Creating the 'War' File

Creating the ‘War’ File
A five volumed file (Consignment 1496, item 1914/0302 v1-5) reveals the story of Western Australia’s reaction to the commencement of the First World War. Created 100 years ago it has been digitised and placed on the SRO’s website for all to view, also informing an online exhibition about WA’s reaction to the commencement of the First World War. This key historical document is now in the State Records Office, the home of the State archives collection.

Simply titled 'War' and also marked ‘Confidential’, the file was created by civil servants in the Premier’s Office a few days before the declaration of war between Great Britain and Germany on 4 August 1914. It records the activities of the State Government and public administrators in the Premier’s Office.

The file reveals that from the very beginning of the war, high level public administrators and the State government realised that conducting the war was going to be a huge task for them. It was clear that war would also impact heavily on the community, even for a place as far away from the conflict as Western Australia. State government needed coordination of the local war effort and public administrators needed to document their own work implementing local programs to support Great Britain and the British Empire. They recognised very early the need to galvanise themselves and the community for the war effort, but also the requirement to respond to community concerns about its conduct.

Western Australia’s official ‘War’ file offers a uniquely ‘home front’ view on how WA coped with the declaration of the First World War and the subsequent mobilisation of the community. In creating and managing information about the war, public administrators were expecting a lot of correspondence about very important and sometimes secret security matters. As the situation became more serious and complex, the letters, telegrams and memoranda about the impending war arrived, all placed in the ‘War’ file in the order in which they were received.

The ‘War’ file reveals a lot about the interactions between Federal, State and Local Governments to support the conduct of the war effort. It tells much about community attitudes and concerns through the many letters to the Premier from the representatives of community groups and ordinary citizens about the conduct of the war. It details the role of the military at home. By delving deeper into State Archives we can also learn about the role public administrators had during the First World War managing government and community expectations, by acting efficiently and being responsible and responsive to all players, including community groups and the general public.