The State Library of New South Wales began collecting diaries and letters of men and women who served in World War I soon after the Armistice was declared in November 1918
The collection was initiated by the great Principal Librarian of what is now the State Library of NSW, William Ifould. While the Australian War Memorial, conceived at the same time, focused on war relics and unit histories, Ifould’s great idea was to acquire the original journals and diaries — actually written during the conflict — of servicemen returning from the War. Thus an authentic and accurate voice of their experiences would be captured, not diluted by the passing of time and unreliable reminiscences.
Throughout 1919 and into the 1920s material such as diaries, letters, photographs, maps, artwork and printed material was acquired by the Library. These collections tell of the experiences of soldiers, sailors, airmen, stretcher-bearers and nurses who served. The collection also includes material produced in Australia during the war which depicts the war effort and the home front.
This website showcases the Library’s World War I collections
New content will be developed for new exhibitions, specific dates or battles or to reflect collection strengths and new acquisitions.
Diaries and Transcripts
There are around 550 diary and letter collections in the Library’s manuscript collection. See the full list.
We hope you can add to what we know about these diarists, and become part of providing worldwide access to our collections by helping to transcribe our World War I diaries and letters.
The Library holds hundreds of maps documenting the progress of the war, and particular campaigns including maps of Gallipoli and maps of the Western Front. Many of these maps accompanied letter and diary collections acquired from servicemen after the War. Printed maps were also collected by the Library. These maps were published as newspaper supplements or were published by the Australian government and Australian commercial publishers such as HEC Robinson.
Search our catalogue to find more maps using the term 'cartographic' in your search. For example if you're looking for maps of Gallipoli, use keywords: Gallipoli cartographic.
In the lead up to the centenary of World War I, the Library has focused on digitising runs of NSW newspapers from rural and regional areas that were published during the years spanning the Great War (1914 – 1918).
These digitised newspapers are accessible online through the discovery service Trove, developed in partnership with the National Library of Australia. Trove includes major Australian metropolitan and regional newspapers..
Search Trove to find Australian newspaper articles relating to the outbreak of the war. You can search by keyword across all newspapers or narrow your search to a specific newspaper.
The Library’s collection is mainly personal photos taken by the soldiers themselves. They captured all campaigns – taking photos s of their friends, horses, where they went on leave and what they did in their leisure time. Henry Marshall was working in the Grace Brothers photographic studio in Sydney when war was declared. Instead of writing a diary, Henry captured his new life of soldiering in detail through his camera lens. In Egypt he photographed his mates climbing to the top of the Great Pyramid at Giza. He is there as well, number 189 in the album. Bill Burrell, a stretcher-bearer at Ypres, Belgium, in 1917, records life at the front line.
The Library also holds official war photographer Frank Hurley’s collection of prints from the Western Front and Palestine.
Aerial photography was one of the technological innovations to come out of World War I. Photographs were compiled into photo-mosaics which would then be used to form base maps. The Library holds a small collection of aerial photographs taken of various segments of the Western Front.
Paintings and drawings
The Library holds some extraordinary original drawings, watercolours and paintings created by both professional and amateur artists. They depict both the horror of the fighting but also the laconic sense of humour characteristic of the AIF. Artists of particular note in our collection include Leslie Hore, George Lambert, James Joseph Marshall and Vasco Loureiro.
Leslie Hore sketched scenes at Anzac Cove: the men in trenches, the animals and the steep, rugged landscapes. He depicted colourful sunsets and painted a moonlit scene of men swimming at Anzac Cove, a pastime only to be undertaken at night to avoid snipers’ bullets.
Many of the posters in the WWI collection relate to recruitment and enlistment. Recruitment posters were a powerful tool in the war effort, and would have been displayed in public places such as train stations and shop windows to encourage men to enlist in the AIF. The contentious conscription campaigns also generated posters for both the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ votes.
Posters promoting the war loans programs combined patriotism with notions of responsibility to encourage Australians to financially support the war. These programs were set up by the Commonwealth and State governments to encourage Australians to support the war effort by purchasing government war bonds which would be repaid with interest.
To recover the cost of the war and fund soldier pensions the government launched 'Peace Loan' campaigns after the war. Peace loans were similar to the war loans where people loaned money to the government and received interest.
Postcards, pamphlets and other small souvenirs like train tickets and tourist brochures were collected by the service men and women serving overseas. Delicately embroidered postcards were sent or brought home from France, conveying colourful Jouyeux Noel messages and other sentiments.
Brochures and pamphlets were also produced in Australia to support the war effort as well as the anti-conscription campaign. Orders of service were printed for memorial days, including for the first years commemorating Anzac Day.
Search World War I ephemera collections in the Library’s catalogues.
The Library has an extensive collection of pictorial material related to World War One including hundreds of cartoons by some of Australia's most famous illustrators, including Hal Eyre.