This series comprises printed nominal rolls of individual Australian Imperial Force units and reinforcements as they embarked from Australia during the First World War. The rolls are usually referred to as embarkation rolls, or nominal rolls as at embarkation and were printed by the Government Printer, Albert J. Mullett in Melbourne.
It is unclear when the process of printing the rolls began, but a Defence Department report written at the end of the war notes that, 'The printing of nominal rolls, as at embarkation, is steadily progressing.' (Report upon the Department of Defence, c 1919, p 217). The same report suggests that it was planned to print 100 copies of each unit's rolls for distribution to the AIF Headquarters abroad, Military Commandants, Commonwealth Electoral Officers, Statisticians, the Audit Office, the Red Cross Bureau, and other departments as required.
The printed rolls were based on actual forms completed just prior to embarkation, and retained by the Army for further reference. Examples of these original forms can be found in AWM332, a smaller collection of embarkation rolls originally held by the AIF Base Records Section and received by the Memorial from the Central Army Records Office (CARO) in 2004. Many of these original forms have later annotations, and show signs of extended use by the Army, including being mended or strengthened along the edges with glued-on strips of paper.
During the war the original embarkation rolls seem to have been used primarily by the branch pay offices, and post war were possibly used by Base Records as the basis for medal rolls and honours lists (Report upon the Department of Defence, c 1919, p 217). The information contained in the embarkation rolls provided a useful summary of personal information on each member of the AIF including their full name, service number, trade, date of enlistment, religion, name and address of next of kin and marital status. The purpose of the printed rolls seems to have been to distribute this information to various organisations for a variety of uses. For example, statisticians may have used them as a source of information for studying the make up of the AIF and in fact, the report of the Defence Department contains several tables of statistics which have been compiled from the embarkation rolls (Report upon the Department of Defence, c 1919, p 219). The Red Cross Bureau may well have requested a set of printed rolls to assist with their enquiries regarding soldiers' welfare and as a source of names and address of next of kin. From the provenance of collections of embarkation rolls in existence today we also know that, sets of printed rolls were distributed to offices of the Repatriation Department located in each state.
It is not clear when the Australian War Memorial first acquired a set of printed embarkation rolls, however a set was clearly in the Memorial's collection in August 1935, when the Memorial was offered an additional set from the Repatriation Department's Brisbane Office. At this time the Memorial's director, John Treloar wrote to his representative in Brisbane Mrs W. B. Rees,
'It is, I think, undesirable that we should take advantage of your offer if the nominal rolls will duplicate records already in our possession.. We already have the nominal rolls which were handed in by units when they were demobilized. In addition we have a nominal roll, arranged alphabetically, prepared by the Defence Department. Finally we have the embarkation rolls which also constitute nominal rolls of the units. The last named were printed and were probably widely distributed in Australia so that it is probable that the rolls you have are copies of the embarkation rolls.' (AWM93, 12/5/268)
In November Mrs Rees wrote again to Treloar explaining that she received a "pretty big heap" of rolls from the Repatriation Department and had found when she sorted through them that there was in fact 'two complete sets and still duplicates of some units'. One set eventually came to the Memorial as two donations of material, 2DRL865 in July 1936 and as 2DRL926 in February1937 while the other set were placed with the Oxley Library in Brisbane (AWM93, 12/5/268).
The donated records lists for 2DRL865 and 2DRL926 itemise the embarkation rolls which the Memorial received from the Repatriation Department's Brisbane office. However, once in the Memorial custody, the rolls were physically intermingled with the Memorial's existing set of embarkation rolls. As a result it is now difficult to distinguish which rolls originally came from which source. In 1990 two more rolls were added to AWM8 from the Private Records of Brigadier H B Taylor (AWM8 Series Dossier).
Given that it was planned to print 100 copies of each unit's embarkation roll, it is not surprising that the printed embarkation rolls held by the Memorial are not the only ones in existence today. The National Archives of Australia holds a collection of 12.6 metres of embarkation rolls as series SP1092/1 in their NSW state office. These rolls were transferred to the Archives in 1968 by the Repatriation Department when it vacated its Heffron Park offices in Sydney (series notes for SP1092/1). The John Mortlock Library in South Australia holds a set of rolls which form part of the records of the Red Cross Information Bureau, (Record Group: SRG 76) and of course the John Oxley Library in Brisbane holds the other set of rolls from the Repatriation Department's Brisbane Office.
Each roll includes the dates of embarkation, the port embarked from and the ship concerned. Personal information is provided in column format under the following headings: regimental number, name, rank, age, trade or calling, married or single, address, next of kin and address, religion, date of joining, rate of pay, remarks.
Some rolls are divided by unit parts, such as headquarters, companies and sections. Different parts may have different embarkation details. The rolls are principally arranged by regimental number (officers and NCOs excepted) and alphabetised within different units, sections and reinforcements. Rolls not in alphabetical order include some reinforcements, and some units and sections such as headquarters, nurses, chaplains and others.
At the base of each page is the reference number C.16602 followed by an abbreviation of the unit's number.
System of arrangement and control:
A three-number classification system, corresponding to the classification imposed on the 1914-18 unit war diaries (AWM4), has been imposed on the series so that diaries and rolls can be cross-referenced. The primary and secondary numbers of the embarkation roll numbers imposed here are thus the same as that of the unit's war diary, if held. The third number signifies particular embarkations (one or more) of the same unit, '1' representing the original embarkation roll, other numbers equating to the rolls of subsequent reinforcements. Where no war diary number for a particular unit was assigned originally, that unit's embarkation roll has been given the next available number on the war diary listing of the particular corps (infantry, artillery, etc.) There is no equivalent war diary to rolls with such numbers.