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.

Diaries and personal papers

Diaries and personal narratives provide first-hand accounts of soldiers' war experiences and reflections, giving insights which may not be available in other records.  Personal stories and papers can be both published and unpublished (manuscripts).

The Library holds a wide range of unpublished diaries and personal papers in the Australian Manuscript Collection. Although most  of these items are not available online, the library is digitising manuscripts and pictures all the time. You will find a lot of  digitised original material to interest you.

Interesting and informative first-hand accounts of the war include these online resources from the State Library manuscripts collection:

War and its glories by J. G. McLean, an  Australian soldier, gives an honest account of his experiences of the war and those he met. This book is available to read online.

Front cover of book War and its glories by ex-private J.G. Mc Lean. It shows a barbarian in tunic and helmet holding a bloody sword, sitting on a globe of the world.

Ernest Wells wrote a number of publications about his experiences in the war. You can read these online. Search the catalogue under the name E. Wells to find them, and click on the manuscript icon to view.

Recollections of Gallipoli, France and Flanders

The landing at Gallipoli: Australian stunts in France, by a returned Anzac.

A list of resources on Gallipoli can be found in 'Having a lively time': Australians at Gallipoli in 1915: a catalogue of material held in the Australian Manuscripts Collection, La Trobe Library, State Library of Victoria by Shona Dewar.

Records of diaries and personal papers are listed on the Library catalogue.  A librarian can request these items for you.

The Trove website lists unpublished diaries and papers held at institutions around Australia. This includes State Library of Victoria manuscripts.  Select Diaries, letters, archives and search for the words 'world war 1914 1918'. You can add more words to narrow your search.  

Documentary records

This is a microfilm series of documents from the War Reserve Collection at Cambridge University Library.

It includes letters, diaries, memoirs, trench journals and allied and German propaganda.

There is a published guide to the content of each reel: 

Part 1 Explains how the Cambridge War Reserve Collection is organised and gives a chronology of World War I. 

Part 2 Index to trench journals, personal narratives and reminiscences.

Part 3 Index to allied propaganda.

Part 4 Index to German propaganda. Background information to the material is provided in the guide.

The catalogue numbers are explained in each booklet.

Example Series 1, part 2 - Trench journals, lists The Anzac Book: written and illustrated in Gallipoli by the men of Anzac. Its location is WRB 18.304 reel 3.

The letters refer to the height of the material, for example; WRB means 24-31 cm in height and the subject code numbers refer to the type of material, for example; 18 means regimental records. 

The First World War database

The First World War, a  British online database, is a rich resource on the personal experience of World War I, as well as other war material.

It has digital images of original documents, including diaries, letters, personal narratives, trench journals, scrapbooks and  objects. 

It is designed for both teaching and study, from undergraduate level to research students and beyond. You can access this database within the library and outside the library, if you have a State Library Victoria membership and live in Victoria. 


Biographical material

There are many published personal accounts and biographies from World War I. These include biographies of famous people and less well-known people. Many of these were published in the years following the war, so they give fresh, contemporary accounts of events.

Many of the older books do not have subject headings on the catalogue record, so often the only way you can find them is to know the title or search using keywords which appear in the title. World War I was called the Great War or the European War in earlier times, so try these terms if you are looking for older books and materials. 

One of the catalogue search terms is 'personal narratives', Personal narratives include diaries and auto-biographies, which are a great source of information.  Bear in mind that most people do not have a diary or biography in our collections: try a  biographical dictionary or the Trove website, which has news articles mentioning individuals.   

To find and/or browse  World War I diaries and other personal narratives, type the name of the individual into the  search box on the catalogue  Put inverted commas around the name. If you are not looking for a particular individual, try the following terms, which are  based on the subject headings used in the catalogue. 

 Again, you can filter the results by date, resource type, author and other options. 

Some biographical dictionaries are: 


An Irishman's view of the Australians


During the First World War, Irishman Patrick MacGill (1889-1963) served with the London Irish Rifles (1/18th Battalion, The London Regiment) and was wounded at the Battle of Loos on 28 October 1915.

A poet and published author, MacGill wrote a book about the Australians: The Diggers: the Australians in France, published in 1919. 

He writes: "Stories of deeds accomplished by Diggers, the capturing of dug-outs, the rushing of machine-gun positions are spoken of, but as the Australian is one of the most modest of men, many stories of desperate deeds and high enterprise will never be known beyond the limits of camp and the field of war." (Chapter III, p. 46).

He writes of the Australians'  "desire to be in the midst of the fighting, the devotion and enthusiasm of soldiers who have crossed miles of sea to do their bit in the great war which has tortured Europe for so many years.  Of her record in the war Australia may well be proud." (Chapter III, p.50).

Voices from the Great War

This video and accompanying blog highlight some of the personal accounts of the War held by our Library


Newspapers are an excellent source of information on individuals. Many soldiers may be mentioned by name. 

Many Victorian newspapers covering the World War I years have been digitised by the National Library of Australia on its Trove website. This includes the Weekly Times, which has many photos of soldiers. You can search Trove free from home. Select the Newspapers & Gazettes option on the dropdown menu.  Trove search hint: when searching a newspaper for the name of an individual, type the name in inverted commas. This searches as a phrase.

The State Library holds Victorian historic newspapers and some interstate ones. Many Victorian newspapers are held on microfilm in the  Newspapers/Family History/ Information Centre. Other newspapers may have to be requested from our offsite store. If you wish to know more, see our online guide How to find Newspapers.


The State Library holds nearly 300 World War I postcards in the Shirley Jones collection of military postcards.

They have been digitised, so you can view them online.

Many include messages from soldiers.

Here is one of the postcards from the collection held in the State Library of Victoria.

H99.166/208 A cheerful British soldier asks: Are we downhearted? No!!!

Are we downhearted? No!!!  H99.166/208

Oral history interviews

Patsy Adam Smith recorded audio-tape interviews with World War I veterans  in the late 1970s. These include first-hand individual  accounts  by those who experienced the war.  

In one interview, Bill Gamble, a corporal with the 5th Machine Gun Battalion, 25th Machine Gun Company, says that he believes that he shot the famous German flying ace Baron Manfred von Richtofen - the Red Baron.

To see a listing of all the interviews use the keywords Patsy Adam-Smith war 1914 audio on our catalogue and click Search.

These recordings are not online and can be ordered from the Australian Manuscripts Collection.

Victorians at War is a website archived on  Pandora, Australia's Web Archive.  It has  oral interviews with World War I veterans including William "Evan" Allen and Jack Lockett. It includes a printed transcript.


Empire's call

Empire's call H99.166/7

The Empire's call, H99.166/7