What happened to these diggers?

Background information for students

World War I is considered by most to be the first global war as it was fought on several continents by many nations.

The world was completely changed by it. Tens of millions were killed and more wounded. Monarchies were toppled, the first communist state was formed, revolutionary ideas were spread, and the technology of warfare was drastically altered.

The war lasted from 1914 until an armistice was finally agreed upon on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 (i.e. 11 am on 11 November, 1918).

Australia at this time had a population of about 5 million people and 330 000 of them voluntarily enlisted and served overseas in World War I.

In May 1918, before the war had finished, the Trustees of the Mitchell Library undertook to collect portraits of soldiers serving in the army. Relatives of soldiers were asked to forward photographs to the Crown Photographic Studios, Sydney for copying. Most of the portraits (chiefly head and shoulders) in this collection of over 1600 photos are of soldiers who enlisted in 1918. Because this is late in the war a number of them did not have the opportunity to serve overseas. The name, date of birth, enlistment date, and other details about the soldier (occasionally including his service number) were inscribed on a form by the relatives and attached with the photo.

Student Activities

Activity One: Researching the Diggers

The seven sources provided are a sample from the hundreds of photos of World War I servicemen in the collection of the State Library of NSW.

Carefully read the information about each soldier and answer the questions.

Hot links to the records of the Australian War Memorial and the National Archives of Australia are provided so you can quickly and easily access the information you need to answer the questions.

Note: the following abbreviations are used in the records

  • K.I.A. (Killed In Action)
  • M.I.A. (Missing In Action)
  • R.T.A. (Returned To Australia)
  • D.O.W. (Died Of Wounds)

Question 1: Why was Abram Mahomet discharged from the army?

Check this reference and make your response: See page 8 of the records.

The reason for discharge is written in the right hand side column.

Question 2: What happened to Adalbert Broue?

Check this reference and make your response.

Was he listed as:

K.I.A. (Killed In Action)

M.I.A. (Missing In Action)

R.T.A. (Returned To Australia)

D.O.W. (Died Of Wounds)

Question 3: What did Wolfe Greenstein’s parents do when he wanted to enlist? Why was this necessary?

Check this reference and make your response. Look at page 10.

Question4 : Why didn’t William Sagar receive the Victory Medal?

Check this reference and make your response: Look at page 9.

Question 5: In what number panel of the Australian War Memorial is William Brown’s name located?

Check this reference and make your response.

Question 6: The personal belongings of Alfred Brown were not returned to his mother. What was the reason?

Check this reference and make your response: Look at page 47.

Question 7: Ernest Firth was an Indigenous Australian. What was unusual about his enlistment?

Check these references and make your response: Find the date of his enlistment there or on the first page here.

Activity Two: Additional Questions

Explain why the Trustees of the State Library of NSW thought it was important to collect these photos

  • Two of the servicemen shown above, Alfred Victor Brown and William John Brown, were brothers and both were killed and buried overseas which was the standard procedure for the 60,000 Australian soldiers who died. After the war their mother could not afford to travel to visit the graves and requested financial assistance from the government to be able to get there but was refused.
  • What impact did this inability to visit their loved ones graves have on other families in similar situations across Australia?
  • Name two ways servicemen were publicly remembered in Australia after the war.
Syllabus Information

The Making of the Modern World

Depth Study 3 Australians at War: World Wars I and II (1914-1918, 1939-1945)

The making of the modern world from 1750 to 1918. It was a period of industrialisation and rapid change in the ways people lived, worked and thought. It was an era of nationalism and imperialism, and the colonisation of Australia was part of the expansion of European power. The period culminated in World War I (1914 - 1918) and World War II (1939 - 1945)


An overview of the causes of the war, why men enlisted and where Australians fought (ACDSEH021, ACDSEH095, ACDSEH024)

  • locate and sequence the places where Australians fought

The scope and nature of warfare (ACDSEH095, ACDESH107)

  • describe the nature of warfare during the Gallipoli campaign

Impact of the wars on Australia (ACDSEH096, ACDSEH109)

  • outline the Australian governments’ control on the home front for each of the following:
  • conscription
  • use of government propaganda
  • changing roles of women

In this unit of work the term ‘Indigenous’ is used to refer to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.


