War Journals of Lewis Harcourt Made Available

Lewis Harcourt was a member of the British Cabinet who kept war journals during the First World War that have never before seen the light of day in terms of publication. That is now set to change after nearly a century’s passing. While they were not initially expected to ever see public consumption, the war journals of the long-dead Cabinet member are about to be as public as they can be.

The publication of the diaries was prohibited by both Winston Churchill and Lord Asquith, for they actually violated government regulations. Cabinet meetings were never meant to be recorded in writing, but the writings of Lewis Harcourt are significant in that Harcourt’s war journals might actually provide a peek into the motivations that led to Britain’s involvement in WWI. They also contain notes on the basic atmosphere of such meetings and the difficulties that men of different tempers had in helping to run a nation together. They did not always get along, including Asquith, and this is recorded to some extent.

Despite the importance of the First World War, the writings of Lewis Harcourt hint that not every member of the Cabinet was on board with the decision to join the fray. In fact, some entries in the war journals suggest a negative opinion of Winston Churchill for his part in the decision-making. Not only are some views on the future prime minister recorded, but some concerning the king as well. It is alleged that many of the conversations between important figures—including King George V—are written word for word, the The Telegraph reports.

These are not so much hardbound diaries as they are scraps of paper with various notes written on them. Very few scholars have borne witness to the writings in the past, but now the war journals are to be displayed at Oxford University, following which they will finally be bound and produced for public consumption. They will not be the only documents published, but will be part of a collection that provides a deeper look at the Great War.

The war journals will feature in From Downing Street to the Trenches, a book by Mike Webb which examines the First World War from numerous angles. Some of the writings also deal with other issues, providing a glimpse at the overall political climate of the time. While not all of these writings will be included in the book, those included will still provide more insight into the war journals of Lewis Harcourt than ever before.


Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE