Researching family history

Before beginning a search, family members should assemble as much evidence as possible. The full name, date of birth, and service number of the person is ideal.

The service number should appear on any military paperwork. The service number, first initials and surname should be stamped on the rim of any medals awarded to the member, including service medals.


Personal files for the British Commonwealth Occupation Force (BCOF), Korea and all other conflicts since 1953 are held by Defence. These can be requested through the Service records page on the Defence website. Information about medal entitlements is available from Defence Honours and awards.

The National Archives of Australia collection contains records of service in the Australian armed forces, dating principally from Federation in 1901.

Other online resources:

In some instances, reference enquiries can be answered by the Australian War Memorial's Research Centre via

Military service in Australia

Before 1902

Until 1870, British Infantry Regiments garrisoned the Australian colonies. Even after that date, specialists such as Royal Artillery and Royal Engineers supported the colonial forces.

Numerous British officers and soldiers joined the various colonial units as they were raised, especially in times of perceived defence emergency. Colonial or Australian Army records may refer to prior British service. Details of service will need to be sought from British records such as the Army Museums Ogilby Trust (UK).

Before 1901 each Australian colony maintained its own military forces. The records of those who served in these forces can be found in the appropriate state archive.

South African War (Boer War), 1899 – 1902

Those who served in the South African War (Boer War) from 1899-1901 served in various colonial contingents. Only those who enlisted after 26 January 1901 into one of the contingents of the Australian Commonwealth Horse actually served in the Australian Army. 

The records of those who served in colonial contingents should be located in the relevant State Archives. These contingents included (but are not limited to):

  • the Queensland Mounted Infantry 
  • the Victorian Mounted Rifles 
  • the NSW Lancers 
  • various drafts of Imperial Bushmen.

A number of men who served in the South African War did not immediately return to Australia following their tour of duty. Many enlisted in local South African units such as the Bushveldt Carrabineers.

Some personal files from the post-1914 era, were not kept in colonial military forces. It is advisable to enquire at the relevant State Archives about how to search for this information.

First World War, 1914 – 1919

In the First World War the Australian Flying Corps, which flew fighter, bomber and reconnaissance aircraft, was part of the Army. 

By 1914 the Australian Army was based on a conscript militia force that could not be required to serve outside Australia. The militia was also known as the Citizen Military Forces. In order to meet the intense public response to support the "Mother Country", a special volunteer force had to be raised for unrestricted service. This became the Australian Imperial Force (AIF). 

The AIF was initially raised on a regimental basis. Officers did not have service numbers. Within each battalion the numbers started at 1 and worked up in the order that recruits were enlisted.

Second World War, 1939 – 1945

In 1939 the Australian Army was still based on a conscript militia force that could not be required to serve outside Australia. Consequently, a Second Australian Imperial Force (AIF) was raised and the original force then became the First AIF. Militia Army numbers had a prefix indicating the state of enlistment (Q for Queensland, V for Victoria, etc.). An X was added to the number to distinguish AIF enlistment (QX1234) from militia. 

AIF units that had corresponding units in the militia were given a ‘2/’ prefix to avoid confusion with battalions in the militia (2/31st Bn). 

Pacific War, 1941 – 1945

When the Pacific War broke out the Australian Government was faced with a direct threat to the northern shores. The government modified its opposition to militia serving overseas. 

Under this modification, service was permitted in a defined area that included Papua New Guinea, some islands north and north-west of Papua New Guinea, and a small part of the Netherlands East Indies around Merauke. The zone was later extended to include greater parts of the Netherlands East Indies,

At that time, the Australian Army was four separate armies and each had separate conditions of service. These were:

  • the Permanent Military Force (PMF) - regulars who had not been transferred to the AIF
  • the Second AIF - volunteers for service worldwide 
  • the Citizen Military Forces (CMF) - partly conscripted and liable for service only in Australia and the defined area in the South West Pacific 
  • the Volunteer Defence Corps (VDC) - modelled on the British Home Guard and run by the RSL.

In February 1942 the VDC was made part of the CMF, but with different conditions of service. 

Later in the war, when 65 per cent of the members of a militia battalion volunteered for the AIF the unit was redesignated as AIF. The AIF prefix was then added to the unit’s identifying number (24 Bn AIF). This process occasionally required the transfer of units between formations and the transfer of individuals between units. 

British Commonwealth Occupation Force (Japan) and Korean War, 1945 – 1953

Korea Force was a special force raised for service in Korea. The term ‘KFOR’ may appear on service records to indicate enlistment specifically for service in Korea, with discharge shortly after return to Australia.