The Western Front Association is delighted that the War Diaries of First World War units are being made available to the public.
These diaries (written by battalion adjutants in accordance with orders) had to be provided on a daily basis to record a unit's activity. Sometimes hand written (and therefore difficult to decipher) and occasionally typed, these are not to be confused with officially banned personal diaries.
The daily entry in the unit's official War Diary may have been a short sentence or sometimes several pages long. Much depended on the officer's (usually the battalion adjutant's) motivation.
Rarely emotional, and hardly ever mentioning soldiers by name, these are nevertheless a vital source of information for individuals wishing to find out "what happened to great uncle Bert". These fragile documents, which have been accessed by historians and researchers at The National Archives (previously the Public Record Office) at Kew for many years, are likely to be much used in the coming years and - the originals having been written on thin paper - are in many cases suffering from wear and tear.
Whilst it will take some time for the documents to be fully scanned and tagged, it is hoped that the resultant work (volunteers are being asked to read the diaries and "tag" them to enable digital research easier) will enable much more in depth research to be undertaken, as searches under "keywords" should be possible. Nothing can compare to handing these documents themselves - literally "touching history" - as these documents were often written immediately after battle, in a damp dugout lit only by a few candles, but to have these available on line is a great step forward.
The Western Front Association
Note for Editors
The Western Front Association (WFA) was formed by eminent Great War historian John Giles in 1980. Our primary aim is furthering interest in The Great War of 1914-1918. We also aim to perpetuate the memory, courage and comradeship of all those on all sides who served their countries in France and Flanders and in other countries during The Great War.
The WFA, a registered charity, has now grown to some 6,000 members worldwide, with over 50 local branches around the world.. [The Association does not seek to justify or glorify war. We are not a re-enactment society, nor are we commercially motivated. We are entirely non-political. The object of the Association is to educate the public in the history of The Great War with particular reference to the Western Front.]
Applications for membership are warmly welcomed from anyone of a like mind.
Some additional key facts:
· The WFA produces an eminent journal (Stand To!) and a members' Bulletin six times a year.
· Some five years ago, the WFA saved the Great War Medal Index Cards from destruction and has since made them available online via Ancestry.
· The WFA bought the Butte de Warlancourt, a major feature on the Somme Battlefield, in order to prevent its destruction and to preserve it as a memorial.
· The WFA holds its own ceremony at the Cenotaph on Armistice Day - 11 November - every year (except Remembrance Sunday).
· The WFA has digitised large numbers of Great War maps held by the Imperial War Museum. The WFA has contributed resources to digitise Oral History tapes held by the Imperial War Museum.