Operation War Diary: Be part of history

Welcome to our project blog. I’d like to get the ball rolling with a few words about why Imperial War Museums (IWM) brought The National Archives  and  Zooniverse together and then led this project through conception, design and development.

Of course IWM and The National Archives  work closely together. The National Archives have digitised and are making available First World War unit war diaries through their First World War 100 portal and they were helping us plan our major digital project for the centenary – IWM’s Lives of the First World War . That project, due to launch in late Spring, aims to uncover the life stories of the 8million men and women who served Britain and the Commonwealth during the war. The unit war diaries can help to tell many of those life stories. A colleague told me one of those stories that she found in a battalion war diary. A story about the wonderfully named Reverend Mazzini Tron that she found in a battalion war diary.

Reverend Mazzini Tron

In early October, 1917, the  3/4th Battalion the ‘Queen’s’ Royal West Surrey Regiment had joined the Third battle of Ypres (often referred to as ‘Paschendale’). This was the first combat seen by the battalion, and as is often the case, those early experiences are vividly described in their Unit Diary. The diary for 2-7th October describes a number of incidents in great detail including how the Revd. Tron, chaplain to the 3/4 Queen’s, kept up the spirits of the men, made sure they received rations despite very difficult conditions and tended to the wounded and dead. At one point:

“A German Officer rushed at the Rev Tron and nearly tore his coat from off his back.  The padre who is a bit of a boxer, repeatedly struck the German in the face until they broke apart.  Unslinging his glasses the German thrust them into the hands of the astonished clergyman, and tendered his surrender.”

This is a memorable incident, but there is a wider point.   Thrice decorated, Rev Tron was clearly a dynamic individual, yet we know little about his war service – why? Because his service records were destroyed by bombing during in the Second World War, along with around 70% of FWW service records. It is very, very likely he is mentioned elsewhere, but how can we find him in 1.5 million pages? Along with Rvd Tron, there are thought to be around half a million people named in the diaries, but how do we find those names?

That’s where Zooniverse come in. My job is to apply new technology to the history of the war, so I already knew about the innovative Zooniverse crowdsourcing platform and their successful citizen science projects . Chris Lintott, Zooniverse Supremo and presenter on BBC’s The Sky at Night, and his team were immediately enthusiastic and wanted to work with the National Archives and IWM, but they told us we needed to underpin the project with formalised academic rigour. From experience, they knew this would give it real purpose and broaden its appeal. I then approached Professor Richard Grayson of Goldsmiths, University of London. His book Belfast Boys pioneered using large quantities of digital and other sources to analyse the war experience of one area. Richard  was supportive from our first conversation and he helped IWM to convene a 25 person Academic Advisory Group for centenary digital projects.

This is what we made

IWM had now brought together all the ingredients required to launch Operation War Diary:

  • The National Archives extraordinary digitisation initiative
  • IWM’s deep historical expertise
  • Zooniverse’s innovative (and highly successful) citizen science platform
  • IWM’s Academic Advisory Group for centenary digital projects
  • IWM’s digital project leadership skills

Together, we have done something extraordinary. We have created operationwardiary.orgthe most ambitious project of its kind to date. Now for the really important stage – we are seeking thousands of citizen historians to find all the references to Rev Tron and the other half a million named people. Together we can uncover the story of the Western front in new and extraordinary detail.

By working together, we can make history.

Luke Smith, Digital Lead, First World War Centenary Programme, Imperial War Museums

28 responses to “Operation War Diary: Be part of history”

  1. 8055bell says :

    Reblogged this on 17th Manchester Regiment on the Somme and commented:
    The War Diaries are starting to show uip on-line for the Centenary. Waiting patiently for the New Army records to be digitised. This Zooinverse project should help build greater understanding of the conflict.

  2. Geraldine Anderson says :

    What a brilliant project. I would love to help. What an honour to be able to.

