The Lucky Country

We are so lucky in Australia.

To qualify that statement – we are so lucky that the Australian First World War service records are incredibly detailed, complete, online, and freely available. This certainly made the research process much easier.

As a few of the Tramway Anzacs transferred to serve in the British Army, we looked to their archival sources to complete our research. And it was here we made some curious discoveries: the British records are nowhere near as detailed as the Australian sources, and are behind a paywall. The lack of detail and breadth is not entirely surprising, given over 60% of the comparable British records were destroyed by bombing in the Second World War. Most of the surviving records show signs of fire and smoke damage; in those we managed to access the bomb damage was evident!

If we had been attempting a similar exercise to Tramway Anzacs in Britain, the research would have been very expensive. As a small volunteer organisation, we could never have assembled the detail of individual soldier’s stories that we managed to without the rich and complete records of the National Archives of Australia, the Australian War Memorial, the Public Records Office of Victoria, the State Library of Victoria, and the National Library of Australia.

It is common in Australian society to denigrate the public service. But in this case we should be thankful for and proud of the job they do in preserving our national history and cultural heritage.