War Records Conundrum

I recently located an interesting children’s book about Sister Marie Craig, one of the “Flying Angels” who cared for some 18,000 injured soldiers on flights from Papua New Guinea to the hospital in Darwin during WW2. After the misleading book  about a cat who survived a sinking ship, Changi and Sandakan as mentioned with much disgust last week, I didn’t want to get caught out again, so checked the records at the Australian War Memorial. Sister Craig’s story is fair dinkum and is an interesting one……

So, whilst looking at records at the AWM, I discovered a new record under my father’s name which is out there on the internet for all the world to see. Their database contains the names of WW1 and WW2 soldiers, service numbers, rank, date of discharge and decorations and other basic information. I’m not sure about other Conflicts – records were still being digitalised at one point. It’s a user friendly database and you simply search using a name.

Service records are available for a fee and the AWM will post a copy of these documents. I ordered my father’s service documents after he died : 42 pages, which to be honest, apart from medical history, promotions, and changes of pay means little to me. 

( I digress, but on my first visit to the AWM in Canberra as a young woman travelling with a young man who found it difficult to locate hotel accomodation because we were not married – Canberra being Australia’s porn capital no less – a research officer at the AWM explained veterans service documents by using the records of a deceased Prime Minister as an example. Though not fond of the deceased Prime Minister in question I was somewhat appalled that his medical records included a dose of VD during his time in a theatre of war which was clearly pointed out by the employee. So much for privacy.)

But back to the old man.

Dad’s plane.

There is now a record that states under Collections that the AWM is in possession of my father’s leather bound diary from 15 April, 1943 to 24th August, 1945 that includes movements, roles, and flying missions etc. It also states ” entries describe leave, dances, the Boomerang Club and meeting girls”. Photographs, poetry, propaganda leaflets are also included as well as details of his marriage to an English sweetheart. ( Not my mother).

My father never discussed the War. It wasn’t until he was in his 70’s that he let things slip, like Dresden and how ” bloody cold” it was high in the skies above Europe. He wasn’t quite the hard old bastard by then.

There was never any mention of a diary nor a first wife.

My curiosity is piqued but it is not my life. It is a diary of a life before I was even a twinkle in the eye. A life 15 years before mine even started. 

That these records of times past are retained for historians is a wonderful thing. I get that. What I don’t get is that there are 566 words included in the description of the diary’s contents available on a search under my father’s name on the Australian War Memorial’s website available for all and sundry to see.

I’m a little conflicted :don’t dead people deserve some privacy? I can hear the old bugger telling me to ” cop it sweet, Pet”, but it just doesn’t sit well.

Any thoughts?

9 thoughts on “War Records Conundrum

  1. It’s an interesting dilemma. On the one hand, historical documents, like diaries, are gold for historians and I guess it’s a fine line between providing accessible historical research and protecting the privacy of individuals. As a student of history, we can learn so much about the experiences of ordinary people in extraordinary times from everyday documents, but we can see how the private lives of the famous are treated, often as subjects for voyeurism and money making. Is there never a line drawn? I don’t know the answer, and I can understand it’s personal for you, but for future generations of historians there will be a greater distance. We can just hope they will treat the material with respect and dignity.

    Like

    1. You are right, Karen, and I am the first one to read an autobiography to learn about a person and how they fit into the world. I am as pleased as punch to learn that the AWM are holding the diary for historic and social purposes – it was just a hell of a shock to come across it in such an accidental manner. Although I collect POW diaries I wont be touching this one 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, there are times when it might be best not to know. But it is a good thing to keep in mind when we read biographies, is the writer treating the material with respect or just mining it for their own popularity and wealth.

        Like

  2. They say that celebrities have no expectation of privacy. Then again neither do the dead. I think Karen is spot on. The records of “ordinary” people give an uncensored view of everyday life….

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s