On Monday 10 August the library hosted the 12th Family History Feast, with its theme being World War I.
The 2015 Don Grant Memorial Lecture was given by Professor Bruce Scates, Chair of History and Australian Studies and Director of the National Centre for Australian Studies, Monash University.
Bruce began by praising and acknowledging genealogists and family historians as being true advocates of history. He went on to give a riveting talk about the importance of the repatriation, soldier settlement and service records and how they can be used to demonstrate how difficult life was after the war. In particular he focused on three recent initiatives that have allowed people to find out more about the experiences of those who served in WWI.
World War 1: a history in 100 stories
World War 1: a history in 100 stories, is a free online course commemorating the Anzac centenary. This course tells the story of the men and women who died during WWI’ those who returned home – often irreparably damaged, and the families who were left behind.
One of the 100 stories looks at the life of Private Bernie Haines. Bernie lied about his age and enlisted at age 14. He sailed overseas when he was 15 and was only 16 when his spine was shattered at Bapaum, France in 1917. After being repatriated to Australia, he was sent to Caulfield Repatriation Hospital and endured over 40 operations, before dying in 1926, aged only 25. The full `100 stories’ video on `Bernie Haines – The boy soldier’ can be found here.
The `100 Stories’ course is part of the Monash University 100 Stories Project – they will be launching the book World War One: a history in 100 stories this Remembrance day. Several of the librarians in the Family History team recently completed this course and found it to be a fascinating and incredibly moving experience.
Bruce then talked about the Discovering Anzacs website. This site was developed by the National Archives of Australia and Archives New Zealand to commemorate the centenary of WWI. It contains over 600,000 digitised service records of the Australians and New Zealanders who served in WWI and some records relating the Boer War. A growing number of Australian repatriation records have also been added. A full list of available records can be found here.
You can locate a profile by searching for a name or service number or you can browse the name of a town to find the places of birth and enlistment of individuals. One of the great features of the Discovering Anzacs website is that anyone can contribute to it – by adding photos, biographical information and life events to individual profiles.
Digitisation of Repatriation files
Professor Scates was one of a panel of expert historians who had recommended the digitisation of repatriation records to the Anzac Centenary Advisory Board. Australia’s repatriation files are one of the largest single holdings in the National Archives of Australia, with 600,000 records stretching over 10 kilometres of shelving. They include medical, hospital and pension records from when the person returned home until their death.
$3.4 million was allocated to the National Archives for `Project Albany”, a project to digitise and index a selection of Anzacs’ repatriation records. These are the records of over 5000 men and women who left Australia from Albany, WA in November 1914 as part of the first convoy and who returned to Australia and applied for either a pension or a benefit.
Records can be found on the National Archives of Australia website and you can search for an online record using either a person’s name or service number.’
Bruce spoke passionately about the significance of the records and how they reveal the terrible trauma the returned service personnel were faced with. For many, the horrors of war didn’t end once they returned home – they continued to experience ongoing physical and mental health problems, unemployment and suicide. The repatriation files also demonstrate how difficult life was after the war – not only for the returned service personnel but also for the families and the community who cared for them. He argued that although the records are confronting they are vital documents that tell truth about the human cost of conflict.
You can view the full video of Professor Scates’ powerful presentation here.