The use of War Diaries in the history

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Mention has been made in the introduction section to the importance of War Diaries in telling the story of the Brigade. Some information on the approach taken to this aspect of the work might assist the reader and this is set out below.

What I set out to do was identify the full range of units related to 70 Brigade.

Generally speaking, for most of its life, 70 Brigade was, as might be expected, subordinate to a Division - initially to 23rd (Northumbrian) Division, and from mid 1942 until the Brigade's disbandment, 49th (West Riding) Division. Between those spells, the Brigade acted for some months as an Independent Infantry Brigade, and then came under the orders of Alabaster Force, and subsequently Iceland Force, while stationed in Iceland - effectively these Forces were an enhanced 49th Division.

For completeness, therefore, I obtained the full War Diary files for 23rd Division, and selected material from 49th Division, together with material from higher commands to which the Brigade found itself working from time to time.

The most obvious subordinate units to the Brigade were the three Infantry Battalions but, in addition, there were complete units, such as the 187th Field Ambulance, RAMC, which supported the Brigade. Engineer Companies and Artillery Regiments also supported the Brigade at differing times, either in whole or in part, and I have tried to make sure that, if a unit was in this position, the appropriate War Diary was obtained and documented. Some small units, such as the Brigade Light-Aid Detachment, and the Defence Platoon, were sometimes accounted for separately in terms of manpower, although this did not extend to the full provision of a War Diary.

Some units were attached to the Brigade for relatively short periods, and I have attempted to give information, where available, on where they were before and after that involvement.

"Divisional" troops presented a particular difficulty as a unit such as a Machine-Gun Battalion would be allocated by the Division in a support role to its Brigades by Company, or even by Platoons - and whether the War Diary of such a unit allows linkages to be made to the Brigade depends on how detailed those documents were.

With regard to the use of the material, I tried to include War Diary references in parallel from each of the units involved. This may seem excessive to some, or perhaps repetitious, but I have found that by working in this way a perception has been obtained of activities from a variety of viewpoints - Division, Brigade, Battalion in many instances and, where memoirs or anecdotes are available, the data gets down to an individual and personal level.

Care has been taken to try and ensure that the information being presented is on a timeline which allows those different perspectives to be observed and compared.

As to whether staff at the National Archives "weeded" pages from the War Diaries I cannot say. Certainly I detected examples of documents which I would have expected to find, for example, in the 70 Brigade Iceland files, missing, only for copies of them to turn up in the files of other Brigades in the Iceland Force - thanks to researches by Icelandic historians. (An example would be the detailed location states for Iceland Force - effectively where every sub-unit was based).

As a final point, it must be noted that there appeared to be no standard approach (despite Staff Officer training and education) to completing War Diaries in the field. Some provide the barest account of events, others not only give a full account of unit movements, and attach every relevant Appendix, Order and Operational Instruction, but also liberally sprinkle the names of individuals around their pages - a particular boon for the family historians looking for the involvement of their ancestors or relatives in these events.

To consult the details of any War Diary, first, click on the List of Units on the Main Page, then select the unit in which you are interested and click on that name. After that, the War Diary may be presented by years and months - depending on the volume of material processed.

More Information

List of Abbreviations
List of Units
Home Service 1939 - 1940
British Expeditionary Force April - June 1940
Defending against Invasion June - October 1940
Iceland Garrison October 1940 - December 1941
Home Service and Winter Warfare Training 1942 - 1943
Pre-Invasion Training 1943 - 1944
Normandy 1944

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