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Tracing families - then and now

Red Cross, UNSW and UWS announce a joint project to commemorate 100 years of the Australian Red Cross Tracing Service.

Wednesday January 28, 2015

The Australian Red Cross tracing service was established shortly after Australian troops entered World War One to help families discover the fate of missing loved ones. (Australian Red Cross, 1919)

To commemorate 100 years of the Australian Red Cross International Tracing Service, the Australian Red Cross, the University of New South Wales and the University of Western Sydney have announced a joint project to hold an exhibition later this year to showcase the extraordinary origins of the tracing service in Australia during World War One.

The exhibition opens on 1 July at Melbourne's Immigration Museum. It's hoped it will tour to other states later in the year. Read the full announcement published on

The Australian Red Cross International Tracing Service began in Australia in 1915 as the Wounded and Missing Persons Enquiry Bureau, formed in each state to help families of Australian soldiers discover the fate of their missing husbands, fathers, brothers and sons. 

For 100 years the Australian Red Cross tracing service has worked to reconnect families from around the world.  From the battlefields of Gallipoli and the Western Front, through World War Two and post-war migration to modern day, Australian Red Cross has been there for families separated war, conflict, disaster and migration.

The NSW Bureau was formed in July 1915 and within four months over 500 cables had been requested on behalf of relatives of Gallipoli casualties. By 1919 Red Cross was handling 36,000 cases discovering the fate of the missing and wounded.  The Red Cross letters dating back to World War One have been preserved by the Australian War Memorial.  They paint a powerful picture of the plight of families searching for any news of family. 

"I would like to know how long he lived after the wound', one mother Ellen Jones from Armidale in northern New South Wales, pleaded. "Did he suffer much, and was he conscious, did he ask for his parents in any way and did he send any message … I am so anxious to know all about my dear boy".

The Tracing Service exhibit will draw on the archives of Australian Red Cross and library collections to capture a century of incredible stories that expose the horror of war, the perils of migration and the power of humanity.  It will also showcase how advances in technology have transformed the way the Red Cross International Tracing Service operates today.