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ID number AWM4 (AWM4)
Title Australian Imperial Force unit war diaries, 1914-18 War
Collection Official Record
Object type Official Record
Copying provision Copy provided for personal non-commercial use, permission from copyright holder must be sought for commercial use


While on active service, Army headquarters, formations and units are required to keep a unit war diary recording their daily activities. Series AWM4 comprises the diaries of the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) created during the First World War.

The keeping of a war diary in each unit and formation headquarters was mandated by Field Service Regulations (FSR) Part II, issued in 1909 (Section 114), and reprinted with amendments in 1913 (Section 140) and 1914 (Section 140).
FSR stipulated that:


(a) A war diary would be kept by
(i) Each branch of the staff at general headquarters and at the headquarters of an army, and of all subordinate commands, including garrisons and posts.
(ii) Commanders of permanent and provisional units, detachments from a unit, and base depots and the officer in charge of base records.
(iii) Directors and heads of administrative services and departments, and their representatives.
(iv) Officers holding special and personal appointments.
(b) War diaries would be kept from the first day of mobilisation or creation of the particular command or appointment.
(c) The purpose of keeping war diaries was twofold:
(i) To furnish an accurate record of the operations from which the history of the war could be prepared.
(ii) To collect information for future reference with a view to effecting improvements in the organisation, training, equipment and administration of the army for war.
(d) War diaries were to keep a concise and accurate record of a campaign, including the following points:
(i) All important orders, despatches, instructions, reports and telegrams issued and received, and decisions taken.
(ii) Daily situation, i.e. arrival at, departure from, or halt at a place; all movements and dispositions on the march, or in camp. Arrivals and departures of officers, men, animals, stores, transports, etc.
(iii) All important matters relating to duties of the staff, and to administrative services and departments, recorded under the appropriate headings.
(iv) Detailed account of all operations, noting connection with neighbouring units, formations adopted, ranges at which fire was opened, etc. Timings of important events to be recorded accurately. Weather, road and ground condition, and general description of locality to be recorded. Sketches to be included where necessary.
(v) Changes in establishment and strength. Casualties, including officers' ranks and names, and numbers of other personnel and animals, to be recorded.
(vi) Description of field works constructed and quarters occupied.
(vii) Summary of information received, and of all matters of military or political importance from day to day.
(viii) Comments on the extent to which organisations and regulations have stood the test of war.
(e) War diaries were to be kept in duplicate, and entered up daily and initialled by the officer detailed to keep it. The original copy was to be forwarded on the last day of each month for transmission to the [British] War Office.
Until the end of June 1917, AIF units and headquarters sent one copy of the war diary each month to ANZAC Section 3rd Echelon. This copy was passed on to the War Office and then to the Historical Section of the Committee for Imperial Defence (CID). The intention was for this copy, usually the original, to remain in British hands. Duplicate copies were often made. Sometimes a duplicate was retained in the unit, while sometimes a duplicate was passed to Administrative Headquarters, AIF, and then on to the Australian Department of Defence. While units were encouraged to compile a duplicate copy, there was apparently no compulsion, and the duplicates often lacked the comprehensive appendices that accompanied the original copy.
During the war, Australia sought the transfer of the original records to Australian custody. The British government accepted this on condition that Australia set up a suitable organisation to receive them, and that duplicate copies go to the Historical Section of the CID. This led directly to the formation of the Australian War Records Section (AWRS).
AIF Order 758 of 13 Jul 1917 announced the formation of the AWRS in London for the AIF. Initially in the Public Records Office, it was soon moved to 130 Horseferry Road as announced in AIF Order 1090 of 29 Jan 1918. Order 758 stipulated that war diaries were now to be compiled in triplicate, and gave instructions for their despatch. Order 1090 amended the despatch instructions, directing that the original and duplicate copies were to be despatched immediately to the AWRS, while the triplicate could be retained in the unit for two months for reference. It was then to be sent to the AWRS.
The original guidance for the compilation of war diaries published in FSR was expanded considerably in notes issued by the Historical Section of the CID (see AWM Official Records, AWM 25, item 255/4) and, even more comprehensively, by the AWRS.
The AWRS booklet (see AWM Printed Records, 940.394 H673), was published by Administrative Headquarters, AIF, as No AW.835 on 31 Dec 1917 and issued as a memorandum to all officers commanding. It stated the purposes of the three copies as being:
(i) Original for Australia.
(ii) Duplicate for British government.
(iii) Triplicate as a reserve against loss of other copies, and also to act as a working copy to preserve the original.
The AWRS booklet also gave detailed guidance on war diary compilation, even to the extent of including examples of previous weaknesses in war diaries.
