World War I and Australia

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander visitors are kindly advised that this website includes images, sounds and names of people who have passed.

All users should be aware that some topics or historical content may be culturally sensitive, offensive or distressing, and that some images may contain nudity or are of people not yet identified. Certain words, terms or descriptions may reflect the author's/creator's attitude or that of the period in which they were written, but are now considered inappropriate in today's context.

Key to library resources

Access anywhere with a library card In the Library (or anywhere with a Library card for NSW residents)
Available to access in the library Only in the Library
Publicly available online Publicly available

Diaries and letters 1914-1919

Diary and letter collections

There are around 500 diary and letter collections in the Library's manuscript collection. Visit the Library's World War I Collection website for a list of the diary and letter collections.

In many cases, diarists kept more than one volume of their writings. Most of the diaries measure around 9.5 cm x 15 cm in size, small enough to fit into a top pocket. Some diaries are hard to read, with tiny script. Some are very clear and could have been written yesterday. Many have next of kin details written on the first page.

Additional material is stored with the diaries. George McClintock’s diary includes a fragile pressed poppy. Alfred Morris’ includes his own set of diaries, as well as a diary taken from a Turkish officer at the Gallipoli Peninsula, along with his copy of the Koran.

Some of the diaries are by well-known men of the time. Noted photographer, Frank Hurley, fresh from his Antarctic adventures, travelled to France and Palestine in 1917–18 to photograph scenes of war. His diary contains vivid descriptions of trench warfare and his work of creating composite photographs, a controversial technique, much criticised by the Official War Historian, CEW Bean.

Other noted diarists are Charles Laseron, who in 1911 joined the Australasian Antarctic Expedition under Sir Douglas Mawson, as general scientific assistant. In 1914 he joined the AIF and survived the war, being wounded and repatriated in 1916. Sir Charles Rosenthal, with his 3 volume set of diaries, provides an officer’s insight into war. A much decorated war hero, he ended the war a Major-General.

Archie Barwick diary, 22 August 1914–September 1915

Digitising the diaries and letters

We are progressively digitising the Library's World War I collections. If there are no digitised images on the catalogue record, you may need to visit the Library to view the material.

Finding items

Search the Library's catalogue under Manuscripts to find diaries and letters.

Search by the name of the service person and use the terms:

Soldiers, World War, 1914–1918 -- personal narratives

Copying, publishing or purchasing digital copies

You can make copies of pictures for research and study purposes by:

  • using a digital camera
  • using our microfilm reader printers 
  • ordering paper or electronic copies
  • ordering high quality digital scans  

You need to contact us for permission to publish our original materials. You must also acknowledge the Library and provide the correct location details. 

Find out more about copying and purchasing digital copies.