State Library of NSW's unique collection of WWI soldiers' diaries recognised by UNESCO
Wednesday, 17th Dec 2014

A unique collection of soldiers’ intimate accounts of war has been included on the UNESCO Australian Memory of the World Register, just as the State Library of NSW releases 50,000 pages of digitised World War One diaries for the public to transcribe, announced today.

According to Alex Byrne, NSW State Librarian & Chief Executive: “With the centenary of the Gallipoli landing in April and growing interest in the personal accounts of war, I am thrilled UNESCO has recognised the cultural importance of the Library’s collection  of soldiers’ diaries that tell of Australians in the First World War.”

From 1918 to 1920 the State Library purchased 236 soldiers’ diaries as part of the European War Collecting Project, an extraordinary collecting drive spearheaded by the forward thinking principal librarian William Ifould.  Recognising the historic value of these diaries for future generations, Ifould advertised in Australia and overseas with the promise of “good prices paid for good material.”

The State Library has been adding to its collection of World War One diaries and letters ever since. The collection has now grown to over 1,200 handwritten accounts by soldiers of all ranks, doctors, nurses, stretcher-bearers, journalists and POWs.

“The news from UNESCO is timely as we have just completed the major digitisation of our entire collection of World War One diaries and letters, 180,000 pages, made possible through the support of the NSW Government,” said Dr Byrne.

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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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