First World War diaries available online, 100 years later
Published Saturday, January 18, 2014 9:50PM EST
Last Updated Saturday, January 18, 2014 11:34PM EST
Offering a rare glimpse into life on the frontlines, detailed “unit” diaries written by British soldiers during the First World War are now available online.
More than 300,000 pages have been digitized and published on the British National Archives’ website to mark the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Great War. The diaries are not personal diaries, but rather record accounts of military units’ activities on the front lines.
With no surviving veterans of the war, the diaries offer a glimpse into the lives and deaths of soldiers in the trenches. The first batch of diaries, now accessible by anyone with an Internet connection, reveal the eyewitness accounts of the first three cavalry and the first seven infantry divisions of the British Army.
Caroline James’ great-great uncle Private Charles Hunt was killed in August 1914, just two weeks after arriving in France with British Forces. Through the diaries, she has uncovered new details about a man her family knew little about.
“I knew he was with somebody called Lieutenant Moore when he died, and fortunately for me, Lieutenant Moore is listed as going missing,” James told CTV’s Ben O’Hara-Byrne. “There is a prisoner of war statement in which he gives an absolutely full account of the action in which my great-great uncle died.”
National Archives’ military records specialist William Spencer said the accounts have, in many cases, been supplemented by extracts from personal diaries.
“So those extracts are quite interesting because in a way, they don’t follow the official line," Spencer told CTV News. "They capture much more graphic information…and people’s feelings rather than the information the state wanted to capture."
Once completed, there will be more than 1.5 million diary pages available online, painting a vivid portrait of a war that killed an estimated 10 million soldiers, including nearly 67,000 Canadians.
To search the British Army war diaries archive, click here.
With files from CTV’s Ben O’Hara-Byrne