Researching Service Personnel
Often the hardest part about conducting research on any particular subject is knowing where to start. For the novice researcher, the World Wide Web is daunting enough but the ins and outs of Military Record keeping can be both baffling and confusing, especially if the ‘researcher' has never even served in the Armed Services of their respective nation.
Every serviceman or servicewoman had a Service Number (colloquially known as a "Serial Number" in the old war films i.e. Name, rank and serial number!!!). So from the very start the questions are posed -
1. How do I find out what my ancestor's Service Number was?
2. Is it possible that other soldiers/sailors or airmen had the same Service Number and
3. Once I find out his or her Service Number, what do I do with it to access further information?
Let's look at finding an Australian veteran of the Second World War.
It is logically assumed that you at least know the name and place of birth of your relative or the ‘Person of Interest' that you are researching. Or regarding a family tree the names of their parents or whom their "Next of Kin" would have been. From there, in the case of an Australian serviceman or woman, the first step will be to engage the World Wide Web on any computer that has internet access.
If you simply Google the words WORLD WAR TWO NOMINAL ROLL, it will take you directly to the front page of the World War 2 Nominal Roll. Alternatively, you can click on this link www.ww2roll.gov.au. From here, you can make a selection to begin your search. Simply typing in the surname of your ‘Person of Interest' will bring up the record sought. However, even if your name is not "SMITH" - the list could be a long one, so the first name - or even initials - will be sufficient to cut down the possibilities somewhat. From there, you will find the bare details which should be sufficient enough for you to identify your relative's details.
In the case of a WW2 Army record, sometimes you will find that the Serviceman has two Service Numbers attached to their name. In the case of my father - Clifford Henry Traynor, his service numbers were NX179966 and N479846. This will be an indicator that your relative had served in both the 2nd AIF (Australian Imperial Force) and the Militia (CMF -also referred to as the AMF) during the Second World War. The "NX" number is his AIF number and will generally take precedence when using these numbers for research into Military Records. Just in explanation; the "X" in the number distinguished him from the Militia. The first letter refers to the specific state of origin i.e. A number beginning with "SX" meant that the soldier was from South Australia.....VX from Victoria and NX from New South Wales etc.
In the First World War; Service Numbers were allocated to men within their respective Battalions or Regiments. So it is certainly possible that many servicemen shared the same number. By checking the records within the First World War Embarkation Roll (a starting point for searching Australian World War 1 records) this can be confirmed simply by typing in the number 888 - and then hitting search. You will see that the number of men with this as their personal service number is quite staggering. This was NOT the same with Australian Service Numbers during the Second World War. So the likelihood of two men having identical numbers in the World War Two Nominal Roll is virtually nil.
You can also research your service personal at the National Archives Service Records. The National Archives have done a wonderful job with lots of service records are now in the form of a digital certificate so you can look at them online or print them.
Click here to go to the National Archives
For records of servicemen and women of the United Kingdom, you can start by making inquiries with the following Government Officer:-
Ministry of Defence
Middlesex UB3 1RF
But what you will also find is that other Corps Specific Units (such as the Coldstream Guards for example) maintained their own records. For further information regarding other units, you will need to contact their Regimental Headquarters.
Bomana War Cemetery - Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea
So with Government authored sites - such as the World War Two Nominal Roll, you are well on the way to filling those "gaps of knowledge" in your Family History. If you need to know more or require some help on which direction to take, please feel free to contact Kokoda Historical and we will be glad to assist you.
Kokoda Historical takes all of its trekkers to Bomana War Cemetery either at the end or the start of our Kokoda treks (depending on the direction of your trek). If you would like to locate a particular person who is buried at Bomana you can download the Honour Roll here.