The unit war diaries (record series WO 95) represent one of the most popular collections held by The National Archives. War diaries were kept for two main reasons:
- to provide an accurate record of operations for preparing the official history of the war
- to collect information that would help make improvements in preparing the army for war
What the diaries contain
For researchers and family historians, the war diaries contain a wealth of information of far greater interest than the army could ever have predicted. They provide unrivalled insight into daily events on the front line, and are full of fascinating detail about the decisions that were made and the activities that resulted from them. War diaries are still kept by the armed services to this day, and historical war diaries such as these are still referred to.
The war diaries are arranged by operational theatre (front) first, then by GHQ, then Army, then Corps, then division, then by the units within each division. They cover the entire period of the unit’s involvement in the war, from their arrival on the front to their departure at the end of the war.
The war diaries include details of the unit’s activities, often on a daily basis. While not personal diaries, they do often refer to individuals and in some cases offer personal insights into life (and inevitably death) on the front line.
What we have digitised
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.