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The First World War: Personal Experiences

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"The First World War: Personal Experiences gives users an unparalleled opportunity to see the Great War through the eyes of the generation of 1914. These are the kinds of documents that put us in touch with the past in a very direct and immediate way – not official publications or newspaper accounts, but diaries, autograph books, candid snapshots, souvenirs, sketches and jottings, and other artifacts that are all too often lost to history. Drawn from archival collections around the world, The First World War: Personal Experiences offers remarkable glimpses at how people lived their lives during the Great War. It’s as close to history from the bottom up as we can get"

Professor Jonathan Vance, The University of Western Ontario


'Personal Experiences' is available within 'The First World War Portal', which also includes 'Propaganda and Recruitment' and 'Visual Perspectives and Narratives'.
Revealing the voices and experiences of the men and women who served in the First World War, this rich and varied collection will be an invaluable source for anyone studying and researching the ‘Great War’.

Drawn from archives across the globe, this collection of primary source documents offers a rich seam of information on subjects such as:

  • Daily life and routines in the army and auxiliary services
  • Trench warfare and conditions in the trenches
  • Food and supplies
  • Battles and warfare
  • Training and discipline
  • Weapons and equipment
  • Camaraderie and friendship
  • Death
  • Health and medicine
  • Thoughts on the enemy

More complex themes of faith, morale, citizenship, mortality, masculinity, race and class can also be explored.

Material includes:

  • Diaries and journals
  • Letters
  • Personal narratives and reminiscences
  • Trench literature and soldiers' journals
  • Postcards
  • Scrapbooks and albums
  • Photographs and 360° views of personal items and objects
  • Sketches and paintings
  • Ephemera
  • Sheet music
  • Photographs
  • War art
  • Cartoons and comics
  • Propaganda and recruiting posters
  • Trench maps

Key Features:

Interactive Maps:

In partnership with Axis Maps we have developed custom built interactive maps to display a narrative of the war. The maps will include animations of the major fronts and key battles as well as providing contextual information on the conflict. Primary documents from our collections are integrated into the map to allow the user to connect with the personal experiences of those involved.

Digitised Artefacts Collection:

Our new 360° object viewer enables browsers to manipulate the movement of an object within the frame allowing them to view the object from every angle. The digitised objects include soldiers’ everyday items such as helmets, playing cards, cigarette boxes, gas masks and weapons. This is supplemented by a large still image collection of objects such as military badges and weapons as well as personal items such as shaving kits.

Virtual Trench Experience:

Users can fully explore the trench system preserved at the Sanctuary Wood Museum in Ypres Salient with 360° panoramic views and dynamic walkthrough images of the tunnel system, shelters, wire, craters and the few surviving tree stumps from 1918.

See detailed information for more on these key features.