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Expert Q&A :: AWM Military Heraldry and Technology Team

Questions answered before and/or after the session: 

Q. From Vicki: I cannot work out what battles my grandfather fought in (he was awarded the MM); do I follow his original battalion (12th Tasmanian WW1) in the War Diaries, or follow the battalions he was transferred to?
A. Gary: @Vicki – Hello Vicki. Most certainly, you will need to follow the battalions that your grandfather was transferred to. Judging by your question, I am guessing that you have already studied his personnel file which should be on hand at the National Archives of Australian. If not, simply click on this link http://naa.gov.au/and navigate to the category of records relating to the First World War. For those who are new to this type of research, military records can be difficult to decipher and I am happy to assist you in any way that I can after this session. However by following his movement as recorded in the service record, you will get a fair idea of where he was at any given time. Be aware that this is merely the start to your research. Once you have taken note of his movements, reference these against the unit war diaries which are online through the AWM website. http://www.awm.gov.au/collection/records/ These unit war diaries will give you a good idea on where his unit was and what they were doing at any particular time. Some caution should be exercised. A soldier may have been absent from his Battalion for various reasons during a particular action. It is possible this may not be reflected in his service record. So unless a man is specifically mentioned by name in a unit history, or recorded as killed in action; it is only ‘reasonable’ to conclude that a particular man was engaged in a certain battle. In the case of your grandfather, you are indeed fortunate. As the winner of the M.M. (Military Medal) there should be a citation, detailing the specific deed or his work which entitled him to such an award. I also find that the Official Histories are very handy. These are not to be confused with the Unit Histories (or ‘Unit War Diaries’). The Official Histories are authored by various people, but C.E.W. Bean is one notable author and one of the men whom we consider to be the driving force behind the concept of the Australian War Memorial. Please click on this AWM link which will take you to the Official Histories http://www.awm.gov.au/histories/ As you have not included your grandfather’s name, I cannot ascertain at what stage of the war your grandfather transferred from the 12th Battalion to other units? When looking up battalion details in the Official History, simply refer to the index of each volume to identify the pages which relate to the 12th Battalion, AIF (or whatever battalion your grandfather served at that particular time). A history of the 12th Battalion, titled “The Story of the Twelfth” A Record of the 12th Battalion, A.I.F. during the Great War was written, independent of the official historians. Whilst the AWM cannot guarantee the factual content of the book, it was written by the Adjutant of the Battalion (L.M. Newton) so I personally expect it to be quite accurate and informative. The fact that it was first published circa 1925 means that it was written contemporaneously. It was last reprinted in 2010, so it should be available through your library or as an inter-library loan. – Gary

Q. From Lesley: I am looking for suggestions for finding a WW2 soldier who may have enlisted under a different name. Family story holds that my great grand aunt and her husband (himself a WW1 survivor) had 7 sons who all went off to fight in WW2 and who all survived and returned. I have located service records for 6 of the 7 brothers but the last one is a mystery. It is possible that he never did serve (estimated date of birth is around 1927 so at best he would have been 18 or 19 at the end of the war) but members of two different branches of the family believe it to be true so it is a tantalising story to follow. Any suggestions on ways to locate WW2 soldiers who may not have wanted to be found out? Is it possible to search anywhere based on the nominated next of kin? That seems to be likely the one element he might not have lied about.
A. AWM:  @Lesley. Thank you for your question. This sounds rather complicated and I think the best course of action is for you to talk to a records curator through the Research Centre at the Memorial. Hopefully they will be able to either point you towards records in the National Archives or at least assist you with your online searches. http://awm.altarama.com/reft120.aspx -Eleni

Q. From Lesley: Another question: any suggestions on where I can find information about the 7th Australian Watercraft Workshop from WW2? They were located in New Guinea but I can’t find any information about what they did, where they were, how many people were in the unit etc
A. AWM: @ Lesley – AWM Photographs 089245, 089246, 089233, 089244, 089248 are just five of 16 images which relate to the 7th Australian Watercraft Workshop which puts them in Chowder Bay, Sydney during April 1945. However to ascertain where they were located during service in New Guinea, you will need to view the Unit War Diary. This unit was part of the AUSTRALIAN ELECTRICAL AND MECHANICAL ENGINEERS. The unit diary for the 7th Australian Watercraft Workshop is on hand in the research center at the Australian War Memorial and this is likely to answer your questions. Please quote the Series number AWM52 and Control Symbol (another name for Item Number) 14/43/7 There are staff present at the Research Centre who will be able to assist you in viewing this Unit War Diary. If you click on this link: http://www.awm.gov.au/research/infosheets/ this will provide you with a list of Information Sheets available. – Gary

Q. From Peter: Would be great if the AWM could provide further information about the A Company Brass Hats so I could try and determine if any of those illustrated are family members. Thanks. Link to related photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/insidehistory/8618114515/in/photostream
A. AWM: @ Peter – It looks like a few of the men are wearing oval or circular colour patches with white over another colour. This means those men are either from the 36th Battalion (oval patch with white over green), 40th Battalion (oval patch with white over red), 44th Battalion (oval patch with white over blue), 48th Battalion (circular patch with white over dark blue) or the 52nd Battalion (circular patch with white over blue). Three of the men in the middle are sergeants, one man up the back looks to be a lieutenant (I think I can see two pips on his shoulder), the man seated on the ground is also an officer but I cannot see his pips properly. The badge on his right sleeve looks to be a bandmaster badge. The man in the middle row with criss-cross puttees on his leg appears to have a badge on his right sleeve that may be a bugler badge. The four men in the middle are wearing forage caps, which is a bit unusual – only the Australian Flying Corps tended to do that. The casual looking man up the back (with his collar undone) is a quarter master sergeant. ‘Brass hats’ was a colloquial term for high ranking officers, so is presumably being used in jest here. It is possible it is a casually put together music group rather than an official unit band but it is hard to tell. – Dianne

Q. From Bev: Can a rifle used during WW1 and WW2 be traced to who it was issued to? Name, company, etc?
A. AWM: Hello Bev. Unfortunately, it would be virtually impossible to trace a rifle to any particular soldier – so the answer to your question is ‘no’. As you are no doubt aware, each service firearm has a serial number. Through research, it may be possible (yet extremely unlikely) to have a rifle attributable to a certain branch of the service by following the ‘batch’ as it left the manufacturer. All three branches of the service (Army, Navy & Air Force) utilised rifles during the First and Second World Wars, so your search is virtually a needle in a haystack. The rifle would have journeyed through various QM stores (Quarter Master) before reaching any particular unit which would then issue the rifle to a unit or an individual serviceman. The only record that I have ever seen regarding the issue of a rifle to any particular soldier is the recording of a rifle serial number in the subject soldier’s paybook. However the examples which I refer to are often the exception and not the rule. Some paybooks and their ‘continuation’ books do not have any serial numbers of rifles recorded at all. Any record is usually hand written, more than likely by the serviceman himself. Regardless of what ‘furphies’ exist, all servicemen had to surrender their rifles upon the cessation of hostilities. So once the serviceman and the rifle part company; through either casualty or discharge, then this record ‘link’ is broken as the soldier generally kept his paybook and took it with him into civilian life. The rifle would then have gone back into stores after refurbishment or could simply have been sold out of service at a later date to end up on the open market. – Gary

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