spelling does not match or the person registered under a different name. Make sure you have the correct name by checking with state births, deaths and marriages registries.
Depending on when they served, the person's defence records might be available online or on request from either the National Archives of Australia or the Department of Defence.
National Archives of Australia war service records
The National Archives of Australia RecordSearch lets you access many defence service records.
You might find the person's war service records, including original handwritten signatures. Records might contain attestation forms, deployment details and miscellaneous correspondence on each individual's service.
The National Archives also holds the DVA Repatriation Department Case Files in its state repositories. Some veteran records have been digitised. Records include returned soldiers' hospital, medical and pension files so they can be quite voluminous.
Around 40% of World War II Army and Air Force service records include an identity photograph. Most Navy and World War I Army service records don't include photos.
The National Archives is based in Canberra, but there are repositories in each state and territory. You can view digitised records online or pay a small fee to have them copied and mailed to you.
Read the National Archive's guide to Researching War Service.
Most useful for ... people who served in the:
- Commonwealth contingents during the Second South African (Boer) War
- Navy or Army during the First World War
- Navy, Army or Air Force during the Second World War
- merchant navy
- civilian service organisations
- RAAF who were killed or severely wounded in service
- Australian armed forces during the First or Second World Wars with a DVA Repatriation Department case file.
DVA Nominal Rolls
We publish 4 Nominal Rolls of veterans. They list members of Australia's defence forces who served during World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the First Gulf War. At any time, a veteran or a person with the right to act on their behalf can ask to have their details removed, so each list isn't a complete record.
Most useful for … people who served as a member of the Australian armed forces or the Australian Defence Force:
- from 3 September 1939 to 2 September 1945
- from 27 June 1950 to 19 April 1956 either in Korea or in the waters adjacent to Korea
- from 23 May 1962 to 29 April 1975 either in Vietnam or in the waters adjacent to Vietnam
- from August 1990 to September 1991 in the hostilities and associated operations in the Persian Gulf.
Defence service records
The Department of Defence's Access to Service Records is a guide about access to certain classes of records, with useful contact details.
Most useful for … people who served in the Australian armed forces or the Australian Defence Force, from 1914 to current serving members.
Other government sources
DNA identification of unidentified remains
The Australian Army Unrecovered War Casualties (UWC-A) unit is responsible for managing requests to submit DNA to help identify unidentified remains.
The easiest way for a person to register their personal details for DNA matching by submitting a UWC-A online form.
The UWC-A unit will record your details in case human remains are found that might potentially be a relative. However, registering doesn't guarantee that DNA will be requested.
You can contact UWC-A by email email@example.com or phone 1800 019 090.
Search the Commemorative Roll database for details of Australians who died during or as a result of service in wars, conflicts or operations.
This has the same start and end dates as the Roll of Honour, but lists those who weren't members of the Australian armed forces.
Most useful for … people either born in Australia, or with Australia as their last place of residence, who were:
- members of the Air Transport Auxiliary
- members of the armed forces of allied countries
- members of the Merchant Navy
- members of philanthropic organisations
- munitions and other workers
- official war correspondents, historians, photographers or artists.
It's an Honour
The Australian Government's It's an Honour website gives details of Australian awards and honours.
Most useful for … people who received an:
- award in the Imperial honours system, since 1877
- award in the Australian honours system, since 1975
- honorary award in the Order of Australia, since 1980.
Office of Australian War Graves
The Office of Australian War Graves (OAWG), commemorates the 325,000 Australians who have died in war or as a result of their war service. Those outside of Australia and Papua New Guinea (PNG), are maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC).
In Australia, the OAWG cares for 12,000 war dead who are buried in war and civil cemeteries, and the 1000 named on Memorials to the Missing. Some are commemorated in Office of Australian War Graves (OAWG) Gardens of Remembrance.
103,000 War Dead
You can search for those who died in the First or Second World Wars on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) website. The site provides information about 1.7 million graves in 23,000 location across 150 countries.
Most useful for … people of the Commonwealth who served and died during the First and Second World Wars.
Since 1922 Australia provides an official commemoration for those who die post-war of causes related to it. The OAWG cares for more than 325,000 commemorations in over 2,300 cemeteries and crematoria and 10 Gardens of Remembrance in Australia.
You can search for a commemoration to those service man or woman who died post- war.
