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"At a mile distant their thousand hooves were stuttering thunder, coming at a rate that frightened a man - they were an awe inspiring sight, galloping through the red haze - knee to knee and horse to horse - the dying sun glinting on bayonet points..." Trooper Ion Idriess

The Australian Light Horse Studies Centre aims to present an accurate history as chroniclers of early Australian military developments from 1899 to 1920.

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WARNING: This site contains: names, information and images of deceased people; and, language which may be considered inappropriate today.

Monday, 7 December 2009
Navigating the National Archives Service File
Topic: AIF - Lighthorse

Finding Your Light Horseman

Accessing the Service File

National Archives of Australia


Let's start

Following the trail to find your ancestor can be a daunting process if you have never done it before. Because of the sheer volume of information, sites that offer information about Australian service personnel are usually very difficult to navigate. The concentration is on the information rather than window dressing - substance over fluff. Once you get used to it, the processes are easy to follow. 

The following instructions aim to trace a service person from a search term on Google. The process works equally well for Yahoo, Bing and any other search engine that regularly updates internet site information. Google updates the information catalogued from the Australian Light Horse Studies Centre on a daily basis and thus is always current.


This page is divided into four sections which can be accessed by scrolling down to the specific heading.


1. Finding 466 Private Herbert HOUNSLOW

2. Finding the Service File at the National Archives of Australia

3. Problem Solving with file searching

4. Reading the Service File - The vital pages



1. Finding 466 Private Herbert HOUNSLOW


For simplicity, we will search for one name from beginning to accessing the chronology on the National Archives of Australia Service File.

Go to the Google search page - Google Search Page

Enter in the search box the following term:

466 Private Herbert HOUNSLOW

Then press the "Google Search" button.

The result should be similar to the following result displayed below.


Google search result for 466 Private Herbert HOUNSLOW


The result is highlighted by the red box. The Australian Light Horse Studies Centre information is ranked No. 1 as it is the most like the search parameter.

Click on the link.

For the purposes of this exercise, here is the link:

5th Australian Light Horse Regiment, Embarkation Roll, 1st Reinforcements

The following page should open up. Scroll down until you reach the record for 466 Private Herbert HOUNSLOW.


466 Private Herbert HOUNSLOW's record on the Australian Light Horse Studies Centre site.


The record for 466 Private Herbert HOUNSLOW is highlighted in red.

466 Private Herbert HOUNSLOW's embarkation information contains the following details:

Rank on embarkation;

Full name of the soldier;

Declared age of the soldier;

The last occupation held;

The last address as a civilian;

Enlistment Date; and,


This is a very brief outline designed to allow you to find the correct information in a convenient summary form. It allows you to then follow up the information on other sites confident that the information will lead you to your goal, a fuller chronology of service.



2. Finding the Service File at the National Archives of Australia


The National Archives of Australia web site is absolutely full of incredible information but it is difficult to navigate unless you have much experience.

For the first timers and new searchers, the following will make it an easier experience.

First we need to go to the search page. To do that we go to the following link:

Record Search

If this link does not work, try copying the following link and pasting it in the address box on your browser: 


The following window should open.


National Archives of Australia Record Search Page


When you have reached this page, click on the "Search Now - as a guest"  link.

The following Search Page will open up.


National Archives of Australia General Search Page


The following steps are necessary to ensure that the information you seek will appear rather than thousands of extraneous results which will only confuse.

To assist, there are three large numbers on the page. At these points, place the information suggested below.

Put the full, correct name of the service person. You will note that included is the service number. This ensures that the record search will be confined to this combination of items. This is the best combination possible to obtain solid results.

Once this information is keyed in, then press the "Search" Button.

The following page will then open.



National Archives of Australia Results Page


This page confirms that the search has been successful displaying one file for  466 Private Herbert HOUNSLOW.

Press the "View Digital Copy" link.

The following page should open in a new tab.


National Archives of Australia Service File Page 1


Once you have this page, then accessing the rest of the file is simple.

To turn the pages, just press the arrow at the top of the page. You can go forwards or backwards.

