Unit war diaries

The unit war diaries (record series WO 95) represent one of the most popular collections held by The National Archives. War diaries were kept for two main reasons:

  • to provide an accurate record of operations for preparing the official history of the war
  • to collect information that would help make improvements in preparing the army for war

What the diaries contain

For researchers and family historians, the war diaries contain a wealth of information of far greater interest than the army could ever have predicted. They provide unrivalled insight into daily events on the front line, and are full of fascinating detail about the decisions that were made and the activities that resulted from them. War diaries are still kept by the armed services to this day, and historical war diaries such as these are still referred to.

The war diaries are arranged by operational theatre (front) first, then by GHQ, then Army, then Corps, then division, then by the units within each division. They cover the entire period of the unit’s involvement in the war, from their arrival on the front to their departure at the end of the war.

The war diaries include details of the unit’s activities, often on a daily basis. While not personal diaries, they do often refer to individuals and in some cases offer personal insights into life (and inevitably death) on the front line.

What we have digitised

We have digitised around 1.5 million pages of war diaries so far, and will be releasing them throughout this year as part of First World War 100, our centenary programme. Digitising the most popular segment of one of most popular record series will allow researchers around the world to access the diaries, and has given us the opportunity to embark on a hugely exciting crowdsourcing project, Operation War Diary.

What’s available online

We’ve published the unit war diaries for the cavalry divisions and a number of infantry divisions online (catalogue references WO 95/1096 to WO 95/1226, and WO 95/1227 to WO 95/3154 inclusive). They cover the entire period of the units’ involvement in the war, from their arrival on the front to their departure at the end of the war.

Find out more about how you can search our online war diaries.

Some diaries unavailable in the reading rooms

This digitisation project means that diaries from the following piece ranges will be unavailable in the reading rooms for a short period of time in the next few months:

  • WO 95/1 to WO 95/571 (inclusive)
  • WO 95/3949 to WO 95/4193 (inclusive)
  • WO 95/5500

We will try to minimise the amount of time that diaries are unavailable for and will publish a more detailed schedule online soon, including the dates of document availability – if you are planning a visit to our reading rooms to view original war diaries listed in these ranges, please check in advance whether they will be available.

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