Official History, 1914-18 War: Records of A.G.Butler, Historian of Australian Army Medical Services

Accession Number AWM41
Collection type Official Record
Object type Official Record
Conflict First World War, 1914-1918

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Public Domain Mark This item is in the Public Domain

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Arthur Graham Butler, physician and medical historian was born on 25 May 1872 at Kilcoy, Queensland. After attending Ipswich Grammar School he studied medicine at St John's College, Cambridge in the 1890s. On his return to Queensland he went into general practice in Kilcoy and then from 1902-1907 at Gladstone.

In 1912 Butler joined the Australian Army Medical Corps (AAMC) and became medical officer of the Moreton Regiment. At the outbreak of the First World War he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) and was appointed regimental medical officer to the 9th Battalion with the rank of captain.

Butler was amongst the first to land at Gallipoli and remained there until October. He was the only medical officer to win the Distinguished Service Order at Gallipoli and was also promoted to major during the campaign. In February 1916 he was appointed Deputy Assistant Director of Medical Services, I ANZAC Corps and in November 1916 was promoted to lieutenant colonel.

In 1917 Butler's superiors felt that he needed a well earned break from the front and he was reluctantly sent to the Australian War Records Section (AWRS) in London to help collate the medical records of the AIF. From July 1918 he became Commander of the 3rd Australian General Hospital at Abbeville until its closure in closure in June 1919. He returned to the AWRS until his demobilisation in February 1920.

On his return to Australia Butler resumed his private practice in Brisbane. In 1922 he agreed to write the official history of the Australian Army Medical Services in the war. This task which was initially to take two years, occupied the next 22 years of his life. The three volumes were published in 1930, 1940 and 1943 respectively.

Documentation relating to Butler's activities on the completion of the official histories is very scarce. His work entitled The digger: a study in democracy was published in 1945. Memorial files indicate that he was working in the AWM Library in 1945-1947, however a more accurate date regarding his employment cannot be established. His duties in the library included the classification of medical material that was used by him as the official historian in preparing the medical official histories.

Butler had retained most of the material he had used while writing the official histories and a large amount of it was returned from his assistants in Sydney and Melbourne in consignments in 1940. Where appropriate material was returned to the collections that it had originated from. Some of the material which had been collected by Butler while writing the official histories was placed into the 'Library classified files' which are now known as AWM27. This material was removed from AWM27 in the early 1990s when AWM27 was being listed and returned to AWM41.

Some material which was originally part of the classified or obsolete records (now AWM25) and loaned to Butler and his assistants has also been housed in AWM41 instead of being returned to its original collection. It can be recognized by the diamond-shaped Australian War Records Section stamp.

Butler made numerous donations to the AWM Library mainly from 1940-1947. Many of these were published items which are now held in the Printed Records collection. The remaining small amount of official material has been added to AWM41.

In August 1940 Butler also donated some of his personal records (2DRL/1188). This collection consisted of correspondence, diaries, notebooks and reports relating to his own war service from 1914-1918 and a set of 12 notebooks containing interviews and notes relating to the writing of the official history. These have now been incorporated into AWM41 (Items 1735-1768).

Another small collection of material belonging to Butler was donated to the AWM by Mrs E. (Effie) Bean in 1968. It consists of letters written by Butler mainly to his wife, but also to his parents and daughter in 1914-1918 and other miscellaneous items. This collection is held as 3DRL/7100. The series became known as AWM25 in the mid 1980s when the Memorial adopted its new numbering system for Official Records. Butler's papers remained uncatalogued until the 1990s when curatorial staff began to list the material.


This series consists of correspondence, diaries, interview notes, journal articles, notebooks, maps, pamphlets and other printed material, reports and statistics used by Butler and his assistants in the writing of the three volumes of the medical official histories. There is also a collection of personal narratives by nurses and doctors which were collected while undertaking research for the volumes. As well as research and background material there are also drafts and notes for various chapters of the official histories. Butler's personal diaries and notebooks relating to his own war service have also been incorporated into this series.

System of arrangement and control:

AWM41 is an artificial series of records progressively obtained from a number of sources. When staff began the arrangement and description of the collection in the early 1990s the collection was only partly controlled. The bulk of the material had previously been arranged using a two number system with the second number in some instances broken down further to include a decimal point e.g. 4/12.16, 4/12.17. Material that was removed from AWM27 and rehoused with AWM41 was renumbered using a single number system. This resulted in two completely different numbering systems.

To overcome this problem curatorial staff decided to abandon all previous systems and started again using a single number system beginning at 1, and continuing serially. Due to the large size of the collection (94 boxes) no attempt has been made to arrange the material in either chronological or subject order. The files have retained their original titles.

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