Digitised war diaries shed light on life and death on front line during the First World War


Diaries revealing the life and death decisions made by soldiers serving in the trenches during the First World War have been newly digitised by the National Archives.

War diaries were kept by military units throughout the war, chronicling the entire period from their arrival on the front to when they left at the end.

While not personal diaries, they often recount the actions of individuals and offer personal insights into life - and inevitably death - on the front line.

Among the diaries is one that reveals the fate of Captain Alfred Bland, who is commemorated on a First World War memorial at the National Archives site in Kew, west London.

First World War diaries online.

Capt Bland, who according to the 1911 census was a clerk at the Public Record Office, was killed in action by machine gun fire on the first day of the Battle of the Somme as he "gallantly led his men" over the top.

Records reveal he served in the 22 Battalion Manchester Regiment (7th City Battalion Manchester Pals) and had embarked at Folkestone heading for France on November 11 1915, arriving in Boulogne later that day.

Further research found that Capt Bland was educated at Queen's College, Oxford, and was an active and energetic member of the Workers' Educational Association and a published author.

The unit war diary for the Manchester Regiment for July 1 records 18 officers and 472 other ranks were casualties of the first day assault.

Diaries from the First World War.

Capt Bland was listed among 10 officers and 120 other ranks killed. Eight other officers in the regiment were wounded, along with 241 men, while another 111 men were reported missing but probably also killed or wounded.

He was one of some 20,000 British men killed on the first day of the battle, which continued for another 140 days. He left behind a wife and two young sons living in Kent. He was buried at the Dantzig Alley British Cemetery in Mametz, France.

Millions of pages of war diaries for units on the Western Front during the First World War are now available through the National Archives website, digitised as part of its First World War 100 centenary programme.

War diaries are still kept by the armed services to this day.