Today (August 7th) marks the centenary of the first embarkations of ‘advanced parties’ of the British Expeditionary Force in 1914. The Expeditionary Force would constitute Britain’s military involvement in the fields of France and Flanders in the early months of the First World War, and despite its relatively small size (before the war it was made up of around six divisions of all arms and one cavalry division) was seen as ‘incomparably the best trained, best organised, and best equipped British army which ever went to war’. [ref] 1. ‘History of the Great War based on official documents’: Military Operations, France and Belgium, 1914, Vol.1’ (Imperial War Museum, 1933), p.10. [/ref]
In an attempt to show the daily activities of these forces, and subsequently those of other regiments across the Western Front and other theatres of war around the world, The National Archives has launched the @UnitWarDiaries Twitter feed. The feed is, as the title suggests, based on the unit war diaries available in the record series WO 95, which are in the process of being transcribed thanks to the excellent work of our citizen historians via Operation War Diary.
The efforts of the citizen historians on Operation War Diary have made the stories in the war diaries far more accessible, and have also highlighted some interesting trends and entries that we will look to explore during the lifetime of the feed. By only using war diaries that have been fully tagged on Operation War Diary, we will be able to base the feed on the work of the citizen historians and more widely share the stories they have helped uncover.
By tweeting the content of these war diaries via an as-live feed, we have the opportunity to better understand the experiences of soldiers at war, whether that is the transportation across the Channel in unsanitary conditions, breaks for bully beef and tea, or engagement with the enemy. Each tweet will link to a digitised page of the war diary on the Operation War Diary website, so that followers can understand the context of the message, and see the entry as written first-hand.
Initially, the feed will follow a small selection of units as they travel to France and have their first engagements with the enemy. Up to now the tweets have described the units’ mobilisation but following the order to ‘Embark Expeditionary Force’ (as received by the 2nd Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders early in the morning of August 7th 1914) their journeys appear to be about to begin.
If you have any questions, ideas or suggestions for the @UnitWarDiaries feed, please add a comment below or reply to the feed itself.
To become a citizen historian and help us with the tagging, sign up for Operation War Diary.