Most useful for … people who served in the Australian armed forces or Australian Defence Force and died after the war, of causes related to their war service.
Roll of Honour
Records in the Roll of Honour database contain the personal particulars, unit and the date of death of each person. Some records may also contain cause of death, place of death, and cemetery or memorial details. More than half the database records have digital images attached to them from records known as the Roll of Honour circulars.
Most useful for … people who served in:
- pre-1914 conflicts (Sudan, South Africa, China) and died during service as a member of a naval or military unit raised by one of the Australian colonies or, after Federation, by the Commonwealth of Australia, or as a result of that service
- First and Second World Wars and died during service as a member of the Australian armed forces or as a result of that service
- post-1945 conflicts and died during service as a member of the Australian armed forces or the Australian Defence Force or as a result of that service within 2 years of returning to Australia, where the conflict or operation was classified by the Department of Defence as either
- non-warlike, or
- peacetime, and which Council agrees is appropriate for inclusion in the Roll of Honour.
Unit embarkation nominal rolls
The Embarkation Rolls were compiled in about 1919 by the Department of Defence from the AIF attestation forms completed by the individual or a recruiting officer at the time of enlistment.
Data from these rolls were used to create a more searchable database - The AIF Project.
Most useful for … members of the AIF who embarked from Australia for service overseas during World War I.
Red Cross Wounded and Missing
If the person was injured or missing in action, check the Red Cross Wounded and Missing Enquiry. These digitised records are help by the Australian War Memorial.
Army family history research
Australian Army research guide, How to Research Family History, gives advice on successful research of the military service of Australians from the Second South African (Boer) War onwards.
Defence Honours and Awards
Department of Defence website, Defence Honours and Awards, give details of awards issued from the Australian and Imperial honours awards systems from World War I to the current day.
Most useful for … people who received awards and honours related to their service with the Australian armed forces or the Australian Defence Force since 1914.
Wartime records of actions and units
The Australian War Memorial collection holds Official Histories, Rolls & Unit Diaries. Some of these have been digitised. Others are only available in its Canberra Reading Room.
The National Library of Australia's comprehensive Trove website gives access to over 600 million Australian and online resources. It includes books, images, historic newspapers, maps and archives.
Most useful for … newspapers of the period on wartime events, personalities and mentions of serving personnel.
Victorian Research Guide to Australians in World War 1
The State Library of Victoria Research Guide to Australians in World War 1 includes information relevant to Australia, the United Kingdom, other Commonwealth nations and combatant nations. It includes a section on nurses and women's war occupations.
The AIF Project
The Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA) at the University of New South Wales publishes The AIF Project. This database lists the members of the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) who embarked from Australia for service overseas during World War I. It's not a complete list because not all units of the AIF were listed on the Embarkation Rolls, a primary source of information for the database.
Most useful for … people who enlisted in the AIF for service overseas during World War I.
Australian Dictionary of Biography
Australian National University's Australian Dictionary of Biography is a good source of biography for eminent Australians who either served in armed forces or were major political figures during wartime.
Most useful for … people who were prominent in Australia and have died.
Gallipoli: the First Day
The ABC's Gallipoli: the First Day gives good contextual background to the Gallipoli landings.
Most useful for … interviews with Allied and Ottoman Turkish participants in the Gallipoli Campaign 1915.
National Anzac Centre
The National Anzac Centre is affiliated with the Australian War Memorial and sits right above King George Sound in Albany, Western Australia. It commemorates over 41,000 Australians and New Zealanders who departed Western Australia in late 1914 in two large convoys of over 50 ships.
Most useful for … people who travelled on the First and Second Convoys during World War I.
Family history websites
You can gather documentary evidence of someone's past through free and commercial websites, such as:
These websites have catalogued archives from throughout the world: certificates for births, deaths and marriages, electoral rolls, census data, immigration information and military service records.
To access records about Anzacs of New Zealand origin, you can use:
- New Zealand service records
- New Zealand Army Museum – family history research
- New Zealand Archives
- Papers past archive – government and official correspondence.
If your veteran was from the United Kingdom, you can look at the UK National Archives.
Get in touch
If you have any questions or comments you can get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org
You can also reach us at this postal address:
Community Engagement Section
Department of Veterans' Affairs
GPO Box 9998
Brisbane Qld 4001