Australian War Memorial registry files - Second series

Accession Number AWM315
Collection type Official Record
Object type Paper document
Maker Australian War Memorial
Date made 1917-1990

Item copyright: Commonwealth of Australia copyright

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The idea of a national war memorial was first conceived by C. E. W. Bean after his experiences at Gallipoli and his visits to the battlefields in France in 1916. Bean put forward the view that there should be a museum to serve as a memorial to commemorate Australian military heroism. In May 1917 the Australian War Records Section (AWRS) was created and was responsible for the collection, preservation and classification of all official documents relating to the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) as well as photographs, trench and regimental magazines, relics, war trophies, sketches and personal memoirs.

This date is also considered to be the starting date for the Australian War Memorial (AWM). A stone in the present Memorial's grounds marks the date as the 'inception' date of the Memorial. In April 1918 the Australian government formally announced the establishment of an Australian National War Museum and War Records Office under the direction of the Department of Defence. The collection of material for it continued on until the end of the war. After the war the AWRS was disbanded and many of its staff on their return to Australia transferred to the staff of the Australian War Museum which was now under the administration of the Commonwealth Department of Home and Territories. It was not until 1925 that a federal act established the Memorial as a statutory body and officially changed its name to the Australian War Memorial.

The first Memorial registry was implemented in late 1919 using a two part number filing system. It was replaced in 1924 with a three part number system and an accompanying classification scheme. During the Second World War the Memorial registry modified its practices. Instead of continuing to file according to subjects, it opened up a new subject '50 - War of 1939-45' for all newly created files. Within this primary classification it allotted blocks of numbers to keep files relating to similar topics together.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, John Treloar, the Memorial's Director, was appointed to the position of head of Department of Information (DOI) which he held until 19 February 1941. On the following day he was commissioned into the Australian Imperial Force (AIF), with the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel, to serve in the Middle East as a liaison officer between the AIF and the DOI and also to act as a representative of the Memorial's Board of Management. In June 1941 he became officer-in-charge of the newly created Military History and Information Section.

On the return of the section from the Middle East to Australia in early 1942 it was placed under the Army Directorate of Public Relations. Following further negotiations it discontinued its information function and was reformed as the Military History Section (MHS) in July 1942, becoming a sub-section (S. D. 9) of the Staff Duties Directorate within the Department of the Army. Treloar continued to be officer-in-charge of the MHS and it now concentrated on the collection of records and relics for the Memorial, the collation of material for the official historian and for unit histories which would be written after the war. The MHS implemented its own registry system during this period consisting of a three part number system. All correspondence with the Memorial was assigned a 206/-/- classification number.

At the end of the war the Memorial took over the records collected by the MHS and continued some of its activities. It also took over its registry files. File information indicates that the registry files were still held at the offices of the MHS section at Queens Road in Melbourne at the end of 1946. They were most likely moved to Canberra in January or February 1947 when the MHS vacated these premises. A note in the front of the 'Register of Subject Headings' (AWM334), which is one of the control records for this series, indicates that "by March 1947 the section's registry had been expanded to include AWM post-war registration."

At the time of the transfer of the files in 1947, the Memorial decided to adopt the filing system used by the MHS as it offered more flexibility and allowed for expansion. This meant that the existing Memorial registry (Series AWM93) and the MHS registry needed to be amalgamated. AWM registry files which were still active and had been given a 50/-/- classification number were to be incorporated into the new system along with the MHS files. However a survey of the files within this classification number shows that the majority of them are still located in AWM93 and the Memorial was still raising and allocating files using this number up until the mid 1950s. Files which were created by the Official Historian, Gavin Long, in the 1940s and relating to the writing of the official histories for the Second World War were still active until the completion of the series in the late 1970s. It is also evident that folios were being added to files in the first registry system up until 1993.

In November 1988 the Memorial implemented a new registry system and adopted an annual running number system which is now used by most government departments.

This series which was originally known as A7702 was redesignated AWM315 in 2003.


The files in this series relate to the administration and activities of the Australian War Memorial from around 1940 to late 1988. The topics covered include accommodation, accounting, ceremonies, exhibitions, finance, historical records, official histories, pay, photographs, publications, relics, Roll of Honour, sales, staff, unit histories, visits and war artists.

System of arrangement and control

The files were arranged using a three part number classification system where the first number represented the primary subject of the file, the second number is a subheading, e.g. general and the third number represents the sequence of files under this classification.

Two indexes were created to control the records:

AWM334 is a listing of the subject headings and their accompanying numbers in book format with the title 'Register of Subject Headings'

AWM335 is a card index recording the number and title of each file

Many of the files which were transferred from the MHS still retain a MHS stamp in the top right hand corner of the file with the new Memorial file number assigned to it after the integration of the two registries.