Australians in World War 1

This guide focuses on Australians serving in World War 1. It also includes some information relevant to Great Britain, other Commonwealth nations and other combatant nations. There is a section on nurses and women's war occupations.

Regimental histories

'Regimental history' is a generic term based on the traditional British army unit, the regiment. In World War I, the only Australian forces organised by regiment were the cavalry,  the Australian Light Horse Regiment. Its regiments were organised into brigades.

The infantry was organised into the major  units of  battalions, companies  brigades and divisions. The 60 battalions were numbered from 1 to 60 and known by their number, for example the 3rd battalion.

Many unit histories deal with the battalion, so you can search the library catalogue by the battalion  name to find books on its activities. The State Library  has digitised some of the unit histories. Go to the Unit histories box on this page to read these.

The Australian War Memorial has a page outlining Australia's military organisation in World War 1. Once you have established the unit a soldier served in, you can research his  activities during the war. 

The resources listed below are general guides to histories and suggested subject headings.

To find specific histories, try a keyword search on the Library catalogue. Include the name of the unit. Also include keywords 'war 1914' if you wish to narrow the search.

The catalogue lists various regimental histories under the keywords  world war 1914  1918 regimental histories

Add the name of the country, example Australia, to find regiments by nation.

Also check the Official histories tab above. Official national war histories include detailed accounts of day-by-day military operations.

Illustrated War news 14 June 1916

Australian Prime Minister Billy Hughes visiting Australian troops in France,
Illustrated war news, 14 Jun 1916, page 1

Structure of the AIF

Understanding where a soldier's unit fitted into the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) is important when you are reseaching his war history,  because most of the information on his activities comes from information on the activities of his unit.

It can be difficult to find books which explain the structure of the AIF: the hierarchy of divisions, brigades, battalions and so on down to the smallest unit. 

Graeme Hosken's guide for family history researchers Digging for diggers explains  the AIF structure and size. It includes  the organisation of the Australian Infantry, the Australian Light Horse and Camel Corps and the Field Artillery. There is helpful information on how to read a soldier's  service record. 

The war pictorial, July 1917

Australians on the march, The war pictorial, Jul 1917, page 12

 

World War I unit histories

Some World War I unit histories held by the State Library which are out of copyright have been digitised.  You can read some of the out-of-copyright unit histories on our website

All the unit histories held by the State Library are listed on the catalogue on the Search & Discover page. Search the catalogue by the name of the unit or battalion to find books held  by the library.

 

Australian unit diaries

The AIF (Australian Imperial Force) unit diaries have been digitised on the website of the  Australian War Memorial

They provide an extraordinarily detailed account of the day to day activities of service units throughout the First World War.

These diaries include unit location, daily situation, activities, duties, accounts of operations and engagements and information on unit strength.

If you are researching a particular soldier and you know his unit, you could track where the unit was and what they were doing at various times of the war.

Men from the Australian Light Horse,
Navy and Army Illustrated (supplement), 21 Nov 1914.