Official Diaries from WWI Army Officers are being Posted Online

On January 14, 2014, the Malay Mail Online reports that the British diaries from World War One are to be posted online.

The paper states that for the British government is recruiting a slew of amateur historians to sort through over 1.5 million diary pages of World War I army officers; and these pages will be published online for the first time—100 years after the beginning of the conflict.

The diary entries chronicle the happenings of the war from its beginning in 1914 to its end in 1918 from the eyes of the Army officers; however, there are some deeply moving testimony that can be found through those pages.

“I have never spent and imagine that I can never spend a more ghastly and heart-tearing forty-eight hours than the last,” writes Captain James Patterson in an entry from the French trenches dated September 16, 1914.

“Swarms of Germans on the ridge, rather massed. Our guns open on them at 1,800 yards, and one can see a nasty sight through one’s glasses. Bunches of Germans blown to pieces.”

The aged pages of Patterson’s diary are only a few among over 2,000 files that were published online by Britain’s national Archives. This is a part of a project that will eventually see over 1.5 million documents that share similar experiences.

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“A lot of people think that a unit war diary will only mention places and dates and activities, but there are lots and lots of different stories amongst these records,” said William Spencer, the archives’ principal military specialist.

“By digitizing them, we not only preserve them for future generations — we also make them available in a new way.”

The archives are urging volunteers to help catalogue the contents of the diaries as a part of a joint project called “Operation War Diary” (operationwardiary.org). This project is being held by London’s Imperial War Museum and Zooniverse, which is a citizen science project.

The members of the public are able to tag key details mentioned on the online pages, such as names, places, and dates. The aim of this is to make the diaries searchable to everyone from academics to family tree researchers.

Organizers of the project say the work the “citizen historians” are doing is crucial because the service records of many of the troops who were mentioned in the diaries were destroyed by various bombings during the Second World War.

One is likely to kill one’s own men.

Patterson kept a neatly typewritten diary. He recorded the movements of the 1st Battalion South Wales Borderers and it comes to an abrupt end on October 25th, 1914. Patterson was killed only three months into the war.

His diary recorded scenes that were “beyond description.”

“Poor fellows shot dead are laying in all directions,” he wrote.

“Everywhere the same hard, grim, pitiless sign of battle and war.”

He describes his terror of firing into the night. In one entry, he wrote: “One is very likely to kill one’s own men, and from the wounds I have seen since, I am sure some of them were hits like this.”

Patterson’s diaries also describes some of the lighter moments while in battle. Some of these instances include rugby matches and tugs-of-war.

“A somewhat scrappy game, ending in a draw,” reads his official account of one such rugby match.

In another entry which has yet to be published, describes the exploits of Reverend Tron, the chaplain to some battalions.

“The padre… repeatedly struck the German in the face until they broke apart.”

“Unslinging his glasses, the German thrust them into the hands of the astonished clergyman, and tended to his surrender.”

Luke Smith of the Imperial War Museum, said the work the volunteers were doing to sort through the diaries would help piece together the stories of the priest and thousands of others who served in the war.

“By working with citizen historians, we’re going to find all the references to Reverend Tron, and the half-a-million or so other named people in those diaries,” he said.

“We’re going to uncover the story of the Western Front at an unprecedented level of detail.”

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