Category Archives: Military history

In Their Footsteps

For those who didn’t happen to catch the new Channel 9 program In Their Footsteps ( on Sunday night, it is well worth watching. We tuned in to the first episode and were particularly enthralled because the focus in this installment was on the life of Sailor and WWII Serviceman, PO Tommy Johnson, whose experiences throughout WWII greatly resembled those of my husband’s Great Uncle Walter Mervyn Dorman.

Walter, known as Merv, was born on the 3rd July 1905 in Leichhardt NSW. He was the eldest son of Walter Henry Dorman (1883-1961) and Alice Lillian Dora Power (1182-1961). In 1919, at the age of 14, he enlisted as a Cadet with the Australian Army and on the 24th June 1940 he joined the 2/12 Field Company, Royal Australian Engineers.

Walter was captured by the Japanese and we believe sent to work on the infamous Burma Railway along with approximately 60,000 Allied POWs. He survived this horrific experience and returned to POW camps in Singapore.

On the 4th September 1944, Merv was one of 1317 POWs placed aboard the Japanese ship Rayuko Maru bound for Japan. On the 12th September 1944, the Rakuyo Maru was torpedoed by the US Submarine Sealion, unaware that Allied POWs were on board. 1159 POWs from the Rayuko Maru and the ship it was travelling with, Kachidoki Maru, perished. Merv survived this event and although American submarines later returned to rescue some POWs, Merv was one of the 136 survivors who were picked up by the Japanese ship Kibitsu Maru and transported to Japan.

In Japan, Merv and his fellow POWs were destined to see out the war working in Japanese mines and shipyards until the American Occupation Forces emancipated them in September 1945. Tragically, after all he had been through, Merv died in a hospital in Tokyo on the 21st May 1945. He missed out on his freedom by a few short months.

Merv is buried in the Sydney War Cemetery at Rookwood Cemetery in Sydney.

Some related links –

Royal Australian Engineers Homepage –

“Railway of Death” – History of Burma-Thailand Railway –

“The Survivor” by Darryl Kelly – An extract from this fascinating book which details the life of Bill Webb, a fellow POW and survivor of the Rayuko Maru –


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Filed under Australian history, Military history, WWII

Mapping our Anzacs

Robert Cedric Dorman (1897-1917) - Enlistment Papers

Many of us will have had military history on our minds this week and with that in mind, I thought I should mention a fantastic website developed by the National Archives of Australia (NAA) and the Department of Veteran’s Affairs…

Mapping Our Anzacs is more than a website, it is really an interactive and collaborative online tool for researching those that served in the Australian Army during WWI. The format is quite unique and utilises Google mapping technology to explore our military history in a new way. The site includes over 375,000 service records that became more widely accessible in 2007 when the NAA released online copies of all the records in their B2455 Series i.e. records of those serving in WWI.

The website has a number of facets which is what makes it so interesting. The user can use maps to search for soldiers by their place of birth or place of enlistment. Each location displays an alphabetical listing of all soldiers from that location which the user can then select from to display service records. What makes the website so special is that users can select a person and add their own information to a digital scrapbook which will appear on the website. Users are also encouraged to develop ‘tribute pages’. This is something I plan on doing in the future.

Well worth a look –

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Filed under Archives, Australian history, Military history, Research tools, WWI

Some useful military resources

Petty Officer James Armstrong & actor Charles "Bud" Tingwell.

Being ANZAC day on the 25th, I have been doing some more research on family members that served in the military. The very useful thing about researching those who have served is that the military keep very thorough records and are also quite mindful of making historical records accessible. I thought I would make a quick list of some websites that I often use in my research…

The AIF Project

Created by ADFA, this database is an invaluable resource that gives quite comprehensive details of over 330,000 Defence members that served overseas in the First Australian Imperial Force 1914-1918.

The Australian War Memorial

Users can search the AWM’s collection for records related to individuals or the units in which they served from 1885-present.

World War II Nominal Roll
A searchable database of those that served in the Australian Defence Forces or Merchant Navy during WWII.
Australians on the Western Front 1914-1918
A comprehensive guide to WWI battles, with a detailed information about European war cemeteries.
Includes a useful database of 1.7 million men and women who served in the Commonwealth Forces in WWI & WWII and details of the 23,000 cemeteries and memorials where they are commemorated.

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Filed under Archives, Australian history, Military history, Research tools, WWI, WWII

Australian WWI Diggers Identified

A story in yesterday’s newspaper caught my eye. Many people would remember that last year the remains of 250 WWI soldiers were found in a mass grave near Fromelles in France. These soldiers were killed in battle at Pheasant Wood in 1916. 205 of the 250 soldiers recovered have been identified as Australians, but the process of proving exact identities is painstaking.

On Friday, it was reported that another 19 of these soldiers have been identified by name, following the previous identification of 75. More DNA testing will be carried out between now and 2014 as more relatives of the soldiers come forward.

How amazing that we now have the technology to help identify these men and let their families put them to rest.

