World War I: Australia’s Role in the Great War

When researching genealogy, war records often provide an excellent source of information about your family members. If you are researching your family roots in Australia, you may be keen to look through records from World War I to find out if you can get any information on your relatives. It also helps to have a better idea of Australia’s role in the war to direct your research, so here is an overview of the role the country played.

Australia Pledges Support to Britain

Britain and Germany went to war on August 4th, 1914, and Australia was involved from the start. Prime Minister Joseph Cook pledged complete support to Britain, and the news was greeted with enthusiasm by the population.

A huge number of people volunteered their service as soon as war was announced. In fact, there were so many volunteers that only the fittest were accepted for service. Many women also volunteered back home as farm workers and cooks, and many more served in France, Egypt, Greece and other countries as nurses, where they worked in very difficult conditions.

Early Successes

Australia’s first major action in the war was the landing at Rabaul, which happened on September 11th, 1914, and was accomplished by the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force. Australian forces then took possession of German New Guinea on September 17th, 1914 in another notable early success.

However, perhaps the biggest contribution to the war effort in the early months was the destruction of SMS Emden, a German raider, on November 9th, near to the Cocos Islands.

The Gallipoli Campaign for Australia

Many of the first recruits in 1914 were sent to Egypt to fight the Ottoman Empire, which was a threat to British interests. They trained for months near to Cairo, and they then went to the Gallipoli peninsula, landing on April 15th, 1915, where they established their foothold along with troops from Britain, France and New Zealand. The situation turned into a stalemate, and the troops were evacuated on December 19th and 20th that year.

After Gallipoli, Australian troops were moved to France in March 1916, but the AIF mounted division stayed in the Middle East.

The Western Front

After Gallipoli, Australian forces then went onto fight campaigns in the Middle East and on the Western Front. They sustained heavy losses on the Western Front in 1916 and 1917, but they also took part in notable successes such as the Battle of Hamel on July 4th, 1918.

And from August to November when the Germans surrendered, Australian troops played an important role in numerous advances.

The Middle East

The campaign in the Middle East started in 1916, when Australian troops helped to defend the Suez Canal. The conditions here were very different compared to the Western Front, with extreme heat and shortage of water proving problematic. However, casualties here were a lot lighter.

In 1917, Australians were involved in the advance into Palestine, where they helped to capture Jerusalem and Gaza.

Research the Australian War Records

Overall, over 60,000 men were killed, and a further 156,000 were either wounded or taken prisoner. When you consider that the total population of the country was less than five million, this was a considerable loss.

If you want to find out more about your family history, use this information to direct your search. You may well come across some old war records that help you to fill in the details about the wartime roles of your relatives.