Wednesday 21 January 2009 by Alessandro Antonello. 21 comments
News, Collection

The First World War unit war diaries (AWM4) of the Australian Engineers have been digitised and are now available on the Australian War Memorial’s website. The diaries provide a wonderful testimony to the ingenuity and initiative of Australian engineers during the War, and the daily difficulty of building and maintaining structures and machines to ensure the success of the war effort.

Engineers, also known as sappers, were essential to the running of the war. Without them, other branches of the Allied Forces would have found it difficult to cross the muddy and shell-ravaged ground of the Western Front. Their responsibilities included constructing the lines of defence, temporary bridges, tunnels and trenches, observation posts, roads, railways, communication lines, buildings of all kinds, showers and bathing facilities, and other material and mechanical solutions to the problems associated with fighting in all theatres.

The 'Johnston' Shower, made by the 1st Field Company, Australian Engineers, July 1918. AWM4 14/20/43. The 'Johnston' Shower, made by the 1st Field Company, Australian Engineers, July 1918. AWM4 14/20/43.

The ‘Johnston’ Shower is one example of ingenuity and initiative that can be found in the engineers’ war diaries. The shower was constructed in the field by the 1st Field Company of Engineers, in July 1918, around Strazeele near Hazebrouck. Company Sergeant Major James Johnston had the idea to create the shower using materials salvaged from retreating German forces.  He designed a shower that weighed only 40 pounds (around 18 kilograms), and could provide hot and cold water using ‘a minimum amount of fuel and water’.  A technical drawing of this shower is shown above.

Below are other notable documents from the diaries:

Drawing of a destroyed bridge, made by the 3rd Pioneer Battalion, Australian Engineers. AWM4 14/15/22. Drawing of a destroyed bridge, made by the 3rd Pioneer Battalion, Australian Engineers. AWM4 14/15/22.
Drawing of a bridge destroyed by the 11th Field Company, Australian Engineers, near Bouzencourt. AWM4 14/30/18 Part 1. Drawing of a bridge destroyed by the 11th Field Company, Australian Engineers, near Bouzencourt. AWM4 14/30/18 Part 1.

A panoramic view of the Somme Valley, drawn by a member of the 11th Field Company, Australian Engineers. AWM4 14/30/18 Part 1. A panoramic view of the Somme Valley, drawn by a member of the 11th Field Company, Australian Engineers. AWM4 14/30/18 Part 1.
Photographs of water supply materials carried by horses for the ANZAC Mounted Division. AWM4 14/36/6. Photographs of water supply materials carried by horses for the ANZAC Mounted Division. AWM4 14/36/6.

The Engineer unit war diaries have been digitised as part of the larger project to digitise all the First World War unit diaries (AWM4).  They are being scanned progressively, and researchers can already access the diaries of infantry units, artillery units, the Flying Corps, the Light Horse, the chaplains, and headquarters.  Researchers can look forward to the digitisation of the medical, nursing and dental war diaries in the coming months.


Paul Nicholls

Hi, Just like to say a thank you to the staff involved in digitising the Engineer diaries. I have just started researching my Grandfather and his brother who were both Engineers in WW1. Now the diaries have been digitised my research is coming along much faster now and I have a much greater appreciation of the work they did. Thanks again to one and all. Regards, Paul Nicholls

Mal Booth

So maybe I am biased and about to leave, but I still reckon this is great! Well done to all involved and thanks to Alessandro for getting the word out. Mal