Most Australian families would have a number of relatives who have served in the military. I have to admit that military history is a particular interest of mine and I have always keenly investigated my relatives that have served in the Defence Forces, particularly those that served in WWI and WWII. When I think of WWI I think of two relatives in particular – Robert Dorman and Stanley Higgs.

Robert Cedric Dorman was born on the 23rd Oct 1897 in Leichhardt NSW. Robert was my husband’s Great Great Uncle. He enlisted in the Australian Army in Jan 1916 at the age of 18 and left for Europe in June that year. Almost a year later on 5th May 1917, he was killed in action at Bullecourt by a shell that fell in the trench behind the front line. Unfortunately it is not known exactly where Robert was buried but he is commemorated on the Australian National Memorial in Villers-Bretonneux in France.

Stanley Higgs was born in 1877 in Wales. I first began researching Stanley’s life after my second cousin Jonathan asked me if I could find some more history on his family. Stanley was Jonathan’s Grandfather. Stanley left a wife and two young boys to join the Imperial Army’s Welsh Regiment, where he moved to the Western Front in Jan 1915. Stanley was killed in action at the second battle of Ypres on the 21st April 1915 at the age of 38. He is buried at Bedford House Cemetery in Belgium.

Robert Cedric Dorman 1897-1917

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Filed under Australian history, Military history, WWI

Australian Heritage Week 14 – 20 April 2011

In a few short weeks it will be time to celebrate Australian Heritage Week (AHW). AHW has been developed by the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities to showcase Australia’s unique local heritage.

This year AHW runs from Thursday 14 April – Wednesday 20 April and includes a wide range of activites right around the country. Some of my picks include….

Open House – Old Government House, Parramatta NSW. Sunday 17th April from 10.30am – 4.30pm. A chance to visit this amazing property on National Trust Day.

Military Heritage Tour – Brisbane CBD, QLD. Sunday 17th April from 9am – 12.30pm. A guided walking tour that explores Brisbane’s fascinating military history.

Full Moon Walking Tours – Melbourne Cemetery, Parkville VIC. Sunday 17th April with several tours running from 6.20pm – 8.50pm. A guided tour including stories of the many famous identities that are buried in the Melbourne General Cemetery.

The Best of the Mornington Peninsula – Briarswood Cottage & Heronswood Estate, Mornington Peninsula, VIC. Saturday 16th April 11.30am – 3pm. A local event for me! This is a self-drive event that includes visits to these two beautiful cottages and gardens.

Missing ANZACs at Fromelles – Hambledon Cottage, Parramatta NSW. Saturday 16th April 2 – 4pm. Includes a talk by Tim Whitford, part of the team that worked on the mass burial site at Fromelles.

Afternoon at the Archives – Our Collections, Your History – Brisbane City Archives, Moorooka QLD.  Saturday 16th April 1 – 5pm. Includes talks about the collection and a behind the scenes tour.

Penitentiary Chapel Open Day – Hobart TAS. Friday 15th April 10am – 2.30pm. Tour the court rooms, tunnels, cells and gallows of this historic building.

For more information, visit

Penitentiary Chapel, Hobart TAS.

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Filed under Australian history, Cemeteries, Military history, New South Wales history, Pioneers, Queensland history, Tasmanian history, Victorian history, WWI

Photographs of WWI Diggers discovered in France

I read the following story with interest on the Gould Genealogy webpage –

More than 3000 photographs of Australian WWI Diggers and other allied troops have been discovered in the attic of a dilapidated farmhouse  in Vignacourt in the Somme region of France. Previously there had been quite a gap in photographic records of this time largely due to the fact that personal cameras weren’t allowed on the Western Front as they were in Gallipoli.

The collection has become known as the Thuillier Collection after the farmhouse owner and photographer Louis Thuillier who had seen an opportunity to make some money by offering to take portraits of soldiers. Many of these photographs have been identified as being of soldiers from the 1st and 5th Divisions, taken in November and December 1916. Many would be the last photographs taken of these soldiers before they were killed in action.

The Australian War Memorial has asked for help in identifying the soldiers in these photographs. If you think you may be able to identify any of these soldiers then visit the following links:

Do you know any of these WWI Diggers?


Filed under Military history, WWI

Military Resources

Walter Mervyn Dorman

I have found that a fantastic way of tracing many of my family members has been through using military records. We are very fortunate here in Australia to have relatively straightforward access to the records of those that have served in the Defence Forces.

Some of my favourite places to begin searching include:

Australian War Memorial – Users can search an extensive database of nominal rolls, rolls of honour and commemorative rolls. There is also access to photographs, private papers and diaries.

World War II Nominal Roll – Includes the details of approximately 1 million men and women who served in Australia’s Defence Forces and Merchant Navy during WWII.

The AIF Project – Created by ADFA, this web page includes a searchable database of approximately 330,000 men and women who served overseas in the First Australian Imperial Force from 1914 – 1918.

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Filed under Military history, Research tools, WWI, WWII