Unit War Diaries of the Great War

This year brings the centenary of the War to End All Wars (well, it was a hearwarming concept, if imperfectly executed), and the Allied Powers are celebrating the centenary with events ranging from the silly to the significant to the solemn. We’d put into the “significant” bin the UK National Archives’ plans to release the digitzed (or “digitised,” for the cousins) War Diaries of the British units participating in the war online.

They began, for some reason, with cavalry units.

We have digitised around 1.5 million pages of war diaries so far, and will be releasing them throughout this year as part of First World War 100, our centenary programme. Digitising the most popular segment of one of most popular record series will allow researchers around the world to access the diaries, and has given us the opportunity to embark on a hugely exciting crowdsourcing project, Operation War Diary.

What’s available in the first batch

This first batch of unit war diaries reveals the real-time account of the first three cavalry (WO 95/1096 to WO 95/1156) and the first seven infantry divisions (WO 95/1227 to WO 95/1670) who were part of the first wave of British army troops deployed in France and Flanders. They cover the entire period of the units’ involvement in the war, from their arrival on the front to their departure at the end of the war.

via Unit war diaries | The National Archives.

The good news is a lot of information is there, and they have crowdsourced the analysis of these diaries to some extent (volunteers can participate at a link from the page linked above).

The bad news is that, if there is a more difficult to navigate site than the British National Archives’, we haven’t found it. And worse, over the year it has aperiodically changed from one kind of usability hellhole to another, so that if you do torture yourself into learning where they stash some detail or other, and then return for it two years later, it will be gone, cunningly concealed Christ-knows-where by some Archives bureaucrat for whom that exact obfuscation is sworn duty.

7 thoughts on “Unit War Diaries of the Great War

  1. Bill K

    Perhaps the best thing to come out of that war was the phrase, “The War to End All Wars”. One might hope that the irony would persist for more than a generation or two.

  2. Stefan van der Borght

    Agreed, Dr Bill, it was a silly phrase, though the sentiment is understandable. At the start of the war, so much optimism (“over by Christmass!”) and enthusiasm, despite the clear lessons about artillery, mg’s and massed repeating rifles gleaned from the wars ranging from War of Northern Aggression (American Civil War, not that it was particularly civil), Franco-Prussian, Balkan and Russo-Japanese wars. After it, the drunkard’s vow “never again”, though the “peace” they fashioned was plainly temporary. Any serious Scripture-student knows that the WTEAW culminates in the last siege of Jerusalem after Satan gets out of jail; not even Armageddon will be the final one, though horrible enough and spectacular. Napoleon was impressed with the fine battlefield that valley would make, and we’ve been told the blood will run deep as horse’s bridles for a considerable distance.

    Thanks WM for the link to the diaries…when things settle down a bit here I’ll get to looking into them.

    1. Bill K

      Are folks crazy enough to want a war that ends all wars? Try this description on for size, “Now this will be the plague with which the Lord will strike all the peoples who have gone to war against Jerusalem; their flesh will rot while they stand on their feet, and their eyes will rot in their sockets, and their tongue will rot in their mouth.” – Zech 14:12

      I thought after seeing Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, where the Nazi’s face disintegrates while he stands, that that scene resonated so well out of an innate fear that something like it could happen some day – a premonition, as it were.

      And many people will choose poorly…

      1. Hognose Post author

        Some people think that the War To End War will bring millennial peace. Some think it will bring desolation. I think the idea of a War To End War is a pipe dream. War is in the human heart; as Einstein is reported to have said, after a World War III, World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones. (Actually, most people would survive even a maximum nuclear discharge, and the noise about nukes as destroying the entire world was mostly Soviet propaganda, first to stall US deployment until the USSR could catch up, then to try to roll US strategic arms back in the 1980s to give the USSR dominance).

  3. Stefan van der Borght

    I’ve read somewhere that the symptoms you describe (actually, The Lord describes, through Zechariah) resemble radiation sickness…which would explain why animals suffer them as well, unless it’s some vile new post-modern bio-toy that is tolerant and diverse. Whichever, it’s nasty, and should give pause to folks that monkey about with Jerusalem. Hey Lurch Kerry, this means you, for example.

  4. StukaPilot

    I’ll look into this. Winter, HAIG’S COMMAND, says that el supremo’s hagiographer Edmonds burned something like 400 tons of the BEF’s real stuff: trench-to-company level, moment-to-moment communications. Just thinking about it makes my stomach turn over. And there’s good reason to believe that the Kaiser’s 40+ volumes of ms. Private Dairies c. 1889-1940, apparently looted from the Hohenzollern’s Charlottenberg estate in 1945, are locked up somewhere in the Kremlin. I sent Vlad an e-mail about this, but there has been no reply. Prolly has other things on his mind right now.

    1. Hognose Post author

      Sometimes, stuff does turn up over there. What was the outcome on “Hitler’s record collection” a few years ago? Did that turn out to be fake or misrepresented, or was that really on the level?

      I was amused to see the amount of Mendelssohn in the Fuhrer’s collection, but then, there wouldn’t have been any Bach in his collection if it weren’t for Mendelssohn (the Jewish composer Nazi ideology condemned as untermensch was more or less single-handedly responsible for rescuing the Aryaner Baroque genius’s reputation and works from obscurity, one of the many ironies of National Socialism’s bizarre “race” policies).

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