I have recently reviewed a service that will be of great interest to members of The Western Front Association. The Military Archive is a web-based service which is in three parts. Arguably the most important part of this is "The Library".
The Library is a searchable on-line repository of divisional and regimental histories, rolls of honour and similar books. At the moment the number of titles available exceeds 500, and this number is likely to continue to grow. Although not all of the books cover the period of the First World War (there are some Second World War and pre-1914 titles) the vast majority are First World War era books. Whilst some of these books are currently available to buy from well known specialist retailers, many are rare and out of print.
I have found the database very easy to search; it is sub-divided in such a way that it is straightforward to locate any particular unit's history (should it exist). For example, if you wish to search for the units of the 62nd (West Riding) Division, it is very easy to see if the Divisional History (by Everard Wyrall) is available (it is). Knowing that the Division contained (for example) battalions of the Duke of Wellington's Regiment and the York and Lancaster Regiment, it is also possible to review what titles exist for these two regiments (there are five). It is also possible to look for histories of infantry brigades (a total of nine are available) and artillery and engineer units.
Further indexing enables searches to be made for books by counties ("Northamptonshire and the Great War" is the only title in this section), companies (a number of titles exist including "The Canadian Bank of Commerce: Letters from the Front"), occupations (for example "The Pipes of War: A Record of the Achievements of Pipers of Scottish and Overseas Regiments during the Great War"), and personal memoirs (for example "With the MT in Mesopotamia").
There is a large section of books written about schools and universities (one example being "Service Record of King Edward's School, Birmingham, 1914-1919") but a smaller section of books about towns and villages ("Hornchurch During the Great War" being one example in this section). Many of these volumes have been indexed in ‘Murphy's Register' (see below). For subscribers to both services, this allows identification in Murphy's Register, and cross-reference and direct access to relevant photographs and records contained in the volumes held in ‘The Library'.
There are two books covering sportsmen. ‘Famous Footballers' is one, being a truly excellent compilation of a weekly publication giving pen-pictures (and illustrations) of association football and rugby football players in the 1890's; obviously not all of these served in the Great War, but it is a treasure trove of sporting biographies of the era. The other is specifically Great War related, entitled "Rugby Football Internationals: Roll of Honour".
Another section of "The Library" is a section of books that defy categorization; these are an eclectic mix, including "500 of the Best Cockney War Stories", "War Letters of Fallen Englishmen" and "Who's Who in the British War Mission to the United States of America".
Returning to the unit histories, there are some titles which are yet to be added, it is understood that a total of four volumes of divisional histories are outstanding, being - as far as I can see - the histories of the 15th, 30th, 37th and 49th Divisions. As the only books that can be made available are those that are out of copyright, modern unit histories are obviously not available.
In terms of reading the books, there are two options, it is possible to read on-screen (the pages can be scaled to fit or zoomed in and out easily) or can be printed out. Understandably, it is not possible to "save" the books to your PC.
The other two sections of The Military Archive are under development. I hope to review these in a few months time when the development process is more complete, but, briefly both of these sections look very interesting. The more advanced at this stage is "Murphy's Register". This is a searchable database which enables users to search the index of over 250,000 records and 60,000 photographs of individuals who served in British and Allied Forces from 1880's through to the 1930's with a particular emphasis on the Great War. For example, by searching the surname of "Grierson" there are 24 "hits" ranging from Boy Mechanic GD Grierson to Lt-General Sir James Grierson. Selection of the individual provides the information that Mechanic Grieve Grierson is detailed in the "George Heriot's School Roll of Honour", and a copy of this can be provided (for a fee) by the Archive. There are currently approximately eighty primary sources indexed, three examples being "Australia's Fighting Sons of the Empire"; "List of British Officers taken POW between August 1914 and November 1918" and "Wykehamists Who Died in the War 1914-1918".
The final section of The Military Archive is "The Rolls" which currently provides online access to original General and Army Orders covering the awards of the Army Long Service and Good Conduct Medal (1876-1959), the Quarterly Indian Army List October 1919 (30,000+ individuals) and a searchable database of the Quarterly Army List (British): Services of Officers, January 1922 (33,000+ individuals).
A searchable database providing copies of the 1914 & 1914-15 Stars, and Territorial Force War Medal rolls to Army & Royal Flying Corps Officers is in the pipeline and a number of other databases and rolls will be included in this section in due course. Apparently, several of these will be unique to The Military Archive.
In summary I would say that this is a very exciting development in terms of accessibility to source material and one that will probably appeal to collectors of unit histories and memoirs.
The Military Archive can be reviewed at www.militaryarchive.co.uk
WFA Development Trustee