ACT News

National Archives crowd-sources data to flesh out the nation's World War I story

An interactive website launched by Governor-General Peter Cosgrove at the National Archives of Australia on Tuesday morning will crowd-source photographs, anecdotes and personal histories to flesh out Australia's collective narrative of World War I.

"This website takes our understanding of WWI beyond bayonets and bully beef into the heart of each Anzac, to the individual experience of those who served and also of their loved ones who waited to welcome them home," said General Cosgrove, a former chief of the Australian Defence Force.

The Discovering Anzacs website builds on digitised war records made public in 2008 to create the most interactive web portal ever offered by the NAA.

A joint project with Archives New Zealand, it means the records of every Australian and New Zealander who served in "the war to end all wars" can now be accessed through a single website.

The Discovering Anzacs site also lists details of munitions workers, internees (many of whom were Australians of German descent), sailors in the merchant marine who risked death to keep the Empire's supply lines open, and even war-related copyright applicants.

NAA staff said the most significant aspect was an unprecedented level of interactivity which allows members of the public to log on to the page of an individual and upload photographs, additional information, anecdotes and family history.

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Descendants of individual soldiers from across Australia and New Zealand can use the site to pool their information and share it with the public.

"Interest in family history helped reboot interest in WWI," Fairfax was told. "Now WWI is fuelling interest in family history."

General Cosgrove said he intended to be one of the tens of thousands of people expected to take advantage of this facility.

"My grandfather was of the WWI generation - and in common with most of that generation, quite silent on his WWI experiences," he said.

"You would have to winkle them out of him and even that was unsatisfactory. But [now] I'll be able to research my grandfather. And now there's an inheritance [of knowledge] for my own children."

In addition to his well-known activities in East Timor and as head of the Cyclone Larry response, General Cosgrove has war stories of his own.

The then lieutenant was awarded the Military Cross for his actions under fire in Vietnam in 1969.

NAA director, David Fricker, said the involvement of Archives New Zealand in Discovering Anzacs took it to an entirely new level.

"It builds on the success and popularity of our earlier Mapping Our Anzacs website and encourages members of the public to upload their own family stories, photos and mementoes," he said.

"I'm sure many people will also enjoy playing a role in transcribing records online to make them more searchable."

Explore the website at www.discoveringanzacs.naa.gov.au.

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