Australia Research Guide | Military Records
The military history of Australia spans the nation’s 230-year modern history.
The Army in Australia
The history of the Army in Australia can be divided into three main groups:
British Imperial Forces (1788–1870) – Under the command of the Admiralty Board, the British Marines arrived with the First Fleet. In 1790 the marines were replaced by the first army regiment. From that time until they were withdrawn in 1870, the British maintained army garrisons in Australia.
Local Colonial Forces (1854–1901) – By 1842, Britain was putting pressure on the colonies to build and fund their own defensive forces. From 1854, suburbs and towns started creating their own volunteer units. Often these were Rifle Corps Units. Following the departure of the British troops from the colonies in 1870 and the creation of self-government, volunteer armed forces formed independently inside the six Australian colonies. The Volunteer Forces were dissolved around 1884, and the Militia Forces took their place. Even though their duty was still part-time, the Militia was paid and enlisted for a certain period of time.
Commonwealth Military Forces (1901–Present) – In 1901, after Federation, the Australian government took responsibility for the defence of the whole country.
Information regarding volunteer forces was published in contemporary newspapers. Shooting contests and parades were popular and noteworthy events at the period.
The Navy in Australia
The history of the Navy in Australia can be divided into three groups:
From settlement in 1788 until 1859, Australia relied on naval defence troops detached from the Royal Navy based in Sydney. A distinct British Naval Station was established in 1859, and a squadron of the Royal Navy was stationed in Australian seas until 1913. This Australian unit was funded for and managed by the Australian Commonwealth and finally operated by Australian personnel.
It was determined during an Imperial Conference in 1909 to deploy to Australian seas a naval force consisting of at least a battle cruiser, three-second class cruisers, six destroyers, three submarines, and a number of auxiliaries. On 19 August 1909, detailed negotiations between officials of the British Admiralty and the Australian Government culminated in a resolution to proceed with the formation of an Australian Fleet Unit. The first units of this Navy, the destroyers HMA Ships Yarra and Parramatta, arrived in Australian waters in November 1910. On 10 July 1911, His Majesty King George V bestowed the title of “Royal Australian Navy” on the Commonwealth Naval Forces.
The Air Force in Australia
The history of the Air Force in Australia can be divided into two groups:
Established in 1921, the Royal Australian Air Force is the second-oldest independent Air Force in the world.
During World War I, airships and early aircraft were primarily utilised for reconnaissance. The eight Australian Flying Corps squadrons of Australia were part of the Australian Imperial Force and were linked to larger British Royal Flying Corps / Royal Air Force units.
During World War I, the Australian Flying Corps had 800 officers and 2,840 soldiers, with 175 of them dying. Many Australian Flying Corps veterans helped build the foundation for the future Royal Australian Air Force, and after the war, others went on to make major contributions to civil aviation.
The Australian Flying Corps was superseded in January 1920 by the Australian Air Corps, which became the Australian Air Force on 31 March 1921, with the King’s consent granted on 13 August 1921.
Over 300,000 Australian soldiers returned after WWI. In total, about 40,000 returning servicemen and women accepted offers of farming land made available by Soldier Settlement programmes in all Commonwealth states. The information recorded in these records can include:
Australian Military service records are held at the National Archives of Australia (NAA). As a gift to the nation, World War I service records have been digitised and are freely available online. World War II service records are currently being digitised and added to NAA site.
Information on these military units, including what they did and where they served, may often be found in unit diaries and records kept at the Australian War Memorial (AWM) or in published sources.
Records of Honours and Awards bestowed upon Australians can be found by searching the databases at the AWM. For announcements of the awards in both the London and Commonwealth Gazettes, the records include the precise date, Gazette number, and page number. The London Gazette is now available online. It should be noted that just the name, rank, and unit were generally published, rather than the whole citation. The service record may contain a full citation.
Pictured: Marysville, Victoria, Nicholas Chevalier (1828-1902)