Highlight on the official records of the First World War is a centenary program of posts highlighting those records created 100 years ago, why they exist and how we can help make these essential records available for research purposes.
Function and provenance
An introduction into the system of honours and awards applying to Australia’s entire military experience is located on the Australian War Memorial website.
During the First World War the Australian Army followed the British system of honours and awards when making recommendations for deeds of bravery and gallantry. Recommendations were made at the unit level by the commanding officer or equivalent using Army Form W.3121 and were then forwarded to Divisional Headquarters.
From Division the original copy and a duplicate were forwarded to the Office of the Military Secretary at General Headquarters. The third copy was usually retained by the recommending authority.
All awards were gazetted in the London Gazette and later (usually much later) in the Commonwealth of Australia Gazette.
At the end of the First World War records of a historical nature belonging to the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) were transferred to the Australian War Memorial (AWM). Personnel records which were still required for administrative purposes were retained by the Department of Defence and were housed in the Base Records Office at Victoria Barracks in Melbourne. It was agreed that these records would transfer to the AWM when they were no longer needed. These records included the recommendations for honours and awards.
When, in 1931, the records of the various AIF registries were transferred to AWM control, permission to transfer the recommendations for honours and awards was refused by Defence as they were in constant use. However, it was expected that they would eventually be transferred.
From July 1938 to April 1959 the Base Records Office was co-located within the Australian War Memorial (although it remained part of the Defence Department). It is not known if the records were transferred during this period or not until after the Base Records Office moved in 1959.
The series became known as AWM28 in the mid 1980s when the Memorial adopted its new numbering system for Official Records.
This series consists mainly of printed forms (Army Form W. 3121) containing typewritten and handwritten recommendations for the granting of honours and awards to members of the AIF during the First World War. The forms make provision for recording the candidate’s unit, service number, date of recommendation, rank, full name, date, place and circumstances of the action. The award recommended is recorded along with the award subsequently given.
Not all recommendations were granted and on occasion a different award was gazetted, usually of a lower level of importance. Recommendations for mention in despatches and for foreign awards are often not included.
While most forms contain a single recommendation for an individual, some include recommendations for others from within the unit. There are also a number of books which have handwritten recommendations and several items towards the end of the series contain lists of award recipients within the allied forces as well as papers relating to award ceremonies.
System of arrangement and control
It is uncertain as to when the sorting and arrangement of AWM28 began. Memorial files indicate that the records were still held by the Base Records Office in 1938. It is not known when they were transferred to AWM custody.
The files were sorted into periods and then by division. Within each division they were sorted according to unit in the following order:
- Divisional HQ
- Brigade HQ
- Machine Gun Companies
- Light Trench Mortar Batteries
- Artillery HQ
- Artillery Brigades
- Heavy and Medium Trench Mortar Batteries
- Engineer HQ
- Pioneer Battalions
- Field Companies
- Signal Companies
- Field Ambulances
- Miscellaneous Units
Within this structure candidates were to be listed by rank, by seniority and then alphabetically.
Arrangement of the series using this system was commenced but it does not appear to have been finished. The series as it now exists is divided into two sections referred to as Collections. Collection 1 consists of records relating to the five AIF infantry divisions on the Western Front from April 1916 to 1918. This accounts for the “1” in “1/194” in relation to the Victoria Cross recommended to Capt. Murray.
Collection 2 documents awards to the infantry divisions prior to April 1916, including Gallipoli service, units not subordinate to the infantry divisions such as the Light Horse, corps troops, the Australian Flying Corps, the Royal Australian Navy and Allied forces.
In 1992 when the records were entered onto the National Archives database (then known as ANGAM, now RecordSearch) a new numbering system was introduced. Items were assigned a running number based upon the original file order according to the Collection they belonged to, e.g, 1/194 used for Capt. Harry Murray VC.
When the series was digitised in 2001 two files providing background information on the series were removed from their original location to form a ‘third’ collection. Their new item numbers are Collection 3/1, Parts 1a and 1b.
Using the series
AWM28 was digitised in 2001 and researchers can now access the collection on the Memorial’s website at http://www.awm.gov.au/database/awm28/index.asp
Researchers should search on an individual’s surname and first names (especially with common surnames, e.g. Smith or Jones) or a service number to obtain the best results. Searches can also be done by unit, type of award or a general keyword such as place.
Prior to digitisation researchers first had to consult the index to recommendations AWM 165 to obtain the relevant reference number to then access AWM28. The control cards have become obsolete as a new numbering and control system was adopted as part of the digitisation process.
Where digitised records are unable to be read properly, access to the original recommendation files can be arranged. Please notify the Research Centre to indicate collection images that may need to be rescanned.
Researchers should note that AWM28 is not a complete series. If a recommendation is not found in AWM 28 they should check the five volume printed work by R. D. Williams titled “World War I, awards to Australia” which can be found in the reference collection of the Memorial’s Research Centre.
They can also check the Honours and Awards (Gazetted) Database which is also on the Memorial’s website
The Second World War or subsequent conflicts are not entirely supported by an eqivalent series at the Memorial. Those wishing to research awards for these conflicts should do so across the spread of both Memorial and National Archive of Australia collections.
Official records series AWM88 (Governor General's Office honours and awards files, circa 1939-1957) and AWM192 (Office of Military Secretary, Army honours and awards confidential working files, circa 1939-1980) offer the best starting points for researchers interested in later conflicts. AWM54 (Written records, 1939-45 War) subseries 391/* [Honours and Rewards] might also be useful.
These three series are not digitised to the Memorial’s collections search page. Researcher’s should use the NAA database RecordSearch to identify records of interest. Access may be arranged via a planning to visit link to the Memorial’s Reading Room.
Enquiries relating to information contained in the Recommendation files for honours and awards, AIF, 1914-18 War, including corrections, should be directed to the Research Centre.
For more information on researching servicemen and servicewomen who participated in the First World War, see the information sheet Researching Australian military service: First World War.