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11 Jun, 2015

Australian National Archives records the lifetime horrors of war

Canberra, Australian Government media release, 10 June 2015 – For many Anzacs, the horrors of war didn’t end when they returned home. Ongoing health problems – both physical and mental – often meant unemployment, disability, pain and, if things became unbearable, suicide.

The intimate details of such difficulties are preserved in more than 600,000 World War I repatriation records, held by the National Archives of Australia.

They document the medical care, welfare services and pensions provided by the Repatriation Department – now known as the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. Very few of the files have been viewed since their official use.

To mark the centenary of World War I, the National Archives has begun a $3.4 million project to describe and digitise many of the records, ensuring greater public access.

‘These records really show the ongoing impact of the war on individuals, their families and the nation as a whole,’ said David Fricker, Director-General of the National Archives.  ‘I believe the release of these records will be seen as a major contribution to social history research in Australia.

‘In a staged program, our plan is to describe as many as possible in our online database, RecordSearch, making them much easier to discover. At the same time our staff will repackage them in archival materials to ensure their ongoing preservation.

‘This stage aims to digitise 5000 of these repatriation records, notably of the men and women who left Australia from Albany in November 1914 as part of the first convoy, and returned home again. More than 2300 have already been digitised and are available online by searching under the person’s name or service number.’

Not all service men and women who returned home have a repatriation record, only those who applied for a pension or benefit.

‘Our staff and volunteers have already repackaged and described 150,000 records in our RecordSearch database, making them more accessible to the public,’ said Mr Fricker. ‘Some stories from these repatriation records have been included in the National Anzac Centre at Albany.’

Further details of the records can be found on the Discovering Anzacs website