Nick Fletcher

Hi Alessandro Nice work with the Blog piece on the Engineers diaries! They should prove to be one of the most useful of all the First World War records to be digitised. You might like to note that the ‘Drawing of a destroyed bridge, made by the 3rd Pioneer Battalion, Australian Engineers (AWM4 14/15/22)’ is in fact the famous “Chipilly Bridge”, which spans the Somme Canal from Cerisy to Chipilly. As you can see from the drawing, there were actually two bridges, both of which were blown up by the retreating German forces on the 9th or 10th of August 1918. The 3rd Pioneer Battalion used the undamaged span from the longer of the two, (the nearer in the drawing) and placed it upon the piles of the shorter one. This clever stunt had the crossing operating only a week after its destruction, and Sir John Monash came to formally open it to traffic on 17 August. The whole event was something of a sensation at the time, and as a result we have quite a few images of the bridge in our collection – see E03909, for example. There is also a small brass and timber model of the scene, constructed by one of the proud Pioneers involved. This item (RELAWM04189) is currently on display in the 1918 Advancing to Victory exhibition. It’s nice to see another image of the bridge, particularly one which I hadn’t known existed. We probably would have pinched it for 1918 if we had been aware of it! Cheers Nick

LR Windsor

Fantasic; The Engineers and Pioneers are the unsung hero's of WW1 and every other war so much heavy & unprotected work done under extremely deadly conditions. With all the new war diaries being digitalized. I cannot wait till all wars of the 20th century war diaries have been digitalized. Thanks to all at the AWM and the ADF

Robin Sanderson

Very interested in the engineers' war diaries.When will the Tunnelling Company diaries be digitised?My grandfather Alexander Sanderson was CO of the 3rd ATC. Am writing an account of his life.

Anne Homan

Is there anyone reading these diaries who remembers a saper named Louis Vasco, who liked to draw caricatures in his spare time? He was here in California before he joined the war from Australia and was in the 11th Field Company , and I am trying to find someone with personal memories of him.

Gary Traynor

Hello, I am trying to find out where each company of the 5th Field Company Engineers were allocated whilst on Gallipoli from September to December, 1915. I know from their unit history that they were divided up to man posts at Quinns Post, Courtneys Post and Popes Hill......but it does not detail which sections went where. If anybody has knowledge of a "roll call" or similar document for the 5 F.C.E on Gallipoli, or private diaries that may mention Sapper James McGrath....then I would appreciate you contacting me. email Just for your information.....the 5 F.C.E was renamed the 8 F.C.E in the 1916 restructure. Thankyou Gary Traynor

Peter Pritchard

My Grandfather J.J. Purtell was in the 3rd Australian Tunnelling corps also and digitalised dairies would be great. Have some details but no images.

Isabel D'Avila Winter

Hi Anne, Regarding your question about the sapper Louis Vasco of the 11th Field Company, a caricaturist, I have recently started research on him as he was the son of a major Portuguese artist. I haven't gone far yet, so You probably know more than I do, but I'd be very interested to learn what you know about his connections to California.

ward turner

I too am researching some Engineer units. My grandfather John Turner 11th Field Company Engineers (FCE) and his two brothers Pearce Turner 1st FCE and Les Turner 5th FCE. Any info is greatly appreciated for myself and my son who is currently in 1 Combat Engineer Regiment

Geoff Drew

It is not impossible that Louis VASCO (Vasco Urbano LOURIERO) was known to my Grandfather, Sgt Samuel Henry Drew. Amongst grandfather's possessions was a hand drawn glass plate negative caricature signed Vasco. See my Blog for a few more details.

Robyn Warner

Hi, I have read through my grandfathers war records (Ernest James Taylor, No. 3136) from the first world war with interest. I notice that he was originally in the 3rd Field Company of Engineers which seemed to become the 5th Field Company of Engineers. His war records show that he was wounded on 6/10/17 which required his left leg to be amputated - at the age of 21 years. I read through the diaries of the 5th FCE but could not seem to see a record of the skirmish when he was 'wounded in action'. I do have a photograph of wounded men standing around in the snow - probably France or England - which I am happy to scan and send to anyone interested. Does anyone have any records of Ernest James Taylor? That is all - Robyn.

Geoff Drew

Robyn, Taylor Ernest James : SERN 3136 : POB Coalville VIC : POE Melbourne VIC : NOK F Taylor James, from the National Archives of Australia website. 47 pages of his record have been digitised. You could also find some details here at the AWM website, in the WW1 Nominal Rolls and embarkation records. Other: Whoops - my grandfather, see above, was Samuel John Drew. Don't know why I put my Dad's name in there. According to Paul Kiem, who is researching the Loureiro family, the "panoramic view of the Somme Valley", above, was drawn by Louis Vasco (true name Vasco Urbano Loureiro).

