How to look for British Army war diaries 1914-1922
How can I view the records covered in this guide?
What are these records?
These records are the unit war diaries of the British Army in the First World War. They are not personal diaries (try the Imperial War Museum or Local Record Offices for those). They are part of a large series of records, WO 95, which contains many more diaries scheduled for digitisation. We are now conserving, sorting, digitising and itemising thousands more diaries from the WO 95 series as part of our First World War 100 programme.
What information do the records contain?
Some diaries record little more than daily losses and map references whilst others are much more descriptive, with daily reports on operations, intelligence summaries and other material. The digitised diaries cover activity in France and Belgium.
The diaries sometimes contain information about particular people but they are unit diaries, not personal diaries. A few contain details about awards of the Military Medal and the Meritorious Service Medal.
Many maps and plans were included in the original diaries but some confidential material was removed before the files were made available. This accounts for the absence of some appendices referred to on the covers of many diaries.
You can take part in our crowdsourcing project Operation War Diary, which aims to unearth the details from within the diaries, including names, places and events.
Snapshots from unit war diaries have been used to create our @unitwardiaries twitter feed. This is a great way to see the variety of information the diaries contain.
How do I search the records?
You can search the records in Discovery, our catalogue, by filling in the form below.
Please note, your results will show all instances of the term(s) you searched for within the record descriptions, as this is currently a keyword search.
If you search only by regiment, your search results will include all the battalions in that regiment.
You do not need to include the word ‘regiment’, ‘battalion’ or ‘brigade’. For example, to search for a battalion in the Northumberland Fusiliers, you need only search using the word ‘Northumberland’.
Searching is free, but there may be a charge to download documents.
What do the records look like?
With each download, you will typically see a unit diary that may cover a period of several years. This may be divided into several PDF files, which you can save to your computer. You can then scroll through the PDF files to locate the battalion and dates that you are interested in. You can also use the image viewer in Discovery to preview the pages of the diary.
Many of the war diaries were scribbled hastily in pencil and use obscure abbreviations, whilst some are the second carbon copy of the original, so they may be difficult to read.
Why can’t I find what I’m looking for?
Not all the unit war diaries held by The National Archives have been digitised yet. More digitised diaries will be published online as part of First World War 100, our centenary programme.
The war diaries for Gallipoli and the Dardanelles campaign are available via Ancestry (£).
Those diaries that haven’t been digitised are available to view in their original form at The National Archives in Kew. They are in record series WO 95.