In addition to the booklet already mentioned, the AWRS produced other memoranda on the compilation and handling of war diaries (see AWM Official Records, AWM 25, item 255/2).
On 30 Jun 1918, AIF Headquarters distributed Circular Memorandum 30/58 (see AWM Official Records, AWM 16, item 4379/20/5) to all AIF units prohibiting any revision by superior headquarters of war diaries on their way from originator to the AWRS.
Captain J. L. Treloar, Officer in Charge, AWRS, produced a detailed internal instruction (see AWM Official Records, AWM 25, item 1013/44) on 18 July 1918 on the procedure to be followed by the AWRS in collection and copying war diaries.
The war diaries themselves contain ample evidence of the AWRS making every effort to ensure that the war diaries were as complete a record as possible. Visits to units by AWRS staff are recorded, and so is correspondence from the AWRS. The AWRS, although commanded by a relatively junior officer, enjoyed strong headquarters support, and units responded well to AWRS attempts to get them to improve the standard of their war diaries. The AWRS did not hesitate to assess a unit's performance in compiling a war diary, sometimes comparing it invidiously with the performance of other units in the same formation. The regular feed back of comments from the AWRS to units caused a steady improvement in the standard, but in mid-1918 the AWRS had to point out that quality as well as quantity was required. Units which had been putting every piece of paper, useful or otherwise, into their war diaries as an overreaction to previous advice, were now encouraged to exercise some selection. Thus many war diaries which had expanded dramatically in mid-1918, settled down to a happier medium by about August 1918.
The quality of the war diaries generally reflects the talent of the officers compiling them and the attitude of the commanding officers who appointed the diary compilers and supervised the compilation. Thus, the overall quality can be quite variable, and some diaries compiled in very difficult circumstances can be very good indeed.
After the war, the war diaries, along with other records of the war, were transferred to the Australian War Museum, later to become the Australian War Memorial (see paragraph 3 of Major J L Treloar 's letter of 21 Nov 1919 to "Dick" [Captain R J Murphy], in AWM Official Records, AWM 93, item 12/12/2).
The diaries, originally prepared with subsequent binding in mind, were bound in foolscap binders for their protection and for easier reference. This commenced in England and finished in Australia (see correspondence dated 29 Oct 1919 and earlier, in AWM Official Records, AWM 93, item 12/12/2, and Treloar's letter of 17 Apr 1920 to Lieutenant W Taylor in AWM 93, item 12/1/89). A few war diaries, mostly from units on Gallipoli, were not bound.
In the late 1980s, when the decision was made to microfilm the war diaries, the diaries were removed from the binders, many of which were now in poor condition, and were filed in acid-free cardboard wallets instead. A representative range of binders in good condition has been retained to illustrate how they were housed for over 60 years.
System of arrangement and control
The subject-classified three-number control system imposed on the records when they once formed part of AWM54 has been retained, despite large gaps in the sequence of item number. The first number (a/-/-) represents the broad subject category the item has been classified under. The second number (-/b/-) designates a subject sub-grouping within the primary classification. The third number (-/-/c) is the consecutive item number within the sub-grouping.
As originally bound, each war diary binder contained the diary for a single unit or headquarters for a period of several months. The period covered by a single binder was variable, depending on the volume of paper used. Generally, the same colour scheme was maintained for the same type of unit.
When the war diaries were unbound for microfilming, a three part numbering system was imposed, running from [1/1/1] to [35/31/4].
-the first number represents the broadest category, such as arm, service or corps a unit belonged to,
-the second number represents the particular unit,
-the third number is a chronological identifier that represents the month and year for each diary.
The war diaries generally consist of war diary or intelligence summary sheets located at the beginning of each diary which record the date of each entry, the unit¿s location, a summary of events and any remarks or references to appendices. The appendices, which make up the larger part of each diary, may include orders, despatches, instructions, reports, telegrams, and decisions taken; daily situation reports; staff duties; accounts of operations; changes in establishment or strength; and a summary of information received.
The overall quality of the diaries can be variable and usually reflects the attitude of the unit's commanding office, and the skill and conscientiousness of the individual charged with compiling it.
Listing of various formations and 'corps'
[1] Formation headquarters (above brigade level)
[2] Ordnance
[3] Provost
[4] Claims
[5] Pay
[6] Chaplains
[7] Chemical (see also [20] Gas)
[8] Flying Corps
[9] Cavalry
[10] Light Horse
[11] Camel Corps
[12] Cyclists
[13] Artillery
[14] Engineers
[15] Railways
[16] Tunnelling [16/1] to [16/5]
[16] Survey [16/5]
[17] Postal
[18] Baths & Laundries
[19] Salvage
[20] Gas (see also [7] Chemical)
[21] Water Supply [21/1]
[21] Stores [21/2]
[22] Signals
[23] Infantry
[24] Machine Guns
[25] Supplies & Transport
[26] Medical [26/1] to [26/93]
[26] Dental [26/94] to [26/96]
[26] Nursing [26/97] to [26/98]
[27] Veterinary
[28] Remount
[29] -
[30] Repatriation & Demobilisation
[31] Canteens
[32] Schools
[33] Bases & Depots
[34] Miscellaneous (North Russia, Hobart, and groups returning in 1919)
[35] New Zealand units