What are primary sources?
Primary sources provide firsthand testimony.They are usually created by witnesses or recorders who experienced the events or conditions being documented.
Often these sources are created at the time when the events or conditions are occurring, but can also sometimes include autobiographies, memoirs, and oral histories recorded later.
Authentic first person accounts- diaries, letters, telegrams -can tell the story of an hour, a day, a historical event or an era.
How do authentic source materials shape our understanding of events in history? And what about your own family history?
Do you have any albums, journals, letters or other authentic records which create your own family’s narrative, or shed light on a particular era in history?
Check out these diaries, letters and other ephemera from the era of The Great War:
1. Examine the journals and sketches of Siegfried Sassoon, from the digital library at Cambridge University.
2. Check out this diary entry by Sister Edith Appleton, relating the story of a soldier dying after being gassed in the trenches of the Western Front. Young Private Charles Kerr’s last wish was a kiss from his nurse.
3. Here’s a page from the war diary of author, Vera Britain.
Britain’s book, Testament of Youth, was recently made into a major motion picture. Learn more HERE.
4. Dorothea Crewdson, a Red Cross nurse, was given instructions to leave for northern France in 1915. She spent the next four years as a witness to some of the worst horror of the Great War, yet her diaries, with their beautiful hand-drawn illustrations, sparkle with warmth and humour. Now Dorothea’s nephew, Richard, has brought her diaries together so that they may be published for the first time. Sometimes intimate and gossipy and other times moving and charming, these evocative diaries offer a rare glimpse into the heroic world of a nurse in the First World War. To find out more about the book visit http://www.orionbooks.co.uk/Books/det…
The First World War Poetry Digital Archive is an online repository of over 7000 items of text, images, audio, and video for teaching, learning, and research.
The heart of the archive consists of collections of highly valued primary material from major poets of the period, including Wilfred Owen, Isaac Rosenberg, Robert Graves, Vera Brittain, and Edward Thomas. This is supplemented by a comprehensive range of multimedia artefacts from the Imperial War Museum, a separate archive of over 6,500 items contributed by the general public, and a set of specially developed educational resources. These educational resources include an exciting new exhibition in the three-dimensional virtual world Second Life.
Freely available to the public as well as the educational community, the First World War Poetry Digital Archive is a significant resource for studying the First World War and the literature it inspired.
6. Creating your own letters and journals: write a letter from home to the Unknown Soldier
A memorial built from words rather than bronze and stone is being built to commemorate the start of World War I.
People from around the world have been invited to write an imaginary letter to the statue of a soldier at London’s Paddington Station.
More than 6,000 people – including Prime Minister David Cameron, Stephen Fry and Sheila Hancock – have already written their letters, which will form part of a permanent collection online, being put together for 1418 NOW – a major cultural programme taking place across the UK to mark the centenary of the war.
Former Poet Laureate Andrew Motion read his letter to the unknown soldier for BBC News.
7. “Dardanelles, Millions of Flies”
Listen to an audio clip and read the transcript from a letter kept in the National Archives of Great Britain.
This is one of many letters sent by staff of the Great Western Railway Audit office at Paddington who had enlisted to fight in the First World War. Image shows part of letter. (RAIL 253/516.)
Harold William Cronin wrote the letter.
H. Cronin, 3 October 1915, Dardanelles. Born: 9 May 1880, Regiment: 4th Seaforth Highlanders. Rank: Promoted to Lieutenant in 5th Bedfordshire Regiment on 20 May 1915, Died: 2 December 1917 in Palestine, leaving £268 19s to his widow Muriel.