As background for my research into Portsmouth’s WW1 dead, earlier today I downloaded the War Diary of the 1st Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment, from 1914 to 1918. Many other WW1 War Diaries are available to download, for the small sum of £3.50, from the National Archives’s Documents Online website. This is a fantastic resource – without it, I would have to make a trip to Kew to photoraph nigh on a thousand pages!
I’ve used War Diaries before – I’ve looked at the 11th Parachute Battalion and the 10th Berkshires, from the time my Granddad was serving with them in the second world war. I’ve also had a look at the War Diaries of the Grenadier Guards in the First World War, when conducting some research into Boy Browning.
A few things are noticeable from glancing over the War Diaries. When the 1st Hampshires embarked for France, the war diary was written by hand, in an almost flowery – some might say officer-like – manner. But what it does do is describe the fighting in a lot of detail. In some places they also contain extracts from officers and even mens diaries. By 1916, however, the war diaries become more formal. The are typewritten, on official forms. They also become very matter of fact – I guess by that stage in the war going up to the line was nothing special to the Adjutant writing the diary.
The War Diaries tend to give a lot more information about officers than men. At the end of each month a return was made of the officers in the Battalion, which had been admitted to or discharged from Hospital, who was on leave, and who had been killed, wounded or reported missing. The same information is recorded for other ranks, but only in terms of numbers. The only time that other ranks were mentioned was when they were awarded Gallantry Medals.
As well as giving us an idea of when a Battalion was attacking, when it was in line or in reserve, the war diary tells us so much more. We can see when Platoon Football Leagues were held. In terms of training, we see when companies took part in Bayonet training, for example. We can also see when they carried out work parties. The Diary also contains orders that have been archived, and maps. The problem with maps, however, is that they often have code names for locations, instead of their real names!
Another thing that is noticeable, is the losses among officers. Commonly the Battalion seems to have been commanded by a Major, and Companies by Lieutenants. If officers got more coverage in the war diary, they also got a lot of attention from the enemy.
I will post more excerpts and observations from the 1st Hampshires War Diary as I read through it.