Regiments have always maintained a varied amount of records although until the First World War they tended to relate more to accountancy in relation to expenses rather than for personnel and their routine activity.

In 1907 the War office issued new field service regulations that required units in active service to maintain War Diaries.

This continued through the First World War and continues to include recent conflict.

The War Office required a war diary to be kept but made few requirements as to content which means that there is a tremendous variance in content and style.

Compilation of the war diary to cover periods of active service was the responsibility of the Commanding Officers although this was normally delegated to the adjutant or a specific junior staff officer who would handwrite the diary on a daily basis. The diary would then be inspected by the Commander at intervals and signed as correct.

Although at times the diary was updated almost hourly in most cases the diary was updated on a daily basis.

There is some variation of details included depending on the skill and interests of the Officer. At best they are a treasure trove of information and at worst sketchy records.

Operational orders for advances or operations are sometimes included in the diary and even notes on a torn off sheet of paper will appear in the diary.

Officers names appear occasionally but other ranks names are infrequent and then usually in relation to specific noteworthy incidents.

Every unit in active service will keep a diary including non-combat units such as field hospitals and catering units although these tend to have short factual and rather repetitive entries.

What use are war diaries to my research?

War diaries will provide an accurate record of the movement and activity of each unit which will help you follow the path of your ancestor through the war and if they were injured or killed it will help you to find out what they were doing on this day.

They do mentions some names of officers and men, sometimes for surprising events like winning a unit boxing match and often record more details than a citation for events that led to the award of a medal.

Downloading the war diary for your soldiers battalion is a great place to start your research.

Where will you find war diaries

War diaries are held on the National Archives website. Most diaries are online and the remainder are in the process of digitalising.

There is a small fee, currently £3.30 for downloading a whole war diary.