Troopship records, 1914-1918 War

Accession Number AWM7
Collection type Official Record
Object type Official Record
Date made 1914-1920
Conflict First World War, 1914-1918

Item copyright: Copyright expired - public domain

Public Domain Mark This item is in the Public Domain

Copying Provisions Copy provided for personal non-commercial use, permission from copyright holder must be sought for commercial use

This series records the logistic processes involved in transporting the AIF to Europe and back again, in the form of movement orders, war diaries, nominal rolls and telegrams.

The logistics of moving thousands of men and hundreds of tons of equipment half-way around the world are complicated. In 1914, the government inspected and chartered a total of 28 troopships to move the AIF to the Middle East, and Europe, as recounted in the official history:

There already lay in various ports a large fleet of troopships, numbered A1 to A28 (a system of numbering which the Australian transports retained throughout the war). A heavy price was due for every day’s hire of each ship, and any delay in sailing was not only most trying for the troops, who had said good-bye to their families and friends, but also highly expensive to the country.

– C E W Bean, The Story of ANZAC, p. 86

These 28 ships were to be supplemented as the war progressed, by merchant shipping either chartered or otherwise taken up from trade, until a total of 74 vessels were used by the Commonwealth during one stage of the war or another. Some, like HMAT Orvieto [A3] were only used for a brief period of time (released on 29 DEC 14) while others made many voyages between 1914 and 1920.

During the early period of the war, series items record the movement of men, horses and equipment to the battlefields. On these voyages complete units travelled together, and recorded notes on the voyage in their unit war diary - these records will usually be found in AWM4. A record of the voyage was also kept, which recorded the senior officer’s findings on the quality of the vessel during the voyage using form T.106 (Voyage Report), which is counter noted by the Captain of the vessel and/or the senior naval officer where one was present.

After the early war period, most troop movements by sea consisted of men and women from a mixture of formations and units – being sent overseas as reinforcement drafts or returning home on leave, usually prior to demobilisation. For the purposes of the voyage, a ‘draft’ unit was formed, commanded by the senior officer aboard, usually a Major. These units counted as ‘provisional’ units under Section 114 of Field Service Regulations Part II 1909 – and as such were required to maintain war diaries, which are typically enclosed within the voyage report.

The content of each war Diary varies. Some are very short records of the voyage, while others record a large amount of detail on daily events and the minutiae of shipboard life. Typically, the level of detail increases as the war goes on. In particular, the post-war reports are very detailed, containing numerous appendices.

However, primarily, these records recount the logistics involved in assembling a draft of men and women, then shipping them many thousands of sea miles. Shropshire [8] contains a voluminous file of the correspondence associated with the voyage documented at Shropshire [9] – demonstrating the complexity of identifying the officers and men eligible and available for return, assembling them at the appointed hour, then dispersing them appropriately at the end of the voyage.

System of arrangement and control

The series covers voyages leaving Australia, and voyages returning to Australia. It is arranged alphabetically, by name of troopship. Within each series, separate files are kept regarding each voyage or area of interest. For example: HMAS Shropshire (A9) took part in seven voyages during her AIF commission and after the war as a chartered vessel. Each voyage is contained in a separate file within the series. Additionally, correspondence associated with the ship is filed in the series associated with that ship. For example: in 1914 the Shropshire was inspected for cleanliness by the Australian Medical Corps prior to commissioning. That report appears in the Shropshire series as Shropshire [1].

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