British National Archives digitises World War I diaries

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Britain’s National Archives has begun to digitise the more than 1.5 million pages of World War I diaries in its collection.

Most of this comprises official diaries, recording the day-to-day activities of British army units during the war.

They include descriptions of marches, parades, billets and sporting events, says historian William Spencer.

‘It’s usually soccer,’ he adds. ‘So for example, the first day of the Battle of the Somme, the first of July 1916, at least one regiment is known to have advanced towards the enemy kicking a football.’

‘If you want to get your people pointing in the right direction, you kick a football over the top, and they followed it.’

Caroline James, an amateur historian who recently began working at the archive, discovered a diary record related to one of here relatives, private Charles Alfred Hunt of the 12th (Prince of Wales Royal) Lancers.

The experience changed her perception of the war, she says. ‘You think, those were real men. They had mums, they had brothers and sisters and girlfriends and wives and children.’

The 12th Lancers’ war diary entry for the day private Hunt went missing in terse and to the point.

‘After a tiring march at 11:30 PM, B squadron captured a German car,’ the passage reads. ‘Casualties: 2nd Lt RFT Moore and 11 men missing.’

The Archive have also launched Operation War Diary, which involves the recruitment of what it terms ‘citizen historians’ to crowdsource the research into the documents.

To find out more, click here.

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