Researching war service

Discovering Anzacs website
Discovering Anzacs – The National Archives of Australia and Archives New Zealand commemorate the Centenary of Anzac.

Finding a service record

The National Archives of Australia holds Army, Navy and Air Force service records, which include service during World War I and World War II.

The easiest way to find a service record is to conduct a basic search using our RecordSearch database. You may find relevant records by entering the person's surname and service number into a basic search. You can find a person's service number by searching the relevant nominal rolls.

Ordering a copy

When you find the service record, if it is not digitised, you can purchase an online copy by selecting the 'request copy' link on the right side of the screen above the item title. If your search returns multiple items, you will first need to select the relevant item.

Viewing in a reading room

If you wish to view the original record in the reading room in which it is held (see the 'location' field of the item), go to the Ask us a question page on the home page and submit an 'advance request to view records' form. If an item has an access status of 'not yet examined', you will first need to submit an application requesting the item be examined for public release, which can take up to 90 business days.

Viewing online records

Copies of World War I Australian Imperial Force service records and some World War II army, navy and air force service records are available online. To save or print a PDF copy of an item for which there is already an online copy:

  • go to our SODA website and then to the 'barcode retrieval' page
  • enter the relevant item barcode (this is shown in the 'item barcode' field of the relevant RecordSearch item)
  • select the 'export PDF' icon (a page with an arrow on it) to the right of the online copy.

The service records page of the Archives' website includes further information about relevant records.

Other sources

Service records set out the essentials of a person's service in the forces. Service records were used to administer the movements of personnel and were not intended to be an everyday account of a service person's activities. However, you may find such information in the following sources.

If a person served in the Army or Navy during World War I or World War II, the Australian War Memorial may hold relevant unit war diaries (Army) or Reports of Proceedings (Navy). For information about these records, as well as online copies of selected records, use the following links:

The Archives holds Air Force unit histories (as series A9186). Items in this series are listed on RecordSearch. You may be able to find an entry for the relevant unit history by conducting a basic search for 'RAAF unit history [unit name]'.

What do the abbreviations mean?

The Discovering Anzacs website includes video tutorials, including one on language in World War I service records. Our website includes a list of common abbreviations used.

The Australian War Memorial's Glossary is another useful source for abbreviations and acronyms.

Photographs on service records

Approximately 40 per cent of World War II army and air force service records include an identity photograph of the service person. However, navy and World War I army service records do not include photographs.

If the record you find includes a photograph of the service person, you can purchase a high resolution copy by completing and sending a Photographic Imaging Order Form. Please note that if there are multiple photographs on a file, we will copy the portrait photograph, unless instructed otherwise.

Another potential source of photographs is the Australian War Memorial, which may hold other records, such as photographs of the relevant unit. Contact details for the Australian War Memorial's Research Centre:

GPO Box 345
Canberra ACT 2601

Telephone: (02) 6243 4315
Fax: (02) 6243 4545

Collection search:

Service medals

Service records (particularly those of the World War I Australian Imperial Force) may include reference to service medals. However, service records may not include information about which service medals a person was entitled to, or if they were ever issued. Defence Honours and Awards can assist with such inquiries:

Department of Defence

Telephone: 1800 333 362

Medals are generally only 'reissued' to a service person or their next-of-kin if the service person was entitled to a medal that was never issued. Copies of medals that have been issued may be purchased from medal makers. Contact details for medal makers may be found in your local Yellow Pages under 'Medals'.

Can't find a service record?

If a service person was not discharged or did not enlist until after the end of World War II, the records may still be held by the Department of Defence. Go to the Ask us a question page on the home page and submit a 'Defence service after World War II' inquiry if you cannot find relevant service records in RecordSearch.

The Archives also holds records relating to other service, such as merchant navy, civilian service organisations and Commonwealth contingents that served in the Boer War. Go to the Ask us a question page on the home page and submit a general inquiry if you cannot find relevant records in RecordSearch.

Former serving members can apply directly to the agency that holds relevant records. The Department of Defence website includes a summary from World War I to present explaining where service and health records are held.
Copyright National Archives of Australia 2019