17:55 Thursday 16 January 2014

Great War diary of Burton battalion to go online

Written byMARK MCKAY

HUNDREDS of hand-written pages of diaries which explain the role Burton soldiers played in the First World War will be digitised and put online.

The battalion war diary of the 1/6 North Staffordshire Regiment is among the first batch of unit war diaries The National Archives has digitised. It will be released later this year.

Until now, the diaries have been preserved in vaults at The National Archives and only made available to those who travel to the site in Kew.

Already, 1,944 diaries have been released which provide an insight into the anxiety and terror of the opening days of the war right up until June 1919.

Stretton-based historian Malcolm Goode, who specialises in First World War research, said the project would be ‘of huge benefit’ to historians trying to piece together research into the conflict.

He said: “It’s most certainly a good think the diaries are being digitised, especially in the absence of many records which were destroyed in the Blitz in 1940.

“If I was trying to trace an individual and I knew their date of death, regiment and battalion then these diaries can help to determine, within reason, where that person was and what they were up to, .

“I could also use other resources to paint a picture of what that person was doing on that day.

“So, as a researcher it would help me quite a bit because they can help to fill in an awful lot of gaps.

“Research is far from an exact science. It’s the old adage of probabilities and possibilities.

“But it’s useful for people like me who are trying to add another piece of the jigsaw.”

Some unit war diaries such as the 1/5 Sherwood Foresters, which would have included men from South Derbyshire, have already been digitised and are available to download.

But the 1/6 North Staffords has, until now, only existed in its original form.

When war broke out in 1914, many men from Burton and East Staffordshire would have joined the 1/6 North Staffords as the regiment had a drill hall in the town.

It was a Territorial Army unit which embarked for Flanders in early 1915 before it was engaged in heavy fighting at Hooge, Sanctuary Wood and the Hohenzollern Redoubt.

The diary will also recount the unit’s disastrous attack at Gommecourt on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, which led to the men being accused of a ‘lack of offensive spirit’ by the British High Command.

It will also cover the unit’s successful assault on the Hindenburg Line in September 1918 – an attack which brought the end of the war in sight.

But Mr Goode said the amount of detail divulged in the diary is yet to be seen.

He said: “Some officers who wrote the diary would be very literate but in other diaries there will be barely a line.

“Not often would the person responsible for the diary be waxing lyrical, it would be bare information.

“If you have a diary from a Guards regiment it might be written in lovely prose. But in a regiment of the territorial force like the North Staffs it might only be a line.

“I think some people would hope to see relatives mentioned but that won’t happen unless they did something exceptional.

“A lot of the time, the only people mentioned in the diaries are officers.”

William Spencer, author and military records specialist at The National Archives said: “Making the First World War unit diaries available online, allows people across the world to discover the daily activities, stories and battles of each unit for themselves.

“It also creates opportunities for the public, history enthusiasts, family historians and researchers worldwide to explore the official records which may lead to some new discoveries and perspectives of this important period of history.”

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