Professor Ian Beckett and Dr Timothy Bowman of the University of Kent are leading this digitisation and transcription project in partnership with the Centre for Buckinghamshire Studies at Aylesbury.
The ‘Casualty Books’ of the 1/1st Bucks Battalion, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry (TF) are a truly unique source for all those from the approximately 3,000 other ranks (and a few officers) enlisted in this First Line Territorial Battalion who then served overseas between 1914 and 1918. The battalion served on the Western Front from May 1915 to November 1917, and in Italy from November 1917 to February 1918.
Each entry records full details of an individual’s period in the battalion, including leave and training, wounds and illnesses, transfers, and disciplinary record. In the case where individuals were killed, there is often also a map reference for the original grave or location of the body, including for many of those whose body was subsequently not recovered. The significance of this information when only a small proportion of the personnel files of these servicemen have survived in the National Archives (WO 363 and 364) can be readily imagined.
A full transcription of the entries will provide the basis for a sophisticated database that can be interrogated for analysis. The changing composition of the battalion with the influx of drafts from other units after heavy casualties in 1916 and 1917 is readily quantified. The disciplinary entries, for example, enable a complete picture to be drawn of the incidence and type of disciplinary offences, and the sentences imposed. Equally, the incidence and type of disease and illness can also be determined, be it ‘trench foot’, sexually transmitted diseases, or the onset of influenza in 1918-19. The whole will contribute to analysis of morale in terms of hard data. In addition to the battalion war diaries in the National Archives (WO 95), now available online, the Company Order Books for B and C Companies between 1915 and 1918, and a Company Trench Log for 1915-16 also survive in the CBS. These company records provide many more details of individuals than is common in battalion level war diaries. These, too, therefore will be transcribed and indexed as well as captured digitally, many being as expected in pencil and comparatively fragile.
Tenders have now been received for digitisation and a team of volunteers are transcribing the entries. Professor Beckett has provided briefing notes, not least on the many abbreviations used, as part of the training the volunteers are receiving. The project has been widely publicised at a series of county-wide events. It forms part of a wider HLF-funded Great War Buckinghamshire project to digitise a variety of wartime records held in the county. The project will result in the greater availability of an extraordinarily rich resource, the analytical work on which will offer a substantial historiographical contribution.