Discover your family history through military and war records.
Tracing your ancestors via Australian Military records and to individual regiments can be a little daunting when researching Australian and New Zealand family history. This is because of the many different regiments and forces which appear to have been in existence, of which many grew out of British Royal regiments for example.
Below is a list of the main Australian and New Zealand forces (this is not exhaustive) and a short summary and history to help you with your genealogy search.
Royal Australian Air Force
The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) was formed in 1921 and continued the respected traditions of the Australian Flying Corps (see below) which was formed in 1912. It has taken part in many of the 20th century’s major conflicts such as the Second World War, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. It is estimated that over 200,000 men and women served in the RAAF during the Second World War – 10,000 were killed in action. This century the RAAF has taken part in conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and today it provides support to various operations such as air superiority, surveillance and reconnaissance, and precision strikes.
Australia’s military land force, the Australian Army is commanded by the Chief of Army and falls under the jurisdiction of the Australian Defence Force (ADF). Historically there are two main periods: 1901 to 1947 when peacetime soldiers were in reserve units of the Citizens Military Force (CMF) and overseas Australian Imperial Forces (see below), and 1947 to the present day when a standing peacetime regular infantry force was formed and the CMF went into decline. It has taken part in major conflicts such as the Second Boer War, the First and Second World Wars, the Korean War, Vietnam, and Afghanistan.
Australian Flying Corps
In 1911, the British Empire proposed that aviation should be developed as a fighting force and Australia was one of the first to make real headway. Formed in 1912 and the Second oldest air force in the world, the Australian Flying Corps was a forerunner to the Royal Australian Air force. Major Edgar Reynolds commanded the force at the outbreak of the First World War. It took part in operations such as capturing German colonies in new Guinea, assisting the Indian army in protecting British oil interests, light bombing operations, flying supplies to the garrisons at Kut, committing to reconnaissance campaigns in Amiens and facilitating raids in Aras, and Ypres.
Australian Imperial Force
The Australian Imperial force was a land force which was raised to fight overseas in the time of the British Empire and specifically during the First and Second World Wars. The First Imperial Force was raised in 1914 to take part in the Great War and was composed of 1 infantry division and 1 horse brigade. This was a volunteer force which fought at Gallipoli, the Western Front and Sinai. This force was disbanded in 1921 to be replaced at the beginning of the Second World War by the Second Imperial Force. Soldiers were conscripted and the force was more structured, and took part in campaigns such as Tobruk, the Battle of Bunagona and Timor.
Royal Australian Infantry Corps
Established in 1948, the Royal Australian Infantry Corps is the parent corps for all infantry regiments in Australia. The role of the infantry is to “seek out and close with the enemy, to kill or capture him, to seize and hold ground, to repel attack by day or night regardless of weather, season or terrain”.
Royal Australian Navy
The Royal Australian Navy (RAN) is the naval branch of the Australian Defence Force and was established in 1901 when the Australian colonies were amalgamated. At the outset the force was designed for local as well as imperial conflicts. With the outbreak of the First World War it was placed under the control of the British Admiralty and was tasked with capturing many of Germany’s South Pacific colonies. After the war the size of the force increased by six destroyers but was reduced again with the depression in the thirties. However at its height during the Second World War it was the fourth largest navy in the world. The Royal Australian Navy has taken part in operations in Korea and Vietnam and more recently East Timor and the Solomon Islands.
Royal Australian Air Force Nursing Service
The RAAFNS was first formed in 1940 as a branch of the Royal Australian Air Force. Unlike the Australian Army Nursing Service, nurses had to serve overseas and were positioned at clearing stations, base hospitals, sick quarters and rehabilitation centres. A medical station was set up in New Guinea so they were present at the Battle of Port Moresby. After the war they took part in the care of returning soldiers before it was disbanded in 1946. In 1948 it was re-formed to coincide with the Korean War. All nurses were trained civilian nurses who signed up for four years. The last nurses returned home in 1956. The RAAFNS also took part in the Vietnam War.