To go to a specific page, type the page number in the page number dialogue box and press enter and that page will appear.

Once you become familiar with this process, accessing service files will become a relatively simple process. The hardest search is always the first one.


3. Problem Solving with file searching 


The most frustrating thing in searching is putting in all the correct search parameters and receiving a nil answer.

The common reasons for difficulties in searching the National Archives of Australia search engine are:

1. The soldier used an alias;

2. The NAA used a different record on the Service File to list the details of the person;

3. An enlisted man received a field commission which removed the Regimental Number; and,

4. The NAA recorded the name or number incorrectly;

5. No Record.


1. The soldier used an alias

During the Great War, quite a number (between 1-2%) enlisted in the AIF under false names. Some were detected but many were not.

The reasons for enlisting under a false name were as varied as the men themselves. However, there were some consistent reasons, the main of which were:

1. Universal Service conscripts who deserted from Militia service. From 1912 onwards, all eligible Australian males were compelled to serve within the Militia. This was very unpopular amongst certain groups and the men conscripted either failed to be inducted or once inducted, deserted. Since this was a criminal offence, the Militia authorities notified the police and the names of the deserters were gazetted. Many thousands of names appeared in the various state's District Orders as a consequence of the failure to comply with Universal Service laws. The men in this situation joined the AIF under a false name to avoid being arrested and prosecuted for draft evasion or desertion.

2. Men who abandoned their families and domestic liabilities.  The next largest category included men who sought not to have their wage allotted to a family member, be that person a parent, a spouse (either legal or common law), or any children. There were many different combinations of family events but at the heart of the matter was a refusal of the soldier to have his income applied in support of a family member as was required under law.

3. The stigma of Germanic origin drove many from this background to enlist under an Anglicised for of their name or another name altogether.

4. Escaping debts, prosecution or imprisonment by the civil authorities.

There were many other causes but these were the four principle reasons for a person enlisting within the AIF and utilising a false name.

In relation to the NAA Service File, the listing may be under the alias, or the real name, or a combination of both. The NAA listings are rather capricious in the entry protocols for the file so it is necessary to try all if possible.


2. The NAA used a different record on the Service File to list the details of the person

During the period of the Great War, a person attesting with the AIF may have received anything up to a half dozen Service Numbers or more. The Service Number you might hold could be different from that used on the Service File record with the NAA. The problem of multiple numbers was capriciously dealt with by the NAA: on some entries, all the different Service Numbers are used; on others, the Service Number from the first Attestation Paper in a series of different Attestation Papers; or a number was selected from a group of papers that might have appeared to be correct.

Whatever the reason, this can be a major source of frustration. One solution is to just place the full name of the serviceman in the appropriate search box without the service number. There might be multiple results as a consequence but these can be examined until the correct entry appears.


3. An enlisted man received a field commission which removed the Regimental Number

When a soldier received a commission as an officer, he no longer carried a Regimental Number.

The NAA's policy on recording the circumstance of an enlisted man receiving a commission again is capricious. Sometimes the number is recorded and at other times it is not. The result is that if the Service Number is used in a search and it returns no result, then you should enter just the full name of the serviceman in the appropriate search box without the service number. There might be multiple results as a consequence but these can be examined until the correct entry appears.


4. The NAA recorded the name or number incorrectly

During the process of entering file details, errors occurred. At the moment, a collation of errors detected by this site indicates that there is an error rate of about 2-3% on all file entries. This can be extremely frustrating as this problem is the most difficult to rectify. The consequence of an error could be in the Service Number - transpositional errors being the most common. It could be in the name where a misspelling occurred or letters was transposed.

Solving this takes a bit of ingenuity. Sometimes just putting in the Regimental Number with the first name produces a result. Other times the Regimental Number with state from which the serviceman came can give a result. Other times using the first names and the state of origin works. There is no set answer. It is just a matter of persisting at this point. Most files can be found.


5. No Record

There are cases where the record for the Serviceman just does not exist for one reason or another. To date this site has discovered only a few such records out of some 40,000 examined so this is not a likely circumstance.


