FAQ: British Army and Commonwealth War Diaries


What is a War Diary?

During wartime every British Army unit makes a daily record of events in their unit war diary. Generally diaries from World War II have three main parts the diary pages, appendices and Field Returns.

The diary pages contain a daily, sometimes hourly, record of events. The diary entries will either be typewritten or handwritten.

Often the appendices are the most interesting part of a war diary. They can contain numerous things such as maps and tracings, message forms, standing orders, situation reports, intelligence reports, patrol programmes and reports, and sometimes items such as aerial photographs, company newspapers and propaganda leaflets. Very occasionally the appendices might even contain group photographs of officers and men of the unit.

The field returns are weekly lists of officers on the strength of the unit and statistics on the number of other ranks available. Names of other ranks not on the company strength due to being in hospital or away on training courses might also be listed in the Field Returns. As the Field Returns were often completed weekly, they can be rather repetitive.


How can I find a War Diary for a particular unit or battalion?

British Army and Commonwealth War Diaries are kept at the British National Archives. Duplicates may also be available in Regimental Museums and the National Archives of Commonwealth countries.

If you need help locating a particular diary we are happy to look up the National Archives reference for you. Alternatively you can use the ARCRE dedicated and enhanced war diary search engine to find the National Archives references for it.


How many pages are there in a typical War Diary?

It is impossible to say in advance how many pages will be in a diary. However, as a very rough estimate, diary pages are usually in the range of 10 to 15 pages per month but can occasionally exceed 35 pages.

The appendices can be any number, sometimes there are not any appendices or consist of just a few pages. Other times there can be over 100 pages per month. A typical quantity is perhaps 25 to 75 pages per month.

Field Returns typically are in the order of 12 to 24 pages per month.

It is common for a war diary not to have any appendices and/or Field Returns.

As the war progressed, the war diaries generally become more detailed. Also expect infantry diaries during times of operations to contain far more pages than say a support unit during a lull in fighting. The largest diaries we have seen are the 13 Corps General Staff diaries from 1944/45 which contain several thousand pages per month. There is a wealth of information buried within them.


Can ARCRE copy War Diaries?

Yes ARCRE can locate and digitally photograph war diaries from World War I, World War II, and the Korean War held by the National Archives. Either the whole diary can be copied or selected months. Only complete months will be copied but you can also select which of the three parts of the diary you wish to be copied. For example, we often copy just the diary pages, skipping appendices and Field Returns, or more likely copy diary pages and appendices but skip the Field Returns.

For more details about document copying and costs involved see our Document Copying FAQ.

FAQ: Arcre Document Copying


What is the Arcre Document Copy Service?

The Arcre Document Copy Service is principally aimed at photographing British Government documents and records held in the National Archives. The National Archives is the repository of over 12 million documents dating from 1086 onwards. It is a treasure trove of material recording British and global political, economic, social and military history. Much of this material remains untapped and is of interest to students, historians, researchers, the legal profession, genealogists, etc.

Arcre will visit the National Archives on your behalf, will order up the requested documents and photograph the complete file or other easily identifiably sections of it. The service is intended to be an economical way of obtaining copies of unique primary source material for those unable to make a trip to the Archives in person.

Arcre will soon be partnering with other professional researchers to offer a similar service for important national archives around the world.


What type of copies does Arcre provide?

Arcre uses a high resolution digital SLR camera to photograph the original documents. The images will be supplied in JPEG format and contained within a ZIP archive for each document requested. For convenience, each individual image will be named and sequentially numbered with the National Archives catalogue reference.

Click here for an example photograph.

We are subject to certain restrictions when photographing documents at the National Archives. Documents cannot be untagged and only available lighting can be used. This usually means the pages are not entirely flat and can have slight shadows/uneven lighting across them.


How can I place an order with Arcre to copy a document for me?

If you already know the National Archives catalogue reference numbers for the documents required, an order can be placed using the Arcre online document copying order form.

Alternatively please feel free to contact us to help you find the documents you are looking for.


How much does it cost to copy a document from the National Archives?

Arcre is currently charging £0.09 per page with a minimum charge of £4.50 per document. ARCRE also offers a guaranteed maximum charge of £129.99 per document or box regardless of the number of pages contained.

For example:

  • To copy 1 to 50 pages from a single document/box is £4.50;
  • To copy 100 pages from a single document/box is £9.00;
  • To copy 300 pages from a single document/box is £27.00
  • To copy 1,444+ pages from a single document/box is £129.99.

(Usually one document reference will be contained in a single box. In very rare cases a document is spread across several boxes. In this event the maximum charge applies to each box individually.)

Pre-19th Century documents, documents that require special handling due to poor physical condition or are oversized may be subject to additional costs. If this is the case we will contact you before undertaking any work.

Is there a minimum charge?

A £4.50 minimum charge per document will apply. If you require one page or just a few copied from a document we will do it as long as the pages are easily identifiable within the document, e.g. by a page number or sequential date. However, the smallest section of a war diary or Operations Record book we will copy is one complete month.


How can I pay for my document copy order?

On completion of copying, the order can be paid by PayPal, bank transfer, UK personal cheque, or international money order. Sorry currently no credit/debit cards unless processed through PayPal.


How long will it take to complete my order?

We aim to complete copying within two weeks, although this cannot be guaranteed during especially busy periods. However, we often complete orders within a week to ten days.

A special rush service of 48 hours turn-around is also available at extra cost and subject to National Archives opening times.


How do I receive my document copies?

The digital photographs contained in a ZIP archive can be downloaded directly from the My Orders section of the website. You will be notified by email when the copying has been completed.

As the downloads can be large, sometimes in access of 300MB, we can also copy the images to a DVD and post them to you. There might be an extra cost for this service depending on order size and location.


Can I reproduce the copies of documents Arcre provides in a book, publication or on a website?

Arcre supplies copies of documents from the National Archives on the understanding that they are to be used for research or educational purposes. If you wish to publish the images in a book, on a website or through other media then permission needs to be obtained from the National Archives Image Library.

The reproduction of images of British Government documents and other media may be subject to Crown Copyright and/or other licensing restrictions. Arcre does not claim any ownership or place any additional restrictions on images it supplies to customers. Furthermore Arcre asserts that it cannot be held liable for any misuse customers make of images created and supplied by Arcre on their behalf.