This is Week 15 in my Beyond the Internet series in which I explore the sources of information beyond our computer screens. This week’s topic is Battle and Battalion histories and military reference books. I’d love it if you wanted to join in with your thoughts on this topic, especially if you live overseas and have a different set of records to tell us about. If possible please provide a link to your post on this page.
Book references on Battalion and Battle histories, or more general background history, can be illuminating not just for context about your ancestor’s military life, but may also provide specific information on him personally. I’ll include my bibliography of relevant histories below but no doubt others will have favourites to add.
Given my interest in the Battle of Fromelles, I have two excellent books on this in my library. Both provide a wealth of detail about the circumstances of Australia’s Darkest Day[i] and the military strategy, or lack of it, that around this battle. Both books also have innumerable references to my husband’s great uncle, Lt Col Walter Edmund Hutchison Cass, including information which we did not know previously. At the 2003 Australasian Genealogy and Heraldry Congress, Roger Kershaw and his colleague from The National Archives (UK) spoke first on Anzac Day. They showed a backpack with a bullet hole in it and other documents. At the time the service records of Australia’s regular army had not been digitised and the TNA people assumed he’d been killed at Gallipoli. After the talk I managed to catch up with them, and let them know how much was in the Fromelles book that I’d bought the previous day. His military history is spread across the Australian War Memorial (AWM), The National Archives UK and the National Archives of Australia, and entirely possible in other locations as well.
These histories are very useful to learn more about the background to my grandfather’s cousin’s death at the very start of the battle.
Battalion histories are likely to provide a bird’s eye view of their battalion’s significant battles. Some will be more comprehensive than others but it’s worth searching the National Library of Australia catalogue to see what they have, remembering you can get an inter-library loan for any of the books they hold to the nearest reference library. If you don’t live near a reference library and have a specific question, perhaps a page reference, then the Ask a Librarian service may be able to help.
The benchmark history for World War I is Bean’s history which is now digitised on the AWM site here.
Military histories with an ethnic background
As is well known, Australians of German descent were personae non grata during World War I, with legislation governing their movements or internment. Neighbours were sometimes happy to “dob” on a German-born or German descent neighbour even with no true evidence of their disloyalty. I read a number of these long ago in the NAA in Brisbane, and there was definitely a sense of envy around some issues eg he has a new piano so he must be selling guns.
Despite this, or perhaps because, I found that the descendants of my Dorfprozelten immigrants were quite likely to join up, and to gain award and medals: perhaps they had a point to prove. The involvement of the descendants was more likely where their parents or grandparents were a German/other combination rather than German/German. This applied to the Catholic Bavarians from Dorfprozelten but really I can’t make generalisations about descendants of Germans from other areas. I chose to write about the German Anzacs in my Remembrance Day blog post last year.
Last but far from least, there are many books, both fiction and non-fiction, which deal with the consequences of the war. Not only did the men suffer in all sorts of ways, so did their wives, children and families. Patsy Adam-Smith’s “Anzacs” and Bill Gammage’s “The Broken Years” are classics, but you may want to search the catalogues and bookstores to see what else you can find.
With the help of the National Library, your local reference library and bookshops with good military history selections, you will be able to find some excellent reading for your family’s military history.
Selected Bibliography from my bookshelves
Don’t forget me cobber, the Battle of Fromelles 19/20 July 1916, an Inquiry, Corfield, R S. Corfield and Co, Victoria, 2000.
Fromelles, Lindsay, P. Hardie Grant Books, Prahran Victoria 2008
The Great War, Carlyon, L. Picador, Australia, 2007
Always Faithful, the History of the 49th Battalion, Cranston, F. Boolarong Publications, Brisbane, 1983.
The 61st Battalion, 1938-1945, The Queensland Cameron Highlanders’ War, Watt, J. Australian Military History Publications, Loftus, 2001.
Anzacs and Ireland, Kildea, J. UNSW Press, Sydney, 2007
German Anzacs and the First World War, Williams, J F. UNSW Press, Sydney 2003.
Queensland and Germany, Corkhill, A. Academia Publications 1992.
Australia and The “Kaiser’s War” 1914-1918, Moses, J. Broughton Press, 1993.
The Broken Years: Australian Soldiers in the Great War, Gammage, Bill. Penguin, 1975.
The Anzacs, Adams-Smith, P. Thomas Nelson Australia 1981.
The Anzacs: Gallipoli To The Western Front, Pederson, P. Penguin Australia, 2007
Goodbye Cobber, God Bless You, Hamilton, J. Pan Macmillan 2004.
[i] Fromelles. Lindsay, P, Hardie Grant Books, Prahran Victoria 2008, cover publicity.