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National Archives of Australia

The horrors of war continued at home for Anzacs

Australians can now track down the medical records of relatives who returned home from World War I, thanks to a project recently completed by the National Archives of Australia.

The three-year national project – to describe and ensure preservation of more than 256,000 World War I repatriation files – received government funding of $3.4 million in 2013 to mark the Anzac centenary. Completed in Archives’ offices around the country – including Perth, Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne – the project has gone part-way towards publicly listing and repackaging the records containing the medical, hospital and pension details of Anzacs who returned. 

‘Some veterans had three or more repatriation records, sometimes up to 20cm thick.  However returning soldiers with no health issues or pension applications might not have a repatriation file at all,’ said Anne-Marie Condé, National Archives senior curator.

‘The Archives has fully digitised nearly 5600 of the repatriation records, giving an insight into the problems faced by veterans when they returned home. For many, the horrors of war never ended. Some individuals’ files contain more than 500 pages of information – often revealing distressing details of their ongoing battles with illness, disfigurement and shell shock.

‘Many of the digitised repatriation files belonged to Anzacs who sailed away from Albany with the first convoy on 1 November 1914,’ said Ms Conde. ‘Those men had a very long war, from the beginning to the last days.’

For returning veterans whose records haven’t already been digitised, families can request and purchase copies of their own relatives’ files. Most repatriation case records are held in state offices where they are available for viewing in reading rooms and for the purchase of digital copies. There is a delay with records held in Canberra until July 2017 due to the ongoing relocation of records to the new National Archives Preservation Facility.

Since the records were gradually released from 2014, there has been a marked increase in people researching the files, with more than 1 million views in the past financial year.

Special collaboration in Melbourne with community volunteers and Monash University students contributed to the success of the project. Many of the stories are movingly portrayed in the university’s One Hundred Stories website.

The records have enabled the Archives to make strong contributions to several major projects including One Hundred Stories and the ANU led Serving our Country project on Indigenous servicemen and women. They have also contributed to the book The Last Battle: Soldier settlement in Australia 1916–1939 by Bruce Scates and Melanie Oppenheimer, to be launched at the Archives on Remembrance Day.

The repatriation files complement the 376,000 World War I service records that the National Archives digitised in 2007 as a Gift to the Nation. Information on both collections can be found at the Discovering Anzacs website

FOR INTERVIEW:  National Archives World War I senior curator Anne-Marie Condé (phone Elizabeth Masters 02 6212 3957, 0417 247 157)