Military Forces

During the nineteenth century South Australia was responsible for its own defence forces, and records relevant to these matters are held in State Records' collection.

The Commonwealth Government assumed responsibility for funding and managing the armed forces on 1 January 1901.

Volunteer Military Force

The first Voluntary Military Force in South Australia was raised by Governor Gawler in 1840 and consisted of 77 officers and men.

The Volunteer Military Force Act was passed in September 1854 after the outbreak of the Crimean War. At this time the Force consisted of 1 troop of mounted rifles, 2 companies of artillery, and 2 battalions of infantry.

In 1882 the Permanent Military Force came into existence (Artillery), and was based at Forts Glanville and Largs, and transferred to the Commonwealth in 1903.

In 1895 the Volunteer Military Force (by then known as the South Australian Militia) was dissolved. The South Australian Military Forces were established in 1896.

The Great War - World War One

Following the outbreak of World War One in August 1914 Australia pledged full support for Britain.

This initially took the form of an offer by the Australian government for a force of 20,000 men to be placed at Britain’s disposal and a Government Order-in-Council placing all Commonwealth naval forces under British admiralty control, for the duration of the war.

By the end of the war a total of 34,959 South Australians had enlisted [].

Of these approximately 6,000 died abroad. [A G Butler, “Official History of the Australian Army Medical Services”, volume 3, 1943.]

The war impacted upon the South Australian government through activities on the home front and operational military matters.

We hold records reflecting the South Australian government's involvement in military activities from 1836 onwards including:

Service and repatriation records for World War One and World War Two, and other Australian Defence Force records, are held by the:


This series consists of correspondence and other papers relating to the South Australian Volunteer Military Force from 1842 to 1870.

Index for GRG 24/51 Correspondence, returns and other papers - South Australian Volunteer Military Forces, c1842 - c1870

The details recorded on the rolls:

  • date when oath taken
  • signature of deponent
  • Magistrate before whom oath made

The name of the district and company has been recorded across the top of most of the rolls in this series for example: Port Adelaide Artillery and Rifles, First Adelaide Rifles, and Reed Beds Mounted Rifle Company.

Index to GRG 149/1 Nominal Rolls, Volunteer Military Forces, 1854-1886

This series consists of papers relating to defence and the Volunteer Military Force from Boyle Travers Finniss (1807-1893) a soldier, surveyor and public servant.

Subjects of the papers include:

  • notes on military work sites
  • volunteer regulations
  • expenditure
  • measures to be adopted if a war against Russia was declared
  • various memos from Finniss.

Index to GRG 149/18 B T Finniss papers on defence, 1854 - 1877

Records held

Post-war honour rolls were created to honour those who served in war. These rolls list employees of various government departments who died whilst serving in the military.

We hold a number of these rolls.

Following the end of World War One the women of the 9th and 11th Light Horse Regimental Club donated regimental rolls listing men who served in the regiments to the Public Library of South Australia as a permanent memorial.  These rolls are now held by State Records.

For records relating to honour rolls see GRG 15 and MRG 8.

State Records holds a small collection of records describing military operations during World War One.

These records focus on the activities of the Light Horse Regiment and consist of:

  • war diaries of the 9th Light Horse
  • original sketches
  • maps and plans showing positions at Gallipoli occupied or taken over by the 9th Light Horse
  • a Nominal Roll of the 3rd Light Horse

For records relating to the military activities of the Light Horse see GRG 149.

The State War Council was established in 1915, its aim being to "…deal with all the various matters, in concert with the Federal War Committee, which are submitted from time to time …” (Letter to the SA Premier from the Federal Parliamentary War Committee, GRG 24/6/1915/1166).

We hold correspondence between the Council and bodies such as the State Recruiting Committee, the Peace Celebrations Committee and the State Munitions Committee, along with minutes of the Council’s meetings (series GRG32/1).

The State Recruiting Committee was appointed and regulated by the Commonwealth Government.  Its role was to oversee and co-ordinate all recruitment efforts within the State.  In South Australia, the Committee closely co-operated with the State War Council.

Recruiting activities of the Committee took the form of posters, broadsheets and hand bills, which called upon South Australians to enlist in the Australian Army or to support the war effort financially.

Our collection includes recruitment posters published by the South Australian State Government, the Commonwealth Government and the State Governments of Victoria and New South Wales.  We also hold circulars from the Director General of Recruiting to staff and other committees, which state how recruiting efforts should be carried out, and detail guidelines for recruiters.

For records relating to the State War Council and State Recruiting Committee see GRG 32.

The war efforts were patriotically supported by many schools and school children, resulting in many patriotic school events. We hold a collection of the badges school children could earn for services rendered in aid of the Children's Patriotic Fund.

During World War One the government banned the teaching of German in all schools and closed a number of private German schools. (Act number 1268, 1917 – “An Act to amend the Education Act 1915, and for other purposes”.)

The correspondence records of the Minister and Department for Education include communications with military authorities concerning the teaching of German in schools (series GRG 18/1 and GRG 18/2).

The South Australian Police were highly active following the outbreak of war. They investigated alleged suspicious conduct and suspected acts of disloyalty.

The Police assisted Commonwealth authorities with the internment of enemy aliens (non-citizens), the seizure of enemy assets, and were initially assigned to provide protection for State Government buildings and assets.

Records documenting Police activities can be found primarily in the correspondence files of the Police Commissioner’s Office(GRG 5/2).

Page last updated: 7 September 2022