Today The National Archives have announced the release of the first batch of the newly digitised unit war diaries. I’ve had some involvement in this project (checking the mast images to give us the best possible chance of preserving them long-term), so it’s great to see the first fruits appearing.
This first batch covers the divisions (and their sub units) which made up the original BEF, Infantry Divisions 1-7, and Cavalry Divisions 1-3: but the coverage of these is for the whole duration of the war, and into the occupation forces that went into Germany after the Armistice. There’s a more detailed description within our dedicated First World War centenary portal.
However, perhaps the most exciting part of this release is the concurrent launch of Operation War Diary, hosted by Zooniverse (we’ve previously also been involved in their Old Weather project, which extracts climate information from historic ships’ logs). This allows war diary pages to be tagged to extract information about the people, places, times, dates etc contained within them. The war diaries are largely handwritten, so we can’t realistically use OCR or similar technology on them. This information will be fed back into the catalogue descriptions, making it much easier for people to find mentions of relatives or other research subjects, and the dataset will I think also be available for other projects, allowing mapping and timelines of the movements of individual units for example. It’s free, so take a look, and help with the tagging (you can choose particular units, but you won’t be able to download the whole war diary this way).