STATE LIBRARY VOLUNTEERS HAVE TRANSCRIBED OVER 500 WORLD WAR I DIARIES
The diary transcriptions ensure that these important manuscripts can be easily read and examined. They are accessible through the Library's cataloge, and via the transcription tool. Volunteers face the challenge of deciphering handwritten notes that were often hastily written at the end of a long day, drafted in pencil by the light of a flickering lamp. Transcribing these personal accounts has been an emotional and engaging experience for our dedicated volunteer team.
Two of our volunteers, Barbara Manchester and John Brooker, share their experiences.
I started transcribing WW1 diaries and letters at the Library in 2009. It’s been a very positive experience, both moving and rewarding.
As well as descriptions of fighting itself and their difficult life in the trenches, many wrote about larger issues – the conscription referenda at home in Australia, a visit to the Front by Prime Minister Billy Hughes, the Russian Revolution, the sinking of the Emden, the first commemorations of Anzac Day in 1916.
Many also took time to write about the personal things that made that life bearable – comradeship, the beauty of rural France, a first visit to London, the joy when a letter or parcel arrived from home, the pleasure they got from a (rare) bath and change of clothes, or the efforts that went into celebrating Christmas and other special days. You get the sense that the diaries were a way to record – for themselves and their families – memories of a time and experience that were unexpected and unimagined.
Working with the diaries and letters gives me a sense of satisfaction that I can help bring their stories to a much wider audience, who can now also get to know these young men through the words they wrote about their experiences.
— Barbara Manchester
I have been transcribing WWI diaries for some time and feel privileged to be part of this project, a very significant one for both the Library and Australia. I have found it fascinating from two aspects.
The first is historical. I have read Bean’s official history volumes and a number of other books on WWI, and have visited battlefields in France, Belgium and Gallipoli.
This means I can envisage many of the areas written about in the diaries, especially at Anzac where the terrain is virtually unchanged. The diaries put flesh on the bare bones of history. The other aspect is personal and is the reason for my interest in studying the subject. My father and three uncles were involved in the Gallipoli, French and Belgian campaigns. Occasionally I come across references to events in which they took part.
One such item comes from the diary of a man in my father’s unit, the 2nd Battalion. Describing the wait for the attack on Broodseinde Ridge in 1917, he states that just behind their position they could see the Butte in Polygon Wood. My father was badly wounded the next day when going over the top in the attack on Broodseinde Ridge.
— John Brooker