Researching Australian military service: Second World War, 1939-1945
The Department of Veteran's Affairs created the World War 2 Nominal Roll, which provides the following details:
- Service number
- Full name
- Place of enlistment
- Date of enlistment/attestation
- Place of birth
- Date of birth
- Unit/ship/squadron at discharge
- Date of death or discharge
- Substantive rank on discharge
- Prisoner of war status (yes or no)
- Next of kin
- Honours and gallantry awards
Some published unit histories provide lists of names of their members, usually with service number. You can identify if there is a published unit history for your individual's unit by searching the Books database. Search using the name of the unit and the the date range as keywords, for example "2/2 Battalion 1939–1945".
Service records of those who served with Australian forces are held by the National Archives of Australia. You can apply to the Archives for copies of personal service records.
If your individual served with the forces of another country during the Second World War please see the information sheet Personal service records: countries other than Australia for further information.
The Roll of Honour records the names of servicemen and servicewomen who died during or as a result of service with Australian military forces. The Roll of Honour introduction provides detailed information about Roll of Honour eligibility.
The Commemorative Roll lists Australians who died during or as a result of wars or warlike operations in which Australians have been on active service but who were not eligible for inclusion on the Roll of Honour. The introduction provides detailed information about Commemorative Roll eligibility.
Commonwealth War Graves Commission's register lists all British Commonwealth soldiers who died in the First and Second World Wars. The register provides details about where the individual is buried or commemorated, including plans and photographs of the cemetery or memorial.
To locate where an individual served during the war you need to examine records of the unit with which your individual was serving. The personal service records will indicate the units and dates relevant for the individual's service. For further guidance please refer to our information sheet, Researching the history of a unit.
War diaries were kept by the commanding officer of a unit to record daily activities and location. The Memorial has digitised headquarters and infantry units' diaries from the Second World War. Those war diaries that have not been digitised are available in the Research Centre.
There are a limited number of unit profiles for the Second World War available on the Memorial's web site. The profiles include a short history of the unit, details of its casualties, decorations, battle honours, and commanding officers.
Published unit histories can be a useful source for information about where a unit served and its operations. You can identify if there is a published unit history for your individual's unit by searching the Collections database. Search using the name and date range of the unit, for example "2/2 Battalion 1939–1945".
Royal Australian Navy
Reports of Proceedings (ROPs), known previously as “Letters of Proceedings”, are summaries of a ship’s or shore base’s activities. The reports were submitted by commanding officers to the Chief of Naval Staff. To identify relevant ROPs in the Memorial’s collection use the RecordSearch database, entering the name of the ship as your keyword and AWM78 in the series number field. These records are available for viewing in the Research Centre. The Memorial is progressively digitising its collection of ROPs, many of which are now available for viewing online.
Royal Australian Air Force
Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) formation and unit records (AWM64) were kept to record operations and activities of RAAF units. The records are available for viewing on microfilm in the Research Centre. The original records have been withdrawn from public access due to their fragile nature. Original records are issued only when no microfilm copy is available. The National Archives of Australia has a duplicate series A9186, many records of which have been digitised and are available online through the RecordSearch database.
There are a limited number of unit profiles for RAAF squadrons available on the Memorial's web site. The profiles include a short history of the unit, details of its casualties, decorations, battle honours, commanding officers, and aircraft.
Official histories are a detailed chronological record of all services and all theatres of conflict. The official history for the Second World War, Australia in the War of 1939–1945, has been digitised and is available for viewing on the Memorial's web site.
Refer to our information sheets:
- Collections Search gives access to images of photographs held by the Memorial.
- PhotoSearch is the online photographic catalogue of the National Archives of Australia, and contains digital images of photographs from the collections in all state and territory offices of the archives.
- Trove includes photographs and other images held by a range of major Australian libraries, archives, and other cultural institutions.
- For contact details of state libraries and archival repositories, see our information sheet, Addresses.
- Second World War personal service records may contain a photograph.