Soldier John Gurner Burnell is featured on the homepage of the Discovering Anzacs website.
Soldier John Gurner Burnell is featured on the homepage of the Discovering Anzacs website.

Australia and NZ digitise WWI service records

FOR MUCH of his life, few people would recognise Arthur Malcolm Stace as he walked the streets of Sydney, drawing in chalk on the footpaths one word: "Eternity".

But few could now question his role in Australian cultural history. His contribution was celebrated on New Year's Eve, 2000, when the Sydney Harbour Bridge was emblazoned with his one-word sermon.

Stace's role, however, as a stretcher bearer in the Australian Imperial Force in 1916 during the Great War, is now one of more than 600,000 stories immortalised online.

The service records of Stace and more than 400,000 other Australians who fought, and the thousands of others who supported their efforts at home and abroad, are part of a website commemorating the centenary of the start of the Great War.

A joint effort of the National Archives of Australia and Archives New Zealand, the website brings together the digitised service records of First World War soldiers, munitions workers, merchant marines, nurses and others who helped the Anzacs during the war.

NAA director-general David Fricker said it shone a rare light on the human faces of the Great War and brought further context to historical stories that often focused on specific military campaigns.

The NAA's Zoe D'Arcy, who led the project, said the Discovering Anzacs project was not just about digitising both countries' records, but about getting Australians and New Zealanders to help fill in the gaps the service records could not fill.

She said people would be able to search for friends and family involved in the war and also add photographs, details of their civilian lives, plus any other information like body measurements, letters or other documents.

"It could be personal diaries, or other information, but we can all help create life maps and timelines of everyone who served, and hopefully over time create an extraordinary picture of life in New Zealand and Australia at the time," Ms D'Arcy said.

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