Australian War Records Section registry files and register of file titles

Accession Number AWM16
Collection type Official Record
Object type Official Record
Conflict First World War, 1914-1918

Item copyright: Copyright expired - public domain

Public Domain Mark This item is in the Public Domain

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The Australian War Records Section (AWRS) of the Australian Imperial Force (AIF), was formed in May 1917 by Colonel Griffiths at the request of General W R Birdwood. Part of the AIF Headquarters in London, its purpose was to collect and preserve historical records that represented Australia's participation in the 1914-18 War. At the commencement of the AWRS on 16 May 1917 work was divided into two sections:

(a) collection of official military records, AIF to be received, collected, preserved, classified and indexed by a section attached to the AIF and,

(b) collection of unofficial records of Australia's part in the war, photographs not for military use, cinematograph records, sketches, pictures and trophies not sent through the recognised military channels, to be collected by the High Commissioners Office for a possible Australian War Museum.

Initially work began on the classification and copying of the war diaries of AIF units handed over by the British Public Records Office. By September 1917 responsibility for the official photographs and trophies collected by the High Commissioners Office was transferred to the AWRS. About this time it was realised that the division of the sections was not entirely between "official" and "unofficial" records, but between "publicity" and "record". On 7 September 1917, approval was given to alter the division to:

(a) Publicity and Civil - publication of articles, photographs, cinema record, official drawings etc for which the High Commissioners Office was responsible and,

(b) Preservation of records of military significance - documentary records (eg war diaries and their appendices), original pictorial records (eg artists pictures, photographic
negatives, original cinema films) and official trophies.

The establishment of the AWRS was divided into four sections:

(1) AWRS Headquarters, London - under the direction of the Commandant, Admin HQ AIF, and consisting of four subsections:

(a) Special Histories - responsible for the collection of historical data concerning aviation, schools, infantry, artillery, engineers, veterinary, medical, administration and law.

(b) Documentary records - responsible for the classification and copying of war diaries, maps and air photographs.

(c) Museums - responsible for the collection of museum material, trophies, photographs and sketches.

(d) Photographic - responsible for cinema work, copying, custody of negatives and preparation of prints.

(2) No 1 EEF (Egypt Expeditionary Force) subsection.

(3) No 2 BEF (British Expeditionary Force) subsection.

(4) No 3 Photographic subsection - responsible for photographic and cinema work in the United Kingdom.

No 2 (EEF) and No 3 (BEF) subsections were regarded as an integral part of the AWRS HQ, rather than separate operations, carrying out similar functions to those outlined for AWRS HQ in Egypt and France.

In February 1919 the establishment of the AWRS was again revised in order to complete work during that year. The additional duties included precis of war diaries, classification of correspondence files, preparation of sound recordings and model construction of battlefields. At the end of 1919 the AWRS registry records were forwarded to the Department of Defence, Melbourne. Custody of them was transferred to the Australian War Memorial. They remained stored in Melbourne until 1935 when the Library section of the Memorial was actually established in Canberra.


The series contains files of correspondence (original and copies) sent to and from the AWRS in London. Most of the files relate to the activities carried out by AWRS as outlined above, particularly the receipt of historical material (for example historical notes, war diaries, photographs, trophies) from various units by the AWRS.

There are also files relating to the organisation, administration and day to day activities of the AWRS (for example orders, staff appointments, duties, instructions and personnel movements). Much of this is in the form of correspondence between the officers in charge, collators of the various subsections and the Official Historian
Captain C E W Bean. The files also contain historical notes, memorandums, reports and proposals, largely relating to the establishment and administration of the AWRS.

Of particular interest are files 4355/1/1 part 1 - "Establishment of AWRS", 4355/1/1 part 2 - "New Establishments", 4356/2/1 - "Arrangement by Defence regarding formation of AWRS in Egypt and Australia" and 4383/1/49 - "Distribution of duties in the War Records Section". These files document the organisation and administration of the AWRS.

The series is controlled by a multiple number registry system. A Register of File titles (item 1), which lists the primary and secondary numbers and their corresponding subject headings, is the original control record. This Register also contains an inventory of items recording file number and file title. It was probably compiled when the records were moved from London to Melbourne. The listing also records the results of a disposal survey conducted by AWM Library staff in 1960. Each page has been stamped "Files surveyed, March 1960", and next to each file title is recorded whether the item was "retained", "destroyed" or "missing". In cases where no action has been recorded the files apparently no longer exist. The series was heavily culled during the 1960 survey and the inventory corresponds with the files retained, with the exception of three
missing files - 4360/21/1, 4364/42/4 and 4386/1/48.

Bound in with the register is a file of correspondence that appears to be unrelated to this series. The folios are stamped and numbered by the AIF Registry Kit Store or Admin HQ Central Registry. The correspondence related to rulings for the movement of disposal of kit stores and includes a circular of office instructions for the AIF Kit Store.

The AWRS correspondence was classified by Administrative Headquarters, AIF London, Central Registry according to the register. Some folios are also stamped and numbered with the AWRS stamp, but most of these have been top numbered by AHQ Central Registry. Three primary number allocations ie 4380, 4381 and 4382, have not been listed in the register. They have been allocated alphabetically by surname according to the correspondent or the person the correspondence related to, as follows:

4380 AA-HOM 4381 HON-Q 4382 R-Z

A secondary number represents the smaller alphabetical category allocated to a particular file eg 4380/24 represents CAR-CAZ. In some cases the file has been classified according to one persons name only, and these have been allocated item numbers. There are also cross index cards for the categories HON-Q and R-Z.