France to Flanders: British World War One Diaries Go Online

Wounded British soldiers in a trench during World War I. (Library of Congress)

Wounded British soldiers in a trench during World War I. (Library of Congress)

The British National Archives is digitizing 1.5 million pages of unit diaries from World War One. Their effort is twofold: to preserve the original documents that are being worn out after 45 years of public use, and to offer the WWI documents online.

OperationWarDiary.org was developed to enlist “citizen historians” to help with revealing the stories from the Western Front: Working together we will make previously inaccessible information available to academics, researchers and family historians worldwide, leaving a lasting legacy for the centenary of the First World War. 

There’s a 10 minute video to watch if you’re interested with helping to go through the diaries. From France to Flanders, the first batch of diaries gives “the real-time account of the first three cavalry and the first seven infantry divisions who were part of the first wave of British army troops deployed.

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Nearly a Century of Women Serving in Combat

Beatrice MacDonald’s American Hospital identification, 1915. Ann Fraser Brewer Papers, Schlesinger Library

Beatrice MacDonald’s American Hospital identification, 1915. Ann Fraser Brewer Papers, Schlesinger Library

Women have been serving under fire just like men for almost a century as members of the Army Medical Department and even longer as volunteers.

There have been thousands of women. A few are featured an article published online by Lewis Barger, AMEDD Office of Medical History:

Beatrice MacDonald was the first of three nurses to receive the Distinguished Service Cross after she volunteered to accompany a surgical team reinforcing a British Casualty Clearing Station on the front lines during World War I.

On the night of August 17, 1917, Germans bombarded the hospital tent where MacDonald was on duty, according to an article on the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study Harvard University:

During the course of this raid, MacDonald was gravely wounded and lost an eye. She eventually recovered and insisted upon returning to duty, claiming, “I’ve only started doing my bit.”

Ruby Bradley, (sitting with her arm over the side rail and waving to the camera) during the liberation of the POW camp at Santo Tomas in the Philippines during World War II. Photo courtesy AMEDD.

Ruby Bradley, (sitting with her arm over the side rail and waving to the camera) during the liberation of the POW camp at Santo Tomas in the Philippines during World War II. Photo courtesy AMEDD.

During World War II, Capt. Annie Mealer was serving on Corregidor as a chief nurse.

Instead of evacuating, she stayed to tend to the casualties being brought in as the Japanese took control of the island.

According to Mealer’s online account by Army.mil, “… I reviewed the cases in the tunnel. They all needed help that only a nurse could give them. I sent word to my commanding officer that I would stay with them. Here in this tunnel choked with shell smoke and misery was a group of people that meant more to me than anything else.”

Mealer was captured along with the remainder of the garrison and spent nearly three years as a prisoner of war at Santo Tomas, along with the other women who had been captured in the islands including Maj. Ruby Bradley, would remain in service after the war and find herself in combat again in Korea as chief nurse.

You can read the full AMEDD article here.

You can learn more about women’s service at the U.S. Army Women’s Museum website.

Sunday Is a Day to Honor Gold Star Mothers and Families

Grace Darling Seibold, founder of the American Gold Star Mothers service organization after her son was killed in WWI.

Gold Star Moms are mothers who have lost a child who was serving in the military. Their organization, American Gold Star Mothers, also is a service organization – established by moms who found each other while searching for their missing sons among the WWI wounded veterans who had returned to Washington D.C.

The mothers found each other at a time of great personal and mutual loss  – they reached out to support each other and to help the hospitalized war veterans.

President Barack Obama issued a proclamation recognizing Sunday, Sept. 25 , as Gold Star Mother’s and Family’s Day.

If you’ve never met a Gold Star Mom – take a moment to view this video. You’ll get a sense of the stuff they’re made of and how each mother works to honor her child who was killed while serving their country.

President Obama’s Gold Star Mother’s and Families Day proclamation:

“Since our nation’s earliest days, the men and women of our armed forces have demonstrated the courage and heroism that have come to define America. Across shores, in deserts, and on city streets around the world, extraordinary Americans have given
their last full measure of devotion defending the freedoms we cherish. Their ultimate sacrifice is one we can never fully repay, and the enormity of the grief their families carry we can never fully know.

“Gold Star mothers and families know the immeasurable cost of fighting for the ideals we believe in, and they know the pride that comes with exemplary service to America. On this day, and every day, we offer them our deep gratitude and respect, and we are inspired by their strength and determination. Through heartbreaking loss, our Gold Star families continue to support one another, serve their communities, and bring comfort to the men and women of our armed forces and their families.

“Our fallen heroes answered their country’s call to duty, sacrificing all they had and all they would ever know. Their families exemplify that same mark of selflessness and patriotism that has sustained our country and will sustain us through trials to come. We honor their sacrifice, and stand with our service members, military families, and Gold Star families as they have stood for us. Today, we reaffirm our promise to care for those left behind, to uphold the ideals for which the fallen gave their lives, and to carry with us their legacy as we work toward a better future.”

Obama called on all government officials to display the U.S. flag over government buildings to acknowledge the day and encouraged the American people to display it and hold appropriate ceremonies “as a public expression of our nation’s sympathy and respect for our Gold Star mothers and families.”

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