Tuesday, May 27, 2014

WW1 Unit War Diaries

The National Archives has released a third batch of 724 digitised First World War unit war diaries from France and Flanders available online via their First World War 100 portal.
The unit war diaries provide interesting accounts of battles and events, as well as insights into the daily routines of British troops on the Western Front.
What's included
This third release contains the diaries from the Kitchener Divisions and those of the Territorial Force (later The Territorial Army). This includes:
  • the 36th (Ulster) Division, which had many casualties on 1 July 1916
  • the 66th (2nd East Lancashire) Division, which was the last division to leave the UK for France in March 1917
Also included in the diaries are accounts of troops' sports activities (WO 95/2524) which helped keep them motivated and continue fighting until the end of the war.
William Spencer, author and principal military records specialist at The National Archives, said: 'Now that this latest batch of unit war diaries is online, people all around the world can read the official army accounts to discover more about the troops on the Western Front. The diaries note successful battles, such as 46th Division breaking the Hindenburg Line, as well as failures and casualties in key battles such as those on the Somme in 1916. They also provide rare insights into how the troops maintained the environment in the trenches as well as the sports days which helped to keep them motivated.'
Highlights from the files
Highlights from the third batch of unit war diaries include:
  • a sports day programme dated 31 October 1917, which notes pillow fighting, wheelbarrow races and wrestling on mules
  • sketch of a 'snapshot' view from the front (which notes 'dead animals' and even a 'dead Frenchman')
  • two photos giving a 'how to' and 'how not to' guide to laying trench boards 
  • three photos of battalion officers from 7th Battalion Black Watch Fife

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