4. Reading the Service File - The vital pages.


Some service files are very brief while others are very lengthy and detailed. There are a couple characteristic pages which are essential in determining the outline chronology of the service person. For Great War files, the following pages are essential for building an intelligible chronology. They might be anywhere in the file and there may be many duplications, but regardless, these are the necessary items.

The following summary details the information contained on the pages.


466 Private Herbert HOUNSLOW, Attestation Paper, p. 1.


The front cover of the Attestation Paper of Persons Enlisted for Service Abroad provides the reader with the following information:

  • Service Number,
  • Surname,
  • Given Names,
  • Age,
  • Employment,
  • Married or Single,
  • Next of Kin Relationship,
  • Next of Kin Name and Address,
  • Enlistment Date.

This information is vital as it identifies the specific soldier and in case of death or injury, allows the relatives to be informed. The next of kin was important for another reason. Each soldier was compelled to give an allotment of their daily wage to the person nominated as the next of kin. This was an essential financial consideration.

Once this information was gathered, the second page dealt with an oath to the King. The next page to give information was page 3.


466 Private Herbert HOUNSLOW, Attestation Paper, p. 3


The third page of the Attestation Paper of Persons Enlisted for Service Abroad provides the reader with the following information:

  • Height,
  • Weight,
  • Chest Measurement
  • Complexion,
  • Eyes,
  • Hair, 
  • Religion.

The health of the potential soldier was important as the life was particularly strenuous. The ability to carry heavy weights for great distances was most important.

The next form that is most common in the Service File is the B103, the  Casualty Form - Active Service. Every movement of the soldier is recorded. The reasons for this are fourfold.

1. The location of the soldier at any one time was essential to establish where his rations were to be drawn.

2.  The form established the entitlements to drawing pay at a particular level. A soldier in the field was allowed to draw pay but when in hospital was not allowed to draw their pay as it was considered that everything to assist the soldier's recovery was provided.

3.  By tracking the movements of the soldier, it allowed early detection of desertion if that were to occur.

4. At the end of the war, the chronology of this form was used as the basis for post war entitlements such as medals, pensions, repatriation assistance, access to hospitals and any other service available for an ex-serviceman for the rest of his life.

The B103 may be as simple as one sheet or multiple sheets. It depended upon the individual serviceman.

To assist in understanding this particular form in relation to the men from the 11th LHR, Lesson 11 Resource, a list of terms and names are available at the Index to Common B103 Terms. The link is below.

466 Private Herbert HOUNSLOW, B103, p. 1.


The front of the B103, the  Casualty Form - Active Service provides the reader with the following information:

  • Regiment
  • Rank on Enlistment,
  • Terms of Enlistment,
  • Embarkation Date,
  • Embarkation Port,
  • Embarkation Ship,
  • Date Taken on Strength.

As can be seen, the form is a chronology of the man's service in the AIF. All B103 forms in every service file is similar. 

In this case the man has two pages to the form. To finish his story, the page will be turned over. 

466 Private Herbert HOUNSLOW, B103, p. 2


The back of the B103, the  Casualty Form - Active Service provides the reader with the following information:

  • Chronology,
  • Fate,
  • Date.

For a Glossary of B103 Abbreviations for Light Horse files, see:

B103, Index to Common Terms  


Once the B103, the  Casualty Form - Active Service was completed due to the expiration of service, any transactions during subsequent to service were recorded on a flimsy called Transferred to Australian Imperial Force D and it was here that all post service information was maintained.

466 Private Herbert HOUNSLOW, AIF D, p. 1.


Page 1 of the Transferred to Australian Imperial Force D provides the reader with the following information:

  • The last rank held in the AIF,
  • The date of Discharge,
  • The place where Discharged,
  • The eligible medals awarded to the serviceman.

Information on this form depends upon the individual. This particular form can at times run into many pages.


Further Reading:

The Light Horse

Australian Light Horse Militia

Militia 1899 - 1920


Citation: Navigating the National Archives Service File

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EAST
Updated: Sunday, 11 July 2010 8:39 PM EADT

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