HT5-1 explains and assesses the historical forces and factors that shaped the modern world and Australia

HT5-4 explains and analyses the causes and effects of events and developments in the modern world and Australia

HT5-7 explains different contexts, perspectives and interpretations of the modern world and Australia

HT5-9 applies a range of relevant historical terms and concepts when communicating an understanding of the past

HT5-10 selects and uses appropriate oral, written, visual and digital forms to communicate effectively about the past for different audiences


Comprehension: chronology, terms and concepts
  • read and understand historical texts
  • use historical terms and concepts in appropriate contexts (ACHHS165, ACHHS183)

Analysis and use of sources

  • process and synthesise information from a range of sources as evidence in an historical argument (ACHHS170, ACHHS188)

Empathetic understanding

  • interpret history within the context of the actions, values, attitudes and motives of people in the context of the past (ACHHS172, ACHHS173, ACHHS190, ACHHS191)


  • ask and evaluate different kinds of questions about the past to inform an historical inquiry (ACHHS166, ACHHS167, ACHHS184, ACHHS185)

Explanation and communication

  • develop historical texts, particularly explanations and historical arguments that use evidence from a range of sources (ACHHS174, ACHHS188, ACHHS192)
  • select and use a range of communication forms, such as oral, graphic, written and digital, to communicate effectively about the past for different audiences and different purposes (ACHHS175, ACHHS193)


  • Perspectives: people from the past may have had different views and experiences
  • Empathetic understanding: the ability to understand another’s point of view, way of life and decisions made in a different period of time or society
  • Significance: the importance of an event, development, group or individual and their impact on their times and/or later periods.


  • Numeracy
  • Civics and citizenship
  • Ethical understanding
  • Difference and diversity

Background information for teachers

Direct links have been provided to the documentary material from the National Archives and the Australian War Memorial that contain the answers for students to the questions about each digger.

In addition, a step-by-step guide has been provided for those teachers and students who wish to do additional research in the National Archives of Australia on a serviceman. A flow chart is also provided.

  1. Go to http://www.naa.gov.au/collection/explore/defence/service-records/army-wwi.aspx
  2. Click on the appropriate link, either ‘First Australian Imperial Force Personnel Dossiers, 1914-1920’ (the most comprehensive) or ‘Applications to enlist in the Australian Imperial Force’.
  3. Select Name Search and insert the family name of the serviceman and then select the appropriate category of records from the list (e.g. World War I).
  4. A number of name matches should appear. If there are only a couple of individuals from which to choose then select Display underneath and a list of records will appear. Select the desired records by clicking Digitised Item on the right hand side.
  5. If there were too many individuals of the last name shown then click on Refine This Search; it will ask for Given Names or Service Number. Insert the appropriate information to narrow the search. Check the results and view the digital copy of the records. Service numbers can be found by searching a name in the Australian War Memorial embarkation or nominal rolls at http://www.awm.gov.au/research/people/nominal_rolls/.

Note: The Australian War Memorial World War I Nominal Rolls and Embarkation Rolls only provide information on soldiers that served overseas. Therefore, if the soldier only served in Australia no further details will be provided. 





Abram (or Abraham) Mahomet

Statement in service record that Abram discharged because ‘Only British subjects of substantially European origin are to be accepted for service with the expeditionary forces.’

Digitised papers showing service record found in National Archives of Australia

Adalbert Gurwood Broue

He served overseas. He was RTA or Returned to Australia

Australian War Memorial Nominal Rolls list him as RTA.

Wolfe Greenstein

A man under 21 could only enlist with his parents' permission (sometimes volunteers lied about their age to get around this restriction). His parents wrote a letter saying 'We give our son, Wolfe Greenstein, full permission to join the AIF. He is 18 years and 6 Months old, being born in Odessa Russia 1899.'

Digitised enlistment papers showing service record found in National Archives of Australia

William Thomas Sagar

Only those who had served in a theatre of war before the armistice received the victory medal. William Sagar arrived in London on Armistice Day.

Digitised papers showing service record found in National Archives of Australia

William John Brown

Panel 39

Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour provides this information.

Alfred Victor Brown

The ship carrying the effects home was sunk by enemy action.

Digitised papers showing service record found in National Archives of Australia

Ernest James Firth

Despite being an Indigenous Australian Ernest Firth managed to enlist in 1915. This is two years before the restrictions on enlistment by Indigenous Australians was officially relaxed in 1917.

Digitised papers showing service record found in National Archives of Australia and Australian War Memorial information.


Additional Resources

Arthur John Moore Burrowes letters and postcards to his family, 26 January 1918-15 September 1919
'If anything else is added the post card will be destroyed'

Keeping the secrets of battles fought, won and lost, makes for very clinical correspondence from ‘over there’. Reading between the lines about the realities of life in the armed forces must have been very difficult for the recipients of such scant morsels of information. It isn’t exactly a wordy message but I am sure it would have been happily received back home with the first line kept intact. See postcard.

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