BRITAIN AND THE FIRST WORLD WAR
This is a selection of free online resources about Britain and the First World War (WW1) including soldiers’ letters and diaries, ebooks, films, official histories and much more. They are the sites and resources I have found most useful when editing the letters of Wilbert Spencer, Philip Malet de Carteret, and Robert Palmer.
The Long Long Trail is easily one of the best of many British first world war sites. Although it is primarily aimed at helping people find out more about their relatives involvement in the war, the site offers much more including transcripts of all the army despatches, excellent synopses of the major battles, numerous maps and the war history of all the different units of the British army.
OFFICIAL DOCUMENTS [top]
The British National Archives have a special area of their site devoted to the First World War with a wide range of guides to the online collections of material.
Cabinet Papers – A selection of British government papers for the war period has been digitised by the National Archives and made available as PDFs.
Historic Hansard provides a fully searchable digitised record of all House of Commons and Lords debates from 1803-2005 as well as written answers, written statements and Lords reports. You can limit the search by year and month.
The London Gazette is an extremely valuable source of information. All official military appointments and commissions were published in the paper as were all military awards and official despatches. The site is free to use, and pages can be downloaded as PDFs.
The Official Despatches, published in the London Gazette, have also been transcribed Chris Barker, who runs the Long, Long Trail, and put online in an easily accessible way.
Regulations for the Officers Training Corps, 1912, includes the official syllabus for the OTC prior to the war.
Statistics of the Military Effort of the British Empire During the Great War, 1914–1920 is available as very large file (PDF 84 MB), but in terms of facts about the war is an essential document.
Unlike most countries, Britain itself hasn’t made its official histories of the war available online, choosing instead to have the main series, dealing with the war on the Western Front, produced as as a boxed DVD set retailing at £225.
Some of the other British volumes have, however, been digitised by organisations in other countries. These are the volumes relating to:
Military Operations – France and Belgium, 1914, Vol. 1 is the first volume of the official British history of the war covering events from August–October 1914. It is the only one of the main series to be available.
Principal Events 1914–1918 is one of the most comprehensive chronologies of the war and was produced as part of the British official history.
UNIT RECORDS [top]
The British National Archives have recently digitised the war diaries of the first three cavalry and the first seven infantry divisions of the British Army in the First World War. Searching is free but a small charge is made to download the documents.
SERVICE RECORDS [top]
The Long, Long Trail is a great place to find out about how to search for the records of individual British personnel who fought in the First World War.
The British National Archives also has a useful guide to finding out more about the individuals involved in the conflict.
Ancestry.co.uk, a subscription service, has digitised most of the relevant surviving records. Unlike the absurdly prohibitive pricing of academic subscription services, Ancestry, aiming at a mass market, is reasonably priced.
The O. T. C. and the Great War by A.R. Haig-Brown is a highly readable, enthusiastic account of the early history of the OTC.
Army Reform and Other Addresses by Richard Haldane is a collection of Haldane’s speeches and writing that cover the reforms which led to the creation of the both the Territorial Force and the Officers Training Corps before the war.
The British Library Electronic Theses Online Service provides access to thousands of publicly funded theses. Registration is required to download the item, but there is no charge. There are over five hundred theses about the First World War. If a thesis has not been digitised but was publicly funded you can request that it be digitised. This will generally take 30 days.
Index to Theses provides another way of accessing the material with abstracts (but not full-text) to over British 355,000 theses.
The following is just a small selection of the theses available that have a focus on Britain. Other more specific theses can be found on this site under Western Front ; The War at Sea ; The War in the Air.
British Food Policy and Diet in the First World War, Stark, Julie Gordon (Ph.D., London School of Economics and Political Science, 1984)
Control and Censorship of the Press during the First World War, Lovelace, Colin John (Ph.D., King’s College London, 1982)
The Great War on the Small Screen: a Cultural history of the First World War on British Television, 1964-2005, Mahoney, Emma (Ph.D., University of Kent, 2006)
The National War Aims Committee and British Patriotism during the First World War, Monger (Ph.D., King’s College London, 2009)
Panic Over the Pub: Drink and the First World War, Duncan, Robert (Ph,.D., University of St Andrews, 2008)
Official British Film Propaganda during the First World War, Reeves, Nicholas (Ph.D., King’s College London, 1980)
Shell-shock in First World War Britain: an Intellectual and Medical History, c.1860-c.1920, Loughran, Tracey Louise (Ph.D., Queen Mary, University of London, 2006)
The Women’s Corps: the Establishment of Women’s Military Services in Britain, Gould, Jennifer Margaret (Ph.D., University College London)
The British Newspaper Archive is an ongoing project in which the British Library is digitising its vast archive of local British newspapers. Many papers for 1914-1918 have already been digitised. Searching the archive is free, but access to full articles is charged. Subscription prices are, however, very reasonable. (At the time of writing, one week’s access to download 120 pages was £9.95, with unlimited access for a year at £79.95.)
The Times Historical Archive is another important source. Most British public libraries subscribe to the paper’s historical archive. This enables free, remote access from any computer as long as you hold a valid British public libraries reading card.
The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography is the best online source for biographies of important British figures involved in the First World War. Most British public libraries subscribe to the Oxford DNB which enables remote access from any computer with a valid British public libraries card.
Lions Led by Donkeys is provided by the Centre for War Studies at Birmingham University and has short biographies of many of the generals who served with the British army during the First World War. This includes the lesser-known generals, not just the more familiar names.
First World War Centenary Podcasts have been produced by the Imperial War Musuem based on their archive of interviews with war veterans. Topics range from the experience of enlistment to the playing of sport during the war. The podcasts are also available as free downloads on itunes. Although broad in scope, the focus is primarily British.
First World War: New Perspectives is an Oxford University series of ten short talks given by experts presenting new perspectives on various aspects of the war. Each podcast lasts between 15–20 minutes.
The British Pathé World War 1 Collection is a vast collection of First World War footage all available to view online at no cost. As a British based organisation, a lot, but by no means all the material, is British in focus.
The European Film Gateway is another fantastic source of original footage bringing together digitised film from major European film archives holding First World War material. The Imperial War Museum have made a lot of their footage available as part of this project and therefore there is a considerable amount of British focused material.
The First World War Poetry Digital Archive, provided by Oxford University, has an excellent, annotated online guide to other collections of art and photography related to the war. The site also has its own collection of war photographs.
First World War Official Photographs, provided by the National Library of Scotland, are the only other significant British collection of online images not listed in Oxford guide. They include a large collection of official photographs taken from the papers of Field Marshall (Earl) Haig. The photographs are arranged in 9 separate albums.
British recruiting posters used throughout the war can be found at McMaster University.