Christine Cook

Hi! My husband's grandfather James Alonzo Cook, was in the 3rd Field Company Engineers. James was gassed & hospitalised a couple of times, returned to Australia in 1919 and took up land as a soldier settler in 1921 in NW Victoria, but was affected by the gassing for the rest of his life. While I have a copy of his file from the National Archives of Aust. I'd be interested to know more about what they did and their experiences both on and off the battlefield. Chris Cook

Christine Cook

Have just checked out the digitalised war diaries and will now spend time working thru the info contained there on the 3FCoE. Many thanks for putting it online. Chris.

Helen Murray

Thank you for digitising the war diaries for 1 Field Company Australian Engineers. I could read about the day my great grand uncle HIRST, P.F. Corporal was killed. It has really been an amazing thing and made it very personal. Thank you for giving the families the opportunity to see what it was like, how things may have happened an put us in touch with what they went through. We have no photos or other mementos. So these diaries are an amazing record for the family tree. Thank you.

Jim Stewart

My grandfather was a sapper in the First Field Engineers. He was killed on 18 April 1918. I have the original note from the commanding officer stating that he was buried in a farmhouse garden the next morning. The position was marked as 2.5 miles east of Hazebrouck and south of Pradelles. I am presently trying to track that location down. Thank you.

Gary Davies

Vasco Loureiro was also responsible for many comic and semi glamour type postcards mostly issued around 1905. He also drew a wonderful card advertising Argus sauce for Blogg Bros. in Melbourne. The card is illustrated on page 85 of "Legacy in Sculptured Wood" by Marjorie Morgan in 1993. The book is about John Kendrick Blogg a highly accomplished wood carver. I am preparing a list of the postcard work of Vasco Loureiro and welcome correspondence about him. With thanks Gary Davies.

stewart lofts

Thank you to all involved in digitizing the war diaries of the 12th field company of engineers. With the information contained in them plus other publications I have been able to piece together my great uncle’s (Spr 5081 C. Lofts) involvement in the Great War up until the time he died of wounds at the caterpillar near hill 60 Ypres.

Paul Kiem

Gary I have a number of Vasco Loureiro's postcards and would also welcome correspondence. Am partcularly interested in the Argus sauce ad and fuss it may have caused in Melbourne. Would also like to speak to anyone else who has any interest in the 11th FCE, particularly if they have images of forbears who served in the company and may have been drawn by Vasco.


Hello, My name is Erica and I'm a year 10 student of Mount Waverley Secondary College. I am currently in the process of completely a biography about an Australian military servicemen as part of a scholarship that I am participating in that is sponsored by my local RSL. My servicemen's name is FREDERICK CHARLES PETERSON, Service No. 7241 and I know that he served in the 5th reinforcement of the 5th Field Company Engineers. I've spent the best of three weeks researching and locating some of his decendants and now I'm begining to research his military career. I've across some information that I am finding difficult to put together and I was wondering if you could help me. I am just wanting to clarify exactly what happened to the 5th field engineers, how were they split up etc. I am particularly confused because on Frederick Charles Peterson's attestation papers, the officer in charge put him in the 5th reinforcement of the 5th Field Company Engineers, but in some later documents (a casualty notice) it said that he was in the 8th Field company. Having looked on the AIF website nomial rolls, his name does appear on the 5th field company's roll but not the 8th field company's roll, I found out that the 5th field company was later renumbered but I am unsure of how to link this information as i havent found much consistency in the information i have found; his name pops up on some resources but not others. I'm looking to establish exactly what happened to this company, because i located a book that was written by someone that served in the 5th field company (2nd Division) at the state library, but seeing as 70% of the information i have found suggest that he served in the 8th field company (5th division) i'm not sure whether i'll be able to use the dates that have been provided in the book. If you have some information regarding my query please email me on Thank-you very much for your time and help! It's greatly appreciated!