I wanted to write a nice little introduction to Operation War Diary. Something about how the centenary of the First World War is important to all of us, how vital it is that we don’t let it sail right over our heads while idiot politicians argue about who started it, how tricky it is to feel fully involved in the commemorations without delving into your family history. I wanted to write all that, but I couldn’t because I am TOO DAMN EXCITED about this project!
Operation War Diary is an unprecedented project calling on ‘citizen historians’ to help the National Archives and Imperial War Museum piece together fragments of our collective history. The basic premise is this: the National Archives and IWM have digitised unit war diaries so that you can read them online. Now they want our help to make them even better. By using a nifty platform called Zooniverse, normally used for crowd sourcing scientific research, users are asked to tag basic information mentioned in the war diaries. In the long run this means that you’ll be able to search particular places, names, dates and even times in some places. From the few entries I’ve assisted with so far, I have already been able to record where the unit was, what the weather was like, who came to visit, how many casualties there were on any given day, and logged who won the inter-platoon football league.
I’d flicked through war diaries whilst researching my dissertation, not really knowing what I was looking for. I was frustrated by how difficult it was to find any useful, or even interesting, information. Once Operation War Diary is complete, it will be much easier to find what you’re looking for. Even if you’re not interested in the eventual outcome, logging these war diaries provides a real insight into the lives of our great-great-grandfathers and their peers. I was particularly touched by this entry from the Somerset Light Infantry’s 1917 diary:
‘A satisfactory feature of the day was the way in which the last draft of 200 behaved. Though for the most part only 19 years of age, and never having been under fire before they showed the greatest keenness and determination and behaved excellently’
The platform is very user-friendly if you make sure you follow the 10 minute tutorial at the beginning. There’s no need to worry about getting anything wrong, as each entry is checked over by several people, allowing the collators to cross-reference all results.
I’ve only checked about 4 pages so far, but I really couldn’t wait to share this. The platform allows you to mark your favourite entries so you can go back and look at them again, but if you find something really good, why not share it below?
To sign up to Operation War Diary visit http://www.operationwardiary.org