The digitisation of the whole series of Australian Imperial Force (AIF) war diaries from the First World War, (Official Records series AWM4), recently passed the 400,000 image mark. Included in the 400,000 images are all the available diaries for the Australian Flying Corps, (AFC) . Digitised versions of the diaries are being regularly uploaded to the Memorial’s website as they are completed.
The AIF war diaries are an invaluable resource for anyone researching a particular unit and sometimes contain unexpected windows into the daily experience of war. A revealing example of this is contained in the appendices to the AFC diaries titled ‘Combats in the Air’. These documents detail personal accounts of aerial combat recorded in the immediate aftermath by the participants.
The extracts below are taken from the December 1917 diary for No. 2 Squadron AFC. Dated 1 December 1917, these describe the same incident as recorded by Lieutenant Henry Garnet Forrest and Lieutenant Robert William McKenzie.
Pages from No. 2 Squadron War Diary 'Combats in the air' appendixes, [AWM4 8/5/5].
Lieutenant Henry Garnet Forrest:
"I was flying with Lieut. McKenzie, and on coming out of a dive after dropping bomb, I found five scouts above me, apparently escorting 3 seater. I attacked one scout who turned and fired a few rounds and then climbed up into the clouds. I fired about 30 rounds without apparent effect till I lost him. I then dived into the trenches to machine gun infantry, and on coming out of a dive, I saw the three seater about 400 feet above me on my left with the two gunners standing up and firing at me. I zoomed up under him and fired 20 rounds at him and he turned east climbing.
(Sgd) H. G. Forrest LT."
Lieutenant Robert William McKenzie:
"I was flying with Lt. FORREST and saw him dive on enemy trenches and drop 1 bomb “OK”. He had just pulled out of his dive and was climbing up when I saw 5 E.A. [Enemy Aircraft] coming towards and 400 feet above me, 1 was lagging slightly and I zoomed up and got in a stalling burst at 50 yds. Range, when he immediately turned east and started a steep glide and I was unable to follow him on account of the other 4 E.A., but I saw him try to land in most unfavorable country and go nose first into a shell hole where he remained with his tail in the air. I then had to return owing to No.3 stoppage.
(Sgd) R. W. McKenzie"
Henry Garnet Forrest went on to be awarded the DFC and Bar and Robert William McKenzie went on to be awarded the Military Cross. Both of these airman survived the war.
The next class of AIF war diaries to be added to the Memorial's website will be for the Supplies and Transport units. These will be uploaded here as they are completed.