Can I get a copy of records?
You can, if you served, or generally you are the next-of-kin of a deceased member who has served.
The Privacy Act applies to recent service; however, if the service in question was at least thirty (30) years ago, the records are in the public domain, and available to anyone, regardless of the type of service – navy, army or air force, stoker, cook, or SASR trooper.
So, I can get a copy of records?
You can, through Navy Records, Central Army Records Office (CARO) and Air Force Records. CARO is a sub unit of the Soldier Career Management Agency (SCMA). Older records are available through the National Archives of Australia for a small fee, here.
All initially accessed through the Department of Defence’s Directorate of Honours and Awards (details below).
Among other duties these agencies are responsible for the maintenance of personal files on serving and discharged personnel from early last century to the present day and for the information which may be released, including that on medals. Records maintained by these agencies are of a personal nature only and do not include information regarding unit, ship or squadron activities, battles, areas of operation, campaigns, histories, prisoners of war, war graves, honour rolls, nominal rolls or medical records. Enquiries of this nature should be directed to the War Graves Commission, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs or the Australian War Memorial as applicable. The Memorial cannot contact CARO on a researcher’s behalf: individuals must conduct their own research or hire a research agent.
Some of the more common types of enquiries that agencies receive are outlined below.
1. Can I get another copy of my discharge papers? No. However, if your discharge papers have been lost or destroyed then you can be issued with a Certificate of Service. This certificate is not as detailed but it does contain period of service, type of service and any decorations, medals or commendations awarded.
2. I would like to obtain a copy of service records. The records maintained are personal: if an ex-member is still living, only that person is entitled to a copy of his or her service record – unless thirty years or more ago, in which case the records (all records: no such thing as ‘secret records’) are available for public access. For public access documents, contact the National Archives (see ‘Important Notice’ below) and you can order records online through their web site. They also have contact details on their site for branches in all states. If the service is less than thirty years ago then each service should be contacted and they must have the written authorisation of the member or ex-member concerned, or in the case of the member being deceased, the written authorisation of the closest living relative.
Army, Navy and Air Force records sections are not a genealogical service; priorities are with the serving and the ex-serving serviceperson. If you require information for your family tree then they can not always assist, and a limit is placed on such enquiries. Often there may be a long wait before you receive a reply due to the enormous number of enquiries these agencies receive each day.
3. Points to note
(a) All enquiries must be in writing and contain the following information:
All given names of the service person
Period of service if known
Date of birth if known.
If you are unable to provide all of the above information then at least some of the following information should be included:
Date and place of birth Unit/s, Ship/s or Muster/s Whether the service was full-time or part-time The State of enlistment Details inscribed on medals and badges if any are held Details of persons most likely to be recorded as the ex-member’s next of kin on enlistment, eg. parents, wife, brother or sister Any other name in which the ex-member might have served Date of death if applicable.
(b) Enquiries should be addressed as follows:
Directorate of Honours and Awards
BP33-1, Department of Defence
PO Box 7952
CANBERRA BC ACT 2610
(c) Army service records from the First World War are held by the National Archives in Canberra. Copies of the records may be purchased by any member of the public.
If you are looking for Army records from the First World or Prior service; WWI Personnel Records Section National Archives P.O. Box 117 MITCHELL ACT 2911.
(d) If the service person served in the Army in both world wars, their records would have been amalgamated into one file. Requests for these files should be directed to CARO or the National Archives of Australia.
Be aware that the relevant service offices can take many months to deliver records due to being relatively short-staffed and resourced. Whilst they do an admirable job of providing records where at all possible at no, or little cost, the time taken can be inordinately long. The preferred option for many people is to contact the National Archives and usually within six (6-8) to eight weeks at a modest cost to cover photo-copying, you will have a complete set of service records provided that thirty (30) years have passed since discharge. You can contact the National Archive offices in all state capital cities, or online (site includes all state office contact details) here; The National Archives Online.
National Service Ballots:
The National Service Scheme, 1964-72 covering the years from the Insurgency into Malaya by Indonesian forces through to Viet Nam is explained in some detail (including the ballots and birthdates) on the Australian War Memorial’s web site. The National Service scheme was introduced by the government of Sir Robert Menzies in November 1964 and operated until December 1972, when the newly elected government led by Gough Whitlam suspended it.
The scheme was based on a birthday ballot of nineteen year old men who had registered their names with the Department of Labour and National Service. Despite myths perpetuated by the mainstream media, National Service was not introduced for the war in Viet Nam – it was introduced in the era of the Malayan Emergency some two years prior to the first combat troop deployments into Viet Nam.
British Personnel: For British ex-service personnel, locations for researching medal issues have recently changed (July 2005) to the following addresses;
British Service prior to 1920
The National Archive
British Service post 1920
Officer in Charge
The Army Medal Office
New Zealand Personnel:
The Medals Office
Private Bag 905
Please include the following information to assist the Headquarters staff to locate your file: Surname,Full Given Names and any other names you are known by, Date and Place of Birth, Service Number, Rank and Branch of Service (Army, Navy, Air Force), Regiment/Battalion/Unit/Ship, Period of Service, Next of Kin, Address and Occupation at time of Enlistment. Don’t forget to include your current Address and Phone Number in the letter.
Australian enquirers calling on the department’s 1800 telephone numbers should be aware that these numbers are extremely busy says the department and delays may be experienced in reaching an operator.
Medal Application Forms
If you need an application form for the re-issue or first issue of Australian medals you have not claimed (NOTE: Duplicates are no longer issued to anyone other than the original recipient.
You can apply online here, to Defence Honours & Awards.