An online collection of World War I service records is being made available free to the public as part of Anzac Day commemorations.

Ancestry.com is unveiling the collection at midnight tonight, which will be available for free until Wednesday and includes 26 million military records from New Zealand, Australia and the UK.

Ancestry content manager Jason Reeve spent years compiling the records of all New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) personnel who served in France during World War I, with particular interest in the service files of some of the NZ Victoria Cross winners.

Reeve said the collection has come through a partnership with the Department of Internal Affairs and Archives New Zealand.

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"It can include anything from information on who they were or what they were doing when they enlisted, what they were doing when they went overseas for service, and then everything that actually happened throughout their service," he said.

"They are very detailed records that not only give insight into war service, but also who they were as an individual prior to signing up, and then afterwards."

The records include; transfers, promotions, punishments, medals and honours received, health status and medical history, and other biological information.

Each soldier has a file that could be up 20-30 pages long.

This database contains New Zealand Defense Force (NZDF) Personnel Files for all known New Zealanders who served in World War I. Photo / Ancestry.com
This database contains New Zealand Defense Force (NZDF) Personnel Files for all known New Zealanders who served in World War I. Photo / Ancestry.com

"As you can imagine, they have everything: poignant, tragic, human, brave, inspiring, warts and all!

"From incredible bravery, to disobeying orders; drunkenness, desertion, rioting, injuries, and of course in many cases, how they were killed in action, or died of disease. In many cases, there are letters and photos."

Within the millions of records, Reeve has delved into the service files of some of the New Zealand Victoria Cross winners.

The Victoria Cross is the highest award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces.

"You can imagine with all the sorts of content that we get, there are very interesting stories woven into that content - so with this particular set we have looked at a couple of the Victoria Cross winners," he said.

"This is because when you talk about individuals who have won a medal, it can very easily be romanticised. You talk about these individuals as heroes and the things they did, but the thing about history is, it is important to understand both sides of the coin.

"Some of these individuals who won military records, had challenges while they have been in that theatre of war, because naturally in that sort of environment it breeds a lot of problems.

"The idea is, while these people have done some very heroic acts, they have also been susceptible to the challenges that come with that military environment."

Ancestry content manager Jason Reeve spent years compiling the records of all New Zealand Defense Force (NZDF) Personnel who served in France during World War I. Photo / Supplied
Ancestry content manager Jason Reeve spent years compiling the records of all New Zealand Defense Force (NZDF) Personnel who served in France during World War I. Photo / Supplied

Among three Victoria Cross winners profiled, Reeve looked into the life of John Gildroy Grant.

Sergeant Grant was awarded a Victoria Cross for his actions with the Wellington Infantry Regiment on September 1, 1918, during the advance to Bancourt in France when his Battalion was attempting to capture a ridge.

"He and a comrade actually rushed a machine gun post and managed to get the enemy out of there, and his whole Battalion was able to follow through. It was quite a decisive move that allowed the allies to advance," Reeve said.

But records show that leading up to that event, Grant had a number of punishments on his service record for missing roll call and being absent from billet.

"This is a pretty common sort of offence that you see within those military forces; taking a leave of absence or being drunk and disorderly are the common offences we saw during this time," Reeve said.

Reeve was also able to find out about Grant's life after the war.

"He survived the war and he did go back home, but because of his experience he did actually struggle to find employment and his behaviour was recorded as being quite erratic.

"Obviously in hindsight we can look back and say he had post-traumatic stress disorder, but in those times that sort of thing wasn't recognised.

"It is interesting, if this was your ancestor, to look at a record like this and see what this individual had been through and help grasp that it is not just 'wow, fantastic, he won a medal', it is much deeper than that."

Reeve said it was a bit of a lucky draw whether an ancestor falls into any of those collections or not.

"But certainly if you do a search for you ancestor, you are going to find a whole bunch of different collection sets, and you will be able to start building on that as you go.

"I am yet to find somebody who said they have gone on to find their family history and couldn't find anything. It is normally the other way around and they find too much, and it ends up becoming a life-long passion."

* Go to Ancestry.com Military Records for free access to the NZ WW1 Service Records for the next six days.