Official documents as evidence
Official documents about the war fall into three broad categories. First, there are documents produced for governments and their armed forces to use internally, rather than being presented to the wider public. These can be very valuable for following how policy evolved during the war, and the thinking behind it. Then, there are documents that were officially printed but not intended to be released to the public. Finally, there are documents produced after the war as a historical record of what happened, to form part of the basis for future policy-making.
Report on the defence of Kut-al-Amarah
Confidential report on the defence of Kut-al-Amarah under British General Townshend from 3 December 1915 to 29 April 1916.View images from this item (6)
Documents, libraries and archives
Official documents are so important to the history of the First World War that our understanding of the war has changed several times since 1914, as more and different official documents have been released or discovered. At the start of the war the major powers all rushed into print, with books of selected official documents on the crisis of June-August 1914, each country seeking to show that it had been innocent and that another country had been the aggressor. Later in the war, following the Bolshevik Revolution of November 1917 the new revolutionary government deliberately made public secret treaties and documents about the war that it had found in the records of the Czar’s government. Many documents remained secret after 1918, and some did not survive to the present day. Sometimes this has been due to chance or circumstances: most of the records of the German Army (the Prussian Army archive) were destroyed in a fire in 1945; most of the records of the Ministry of Information, the main British propaganda arm in 1918, are also missing. Sometimes, the loss has been due to the simple cost and impracticality of keeping so much paper stored securely. Some documents, on their publication, have come to be valued as the only record of a critical historical event. In all cases, the preservation of official documents in libraries and archives has been vital to our present-day understanding of the war.