  3. Ian Gibb says :

    What a humbling and great privilege this is to sit and read the day to day accounts of these Battalions,and what these brave brave men had to endure. I have read many a book on WW1 but to see it now written by the hands of men who were there, well words just cannot express what i am feeling.
    Thank you so much for this fantastic opportunity

  4. murkysplurge says :

    Fascinating, I am researching a relative who suffered badly from shell shock, 1915-1917, was discharged unfit in 1917 and suffered for many years until he died in a mental asylum in 1952. These diaries will hopefully give me an insight into what he really went through.

  5. Wayne odoherty says :

    More than happy to help. It’s the least I can do for my family members and everyone else who fought for our future. 🙂

  6. rob bishop says :

    heard this talked about this morning on the bbc…this, along with memoirs of s Sassoon really bring more focus to day-to-day realities of the “war to end all wars”. I think the war to end all wars will probably be along the lines of a ww3.

  7. a mcadams says :

    And we’re glad to be a part of it! 🙂

  8. Rob Carter says :

    My grandfather john william carter was in the royal garrison artillery f1rom 1914 -18 and was killed at wailly near arras in 1918

  9. Ron says :

    Hi — Have started tagging yesterday, but have seen some of the same diary pages as I did yesterday coming up again and all the entries I had made yesterday are gone. Am I doing something wrong?

  10. Andy MacNab says :

    Really enjoying this opportunity to work on this part of our history. It is interesting and harrowing at the same time, finding out more about the lives of these men. I am a retired/ disabled former police officer and this ‘honour’ to work on these diaries has assisted my daily focus.

  11. Revd Canon Colin Gough says :

    I knew Revd Mazzini Tron in his old age and was given a few of his possessions when he died. I’d be happy to provide further information and to be involved in digging out his story.

    • Barbara Harper says :

      How amazing and fortunate that you read this blog! I’d love to know more about Revd Mazzini Tron. I’m involved with the Legacies of War project (community) that is being run by University of Leeds, and am a member of Script Yorkshire writers.

    • gillian huxtable says :

      Rev Mazzini Tron was my 3rd cousin once removed – we shared a great great grandfather. I have been looking into information on him since an article in the Times on old war diaries recently. I would be grateful for any information about him you could let me have

  12. BookerTalk says :

    Is there a deadline for people to volunteer to help?

  13. David Connor says :

    An honour to be part of this project. Reading separately a copy of ‘Harry’s War’ the diary of Harry Drinkwater which gives an additional perspective to the documents that I am tagging. Highly recommend the book.
    When getting frustrated by software (grr), this seems to pale into insignificance when compared to the lives shown in the papers that I am reading, maybe for the first time in a century.

  14. Roger says :

    Great idea, shame it won’t remember my Zooniverse log-in details!

  15. Christine Duggan says :

    I would be very happpy to transcribe some of the war diaries.

  16. CHRIS WEEKES says :

    I am researching 19 relatives in WW1 and the war diaries have provided wonderful support material to their stories.
    Although digitalising them will bring them to a wider audience, the chance to see and touch the real pages is a truly memorable experience . I hope that we will still be able to do this.

  17. Amanda Payne says :

    How fascinating. What is required to be involved and how much does it cost to do so?

  18. Liz Loudon says :

    Wonderful project. Fascinating insight into lives of those who fought for us and really pleased to be able to play a small part in it.

  19. Paul says :

    Really enjoying this project! Just want to say i think there needs to be a few more options added to choose from such as “sailing”, “no name recorded”, “Mobilization”, “in billets” etc etc……

  20. John Higgins says :

    Thank you for your fine work to develop Operation War Diaries and call the crowds to gather the stories of WWI men.

    I heard your story this morning on NPR here in the states and just looked at your site while sipping my coffee here at Cupajoe in Raleigh, North Carolina.

    Without any connection to WWI except by story and no first hand connection to Brits other than my treasured 1975 Norton Commando, I put myself at your service in whatever capacity, outside a devoted follower of your fine cause, you may need help.

    Thank you again for your good work to bring these men alive again through their own words.


    John Higgins
    Hillsborough, NC

  21. Norene says :

    Love this project. Want to help. Tutorial seems stuck. Cannot see where to send this message about it not working properly. Using Chrome.

  22. Curt Carpenter says :

    Thank you for making it possible to participate in this remarkable project.

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