Tuesday, 14 January 2014

TNA releases first batch of WW1 war diaries

The National Archives in Kew (TNA) has published a collection of WW1 unit war diaries, one of its most popular record sets.

The first batch of the 1,944 diaries reveals the real-time accounts of some of the military divisions among the first wave of British Army troops deployed in France and Flanders: the first three cavalry divisions and the first seven infantry divisions.

War diaries were primarily kept to provide an accurate record of operations for preparing the official history of the war and to collect information that would help make improvements in preparing the army for war. They contain a wealth of information about daily events on the front line and the decisions taken, and cover the entire period of the unit's involvement in the war. Each unit in WW1 was required to keep a diary. However, not all survive.

Although they are not personal diaries, the war diaries often contain references to individuals, and sometimes present personal insights into life and death on the front line. If you have an Irish ancestor who fought for one of the deployed units, you are likely to gain a greater understanding of his war-time experiences through reading these diaries, even if he is not named.

TNA has digitised about 1.5m pages of war diaries so far; this first batch of records to be released represents about one-fifth of the collection. The remainder will be released throughout 2014 as part of TNA's centenary programme First World War 100. The programme's dedicated website, and access to the war diaries, can be found here.

The TNA has also launched a crowdsourcing project – Operation War Diary – which aims to unearth the details from within the diaries, including names, places and events.

UPDATE, 16 March 2014: A second batch of First World War unit war diaries – some 3,987 of them – has been released via TNA's First World War 100 portal.

This batch holds records relating to the last of the Cavalry and numbers 8-33 Infantry Divisions deployed to the Western Front in the First World War. They cover the entire period of the units' involvement in France and Belgium, from their arrival on the front to their departure at the end of the war.