Highlight on official records of the First World War: AWM26 Operations files, 1914-18 War
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
This group of records was collated in its present form by the staff of the Australian War Memorial (AWM) in the 1920s and 1930s to facilitate certain working requirements of the Official Historian of the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) during the First World War, Dr C E W Bean. Selected primary sources deemed useful for the writing of the history were brought together to form the series.
Copies of unit war diaries and precis as well as originals of subject classified files were extracted from their respective existing series to form this new series. Additionally, copies of the records of British headquarters and allied forces (particularly those which operated closely with or alongside the AIF) were obtained.
The items in this series comprise copies of unit war diaries and precis as well as other operational files. Included among these are copies of headquarters and operational records created by the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Canada, France and the United States.
The files are identified on the database by the chronological period, unit or organisation and then by sub-period. The units or organisations represented in the files range in seniority from General Headquarters, British Expeditionary Force (GHQ BEF), through army, corps, divisional and brigade levels, down to individual battalions.
The end result of the series being formed was that a complete set of records was created for the Official Historian in a form that enabled, for any given period, the efficient assembly of all relevant documents for the units involved in operations at any given time. From examination of the files in the series and the Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-18, Volumes III to VI, it is clear that Bean relied extensively on this series in their writing.
System of arrangement and control
The arrangement concept called for the significant operational periods of the AIF to be identified by means of a name or title (usually of a battle or campaign), and a commencing and finishing date. All the selected papers relating to each period was then sorted accordingly.
The fourteen periods are shown below:
Period 0 – Australian forces in Egypt and movement to France – January to December 1916
Period 1 – Armentieres – 4/4/1916 to 3/9/1916
Period 2 – Somme 1916 – 10/7/1916 to 19/10/1916
Period 3 – Ypres Salient – 22/7/1916 to 30/4/1917
Period 4 – Somme Winter – 20/10/1916 to 22/2/1917
Period 5 – German Withdrawal – 23/2/1917 to 6/6/1917
Period 6 – Battle of Messines – 1/5/1917 to 30/7/1917
Period 7 – Third Battle of Ypres – 27/5/1917 to 15/11/1917
Period 7A – Belgian Coast Operations – June to November 1917
Period 8 – Flanders Winter – 15/11/1917 to 5/4/1918
Period 9 – Battle of Cambrai – 1/11/1917 to 9/1/1918
Period 10 – Defence of Amiens – 8/3/1918 to 31/7/1918
Period 11 – German offensive in Flanders – 1/4/1918 to 14/8/1918
Period 12 – Final offensive – 1/8/1918 to 30/11/1918
Provision was also made for two further periods (Gallipoli and Palestine), however no papers relating to these operations were included with the files processed into this system.
As a further refinement, each main period was then divided into a number of sub-periods. It was thus possible for the historian to have available in a convenient form, all the papers relating not only to the major chronological periods, but also to smaller and more manageable segments of them.
In addition to the chronological periods, the files are also identified by the name of the unit or organisation they refer to, ranging from higher headquarters down to battalion level. The units referred to are those that were interacting with the Australian forces during the battles. The files were actually arranged into groups reflecting the units that were commanding the Australians (e.g. General Headquarters or 4th Army), and units that were operating either in support, reserve, right flank, or left flank to the Australians. This system was organised to assist the Official Historian’s work.
The items in this series have a two-part imposed item control number (eg. 158/12). The first number refers to the box the file is in, the second number being the file number within that box. The boxes are numbered from 1 continuing serially. Items within each box are also numbered from 1 and continue serially. Therefore the above example indicates the item is in box 158, and item 12 within that box.
Using the series
This series is available to search by using the National Archives of Australia online database, RecordSearch.
AWM26 is not presently digitised for inclusion on the Australian War Memorial website. However, these records may be retrieved and viewed in the Research Centre’s Reading Room.
The Research Centre telephone service is available from 9am until 5pm Monday to Friday excluding ACT public holidays. Call the Research Centre on (02) 6243 4315.
AWM26 series dossier
Operations files 1914-1918 - An inventory of the collection
AWM93 12/5/128 Parts 2-7