British Army WW1 Unit Diaries Digitized

A typical handwritten British Army unit war diary page from the First World War.

A typical handwritten British Army unit war diary page from the First World War.

Its being called “Operation War Diary” – a cooperative effort between Britain’s Imperial War Museum and Zooniverse, a citizen science project with applications in the humanities.  This project seeks to digitize and publish online the war diaries kept by British Army units during the First World War.

The diaries total some 1.5 million pages and represent the official histories of British Army units kept by their own officers.  More than mere records of movements and numbers of casualties, the diaries often contain poignant narrative describing scenes from the trenches.  Through the efforts of numerous volunteer historians, these original records are being transcribed, tagged for searchable content, and published online as priceless resources for both today’s and tomorrow’s readers.

The loss of various kinds of original records over time through deterioration, fire, natural and manmade disasters underscores the importance of recording and preserving their content through digital means.

“Operation War Diary” is truly a grassroots effort with “citizen historians” working throughout the world on transcription and digitization.  To view the war diaries, or find out how you can take part, visit the project’s website here.


J.R.R. Tolkien’s WW1 Connection Highlighted

J.R.R. Tolkien during the First World War.

J.R.R. Tolkien during the First World War.

The Imperial War Museum North, located in Manchester, UK, will place a First World War Webley revolver which had belonged to  J.R.R. Tolkien on exhibition this month.   The author of the tremendously popular books The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings had served in the trenches in France during 1916 after leaving Oxford University.  It was after being invalided home from the war that he began writing stories set in Middle-earth which laid the foundation for his most popular works.

Born in South Africa in 1892, Tolkien graduated from Oxford University in 1915 with a degree in literature after which he joined the Lancashire Fusiliers as a subaltern arriving in France in June 1916.  After participating in fighting during the Battle of the Somme, he was sent home to England for health reasons in November 1916.  After the war, Tolkien eventually joined the faculty of The University of Leeds, and later Pembroke College, Oxford, where he would write The Hobbit as well as the first two volumes of The Lord of the Rings.  Between the World Wars Tolkien also achieved notoriety as an authority on Beowulf. 

Between his retirement in 1959 and death in 1973, Tolkien achieved tremendous popular literary success and has been called the “father” of modern fantasy literature.   The influence of his experiences in the First World War on his later writings is generally held to be significant.

For more information on the Imperial War Museum North’s exhibition, see the story from Culture 24 here.