Wednesday 16 April 2014 by Robyn van Dyk. 2 comments
First World War Centenary, Anzac Connections, Personal Stories

Bringing historic documents from the Australian War Memorial’s archive to all Australians

The first 150 collections of private records related to individuals who served in the First World War are now online and hold a wealth of stories. In the centenary year of the First World War, the Memorial has launched one of its major commemorative projects to make available the rare historic personal records of Australians who served.

ANZAC Connections involves the progressive digitisation and online publishing of thousands of pages of personal accounts, letters and diaries from the First World War. These historic collections are original eye-witness accounts of the  events of the war and offer a rich and personal perspective of people’s unique experiences.

These are the stories of ordinary people caught up in the extraordinary events of the war. The letters of John Simpson Kirkpatrick who enlisted early, hoping to work his passage back home. The voice of an Indigenous Australian, Charles Blackman, who fought in some of the major battles of the Western Front and talks of mateship and missing home. Trooper Edgar Stanford describes the unfolding extraordinary events of the Australian Turkish armistice on 24 May 1915. Private Cecil Anthony McAnulty kept a diary since the day he left Australia and recorded his experiences at Gallipoli daily. Under frequent artillery and gun fire and in squalid conditions, McAnulty never failed to record his story, his last entry was written during the battle of Lone Pine finishes mid-sentence.

Letters were a lifeline to home and these collections provide a more personal perspective about Australian’s experiences, separation, mateship, homesickness, life behind the lines and waiting. George Leslie Makin was away from home for four long years of the war. He wrote more than 140 letters home during his service, most of them to his mother. In an effort to keep her from worrying too much about him his letters focus on matters from home, or the less dangerous aspects of his time at the front. Others such as Major Percy Lay meticulously kept a diary to ensure his experiences would survive. His diary records his experiences with his posting with Dunsterforce, a military mission deployed to the Middle East that consisted of approximately 1000 Australian, New Zealand, British and Canadian soldiers. In his diary Lay describes learning Persian, Russian and sword fighting. Lay’s diaries span the landing at Gallipoli to the end of the war. His factual and  succinct diaries include a very fitting comment on the end of the war with the words “Nuff said”.

These are but a few of the stories – this historic collection offers a chance for all to read these unique experiences of Australians in their own words, see the letters written home in neat copperplate, or the scribbled messages jotted down before battle. There are letters, private diaries, unit diaries, memoirs, post cards by soldiers, sailors and airmen, from privates to officers, nurses, journalists and observers. All give the very personal perspective of those who were actually there. 100 years on these are now all our stories.


Garrie Hutchinson

Anzac Connections is a great and already useful project - but I was wondering whether it collects some non-digitised material pertinent to individuals ... for example Private A.W. (Bert) Keown, 571, 5th Battalion has two terrific letters and a photograph, but there is no mention in his biography of his 1921 history of the 5th Battalion 'Forward with the Fifth' - one of the best unit narratives of the war.

Robyn van Dyk says:

Hi Garrie - thank you for your comment - through this project we are working towards creating better connectivity between people and the collections relating to them. At the moment the profiles that are displaying online are published directly from within the collection management system. The books database is a separate database so cannot be hard linked. However, if you do a search for ‘Albert Keown’ the result will bring up his published works as well as the other material. The Anzac Connections project is still working on improving the search functions to make them look more like the hard linked displays. This will mean that all the people who served will have a better presentation. We are also hoping to link to relevant collections held in other institutions. Robyn