The interactive parts of this resource no longer work, but it has been archived so you can continue using the rest of it.

Document packs - in depth studies Spotlights on history - issues from the war Battles - 5 case studies People - 6 individual histories
First World War home page About this exhibition


Introduction | About this project | The main galleries | Special resources | Reference sections | Images and transcripts | Film and sound | Metadata | Copyright | Exhibition credits

This exhibition makes available an online selection of unique and richly varied source material on the First World War, set in its historical context. It provides resources for a wide variety of adult learners in the field of modern history. Whether you are pursuing an interest in family or military history, studying history formally, looking for research resources, or generally interested in discovering more about what the British writer H G Wells called 'the war that will end war', the exhibition offers something for you.

The exhibition draws on historical documents, film and sound available in Britain's National Archives and one of its leading museums. It starts from, but is not limited to, a British perspective on the war, and also aims to create a wider understanding of the global nature of the conflict and the profound consequences that resulted from it - consequences which, in areas such as the Balkans and Palestine, are still being felt today.


About this project

'The First World War: Sources for History' is a partnership between The National Archives and the Imperial War Museum, funded by the New Opportunities Fund. The material presented here is held by The National Archives or the Imperial War Museum.

This exhibition appears on Pathways to the Past, The National Archives' website for lifelong learners.

Unless otherwise specified, throughout the exhibition document references are to items held by The National Archives.

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The main galleries

These are accessed by the icons on the 'home' page. 'The First World War, 1914-18' and 'Aftermath' feature documents giving an insight into the overall history of the war and its consequences. 'Britain and the War' looks at its effects on Britain. 'The Military Conflict' provides examples of records relating to the fighting, while 'Service Records for the First World War' introduces visitors to the main categories of service records and gives examples of how to read them.

The galleries also offer pointers to further research and reading. At the bottom of each page you will find a selection of further sources that can be seen at The National Archives. The last page of each gallery is a 'Read On' section, giving books, articles and websites that may be of interest. On this page you will also find a link to the collections of the Imperial War Museum.

Each page of a gallery can be reached from the menu on the left-hand side. To go back to the 'home' page, click on the First World War icon in the top left-hand corner.

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Special resources sections

You can reach these through the menu at the top of each page throughout the exhibition. All the pages in the special resources sections navigate back to a relevant main gallery and to the 'home' page. Within each of the special resources sections, the various topics can be reached from the menu on the left-hand side of the page.

DOCUMENT PACKS - for students and general readers
These cover three topics: The Origins of the First World War, Women and the First World War, and The Eastern Front. The 'document packs' provide a wide range of documents, offering resources for in-depth study.

SPOTLIGHTS ON HISTORY - for students and general readers
These look at a variety of First World War issues, including some (such as the anti-war movement) that were controversial at the time and some (such as air raids or the Armenian massacres) that have been largely forgotten.

BATTLES - for those with an interest in military history
This section provides more detailed sources on five major military engagements of the war: the Somme, Jutland, Gallipoli, Mesopotamia, and the Allied counter-offensive of 1918.

PEOPLE - for those with an interest in family history and in individual experiences in the war
These six short biographies look at records concerning those who served in different roles in the conflict. They include Thomas Aageson, a private soldier recorded in the 'Burnt Documents' (the service records destroyed by fire during the Second World War); J R R Tolkien, who served as an officer and was at the Somme; and Eric Skeffington Poole, a victim of shell shock who was the first British army officer to be executed.

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Reference sections

These can be accessed from the 'home' page.

TIMELINE gives the main events of the years 1914-20.

MAPS contains ten maps of the main theatres of war.

QUICK REF provides concise details about people and places mentioned in the main text, together with definitions of some military terms. You can also access the 'quick ref' section by clicking on the 'glossary' links throughout the exhibition.

FEEDBACK gives you a chance to tell us what you think of the exhibition.

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Images and transcripts

Click on the thumbnails to download the image. If above 120k, the 'byte size' of the image is given below it (the larger images may take some time to download). You can access a transcript (or where relevant translation) of each document by clicking on the link below the thumbnail. The transcript can also be accessed from the image 'window' - and after looking at the transcript, you can return to the image or to the main text.

The aim has been to provide transcripts that reflect the original documents as accurately as possible. However, documents are not always clearly legible, especially if handwritten, and for research purposes the transcripts are not a substitute for examining the original documents. In the transcripts, obvious typing errors have occasionally been corrected for the sake of clarity and in places extraneous notes have been omitted.


Film and sound

The exhibition includes a selection of film clips and sound recordings from the collection of the Imperial War Museum. The films can be played on a PC using Windows Media Player (usually supplied with Windows), or on a Macintosh computer using Quicktime. Sound recordings will be played in Flash or, alternatively in Windows Media Player or Quicktime. If the relevant 'plug ins' are not installed on your computer, click on the appropriate link provided here.

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Metadata (information about the images) is given on each page. To see this information, go to 'View', then 'Source', and you will find it in the code for the page.



The various items reproduced in this exhibition are held either by The National Archives or by the Imperial War Museum. The majority of them are Crown copyright. Where Crown copyright does not apply, we would like to thank the copyright holders for granting us the necessary permissions.

Copyright has expired for some older works, and others are covered by an exception in copyright law that permits publication without permission. In other cases, despite our best efforts we have not always been able to locate the copyright holders. If you believe that any rights that are yours have inadvertently been infringed, we would ask you to contact us and to accept our apologies.

For details of the individual images, please see Acknowledgements and copyright details.

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Exhibition credits
A The National Archives project, in partnership with the Imperial War Museum, with external funding from the New Opportunities Fund.

Writing and research: Alan McDougall

Exhibition designed and created by: Anya Langmead, Taz Khalique

Project management: Marion Wallace

Advice and support: Adrian Ailes, Vanessa Carr, John Cassidy, Lynne Cookson, Guy Grannum, Joe Kelly, Roger Kershaw, Michael Leydon, Michael McGrady, Bruno Pappalardo, William Philpott, David Prior, Marika Sherwood, Peter Simkins, John Sly, William Spencer, Emma Willson

Transcripts, translations and additional research: Barbara Arent, Lynne Cookson, Edgar Flacker, Lizzie Hodgson, Karen Horn

Editing and proofreading: Nancy Duin, Kay Hyman, Peter Leek

Image production: Christian Potter, Matt Stilliard, Emma Wallis

Website management: Angela Mullen

Special thanks to Jane Carmichael, Philip Dutton and Tony Richards at the Imperial War Museum and to Andrea Allen at the New Opportunities Fund.

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