Royal Australian Naval Reserve
The Australian Naval Reserve (RANR) is the volunteer wing of the Royal Australian Navy. Its history can be traced back to 1863 and the formation of the New South Wales Naval Brigade. Each colony created its own reserve but with the coming of the Royal Australian Navy numbers declined. It has always been a voluntary force offering training for boys and young men and in the early 20th century was known as the Citizens Naval Militia. The reserve forces took part in both the First and Second World wars. After the wars, training continued for both officers and ratings.
New Zealand Military Forces
The New Zealand Military Forces were the parent force to what we now call the New Zealand Army (see below) and traces its history back to 1845 when it was made up of European volunteer settlers. The first major conflicts were internal and involved disputes with the indigenous Maori population. In 1899 mounted riflemen led a New Zealand contingent in the Boer War. The Defence Act of 1909 ended the volunteer structure and introduced universal service. They fought closely with Australia in the First World War and were immortalised as “ANZACS” through the part they played at Gallipoli. In the Second World War they fought at Greece and Crete and took part in the Desert Campaign and The Italian campaign.
New Zealand Army
The New Zealand Army grew out of the New Zealand Military Forces (see above) and was officially formed after the Second World War to confront the Soviets at the time of the Cold War. Compulsory military training was put in place by the New Zealand Army Act 1950. The New Zealand Army took part in the Korean War, the Malayan emergency and the confrontation with Indonesia in the 1950’s. In the 1960’s the force saw action in Vietnam and more recently East Timor and Afghanistan.
New Zealand Expeditionary Force
The New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF) was formed primarily to fight for Britain in the First World War. When the First World War began the forces were made up of 8,500 men and comprised both infantry and mounted troops. These first troops were volunteers, but in 1916 conscription was introduced. By the end of the war half the male population of New Zealand had served with the NZEF. At Gallipoli the NZEF combined with the Australian 4th Infantry Brigade to form the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC).
The NZEF went on to fight in the Second World War when it was renamed the 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force, It was disbanded in 1961.
New Zealand Navy
The Royal New Zealand Navy as it is known now grew out of New Zealand’s early relationship with the British Empire. The Royal Navy protected the country’s shores after it became a colony. It was during the First World War that the 1913 Naval Defences Act created the New Zealand Naval Forces but they were still a part of the Royal Navy. After being involved in major battles such as the River Plate after New Zealand entered the Second World War in its own right the force became known as the New Zealand Royal Navy.
New Zealand Women’s Auxiliary Air forces
The New Zealand Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (NZWAAF) was first formed in 1941 and stationed at Rongotai. This experiment where women took on catering duties was a great success and it was followed by a further expansion over 9 similar stations. Recruitment however was hampered in 1943 when there was a greater requirement for Women in industrial roles. The force was disbanded in 1944.
Royal New Zealand Air force
The Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) was formed form the New Zealand elements of the British Air force in 1923. The RNZAF fought in the Second World War, Malaysia, Vietnam, the Gulf Wars and on various peace-making missions for the United Nations. In the Second World war their primary role was to offer training due to New Zealand’s distance from the conflict. This did not prevent the air force seeing action and consequently a high degree of missions led to squadrons and individual pilots receiving medals such as the Victoria Cross.
Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve
The first naval volunteer units were formed in 1858 in Auckland and Nelson when volunteers were trained in boats and gunnery (later submarines and minefields) and manned some of the coastal batteries of the main coastal ports. The force grew quickly and reached its peak in 1880 with 20 units. It was in 1926 that it became known as the Royal Naval Volunteer Force when the New Zealand Division of the Royal Navy was first created. With the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 the reserve was suspended due to conscription.
Royal New Zealand Naval Volunteer Reserve
When the Second World War ended the Naval Reserve was reconstituted and in September 1948 it comprised 70 officers and 600 ratings. It was now officially known as the Royal New Zealand Naval Volunteer Reserve. Training focussed on seaman, gunners, radar plotters, electricians and marine engineers. The Reserve is made up of part-time servicemen who, in the words of the company’s motto “contribute to the navy mission by providing competent reserve personnel fit for service”.