British First World War Records: The Australian Imperial Forces

I have always been interested in my family tree, and have sporadically carried out small pieces of research. With the centenary of the First World War beginning last year, I have also enjoyed volunteering at my local history and studies centre in Trafford, here in sunny Manchester.

So when my father in law gave my husband a collection of WW1 medals from 2 of his ancestors, I was intrigued to learn more. Some of the medals (including 2 Memorial Plaques, given to next of kin of all those killed as a result of WW1), battalion badges and a dog-tag, bore the name Harry Shooter, with the service no. 682, and the initials A.I.F., which I had not come across before. A very quick “A.I.F. WW1” search on the internet brought up the “Australian Imperial Force.” This was a surprise to all, as my father in law is Nottinghamshire born and bred!

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Figure 1 – Harry Shooter’s medals and dog tag

The top of the search list brought up the Australian Government’s “National Archives of Australia” website where we could search straight away for Harry.  Within seconds of first holding his medals we were viewing scanned digitalised copies of 32 pages of Harry’s service records: his attestation papers telling us he was a 25 year old miner living in New South Wales when he signed up in August 1914. We read that he had brown eyes, dark hair and a dark complexion, what he weighed, how tall he was, even his chest size.

We then read that he was killed in action at Gallipoli on 19th May, 1915, by which time he was a Sergeant (actually at the “Landing of Dardenelles”). The next of kin details confirm that he is the same man; the list of personal effects to be returned to his parents include a watch and a book of songs.

http://recordsearch.naa.gov.au/SearchNRetrieve/Interface/ViewImage.aspx?B=8083240

It was quick and easy to follow links to find where Harry is buried, and we can zoom right in on Google maps to get a sense of where Harry fought and died. There is even a website that has photographs of individual headstones. http://www.twgpp.org/information.php?id=3573688  .. for those who will never make the journey themselves.

Harry is also remembered at the Australian War Memorial, and we can see precisely where he is on the Roll of Honour, thousands of miles away. We can also see that his name, along with thousands of others, will be projected several times over the course of the centenary, on to the exterior of the Hall of Memory. https://www.awm.gov.au/people/rolls/R1661100/

I found all this for free using the fantastic Australian websites that are available to all. Whilst it is true that many British WW1 records were lost during the bombings of WW2, it does seem unfair that any that do survive in the UK, relatives have to generally pay to view on line. (There are some exceptions http://www.yourfamilystory.co.uk/services/ww1-service-records/). I feel somewhat affronted that as a relative of World War One heroes, I have to pay to view my heritage in the UK: it seems to me the Australian Government has their priorities right!

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Figure 2 – Sergeant H. Shooter, Nottingham Daily Express, 15 July 1915, Pg. 6, found among my Father in Law’s records, confirmed by Nottingham Local Studies Library


Appendices:  Brief research on ancestry.co.uk shows that the 19 year old Harry actually joined the Sherwood Foresters (Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Regiment) in England before the First World War in 1910. He was disciplined for absconding, and then was declared a deserter in February 1912.  So my next research challenge? Finding out what happened between his absconding and then signing up at the outbreak of war in Australia..

Harry Shooter’s sister Winifred not only lost her brother, but her husband too (my great grandfather in law, George Lee aged 25)..

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