The War Diary: Army Form C. 2118

One of the most important documents used by the British Army in both World Wars was Army Form C. 2118, the War Diary or Intelligence Summary.  War diaries were maintained by every infantry battalion and brigade, their equivalents in other branches (e.g., artillery batteries), and higher formations while on active service.  War Diaries were intended as unit-level operational histories, so they are an extremely valuable primary source and are critical to the military historian; additionally, war diaries and their attachments are sometimes studied by those interested in genealogy.

Most war diaries are held by Britain’s National Archives in the London district of Kew.  Since I live in the United States, getting to the National Archives and reviewing the original documents is a significant challenge.  However, I recently worked with The British Army War Diary Copying Service to obtain high-resolution images of 2nd Parachute Battalion’s records from its time in North Africa, covering the period November, 1942 through May, 1943.  This is a treasure trove of information, and it will take me some time to read and take notes on the diaries and attachments.  For now, I want to simply write about the form itself.

NA Trench Foot 1915

A typical war diary from World War I; this example is from the 75th Field Ambulance at Armentieres, 1915.  The text describes evacuation of the wounded and treatment for trench foot.  Like most war diaries, this document is held by the National Archives at Kew.

I have wanted to obtain a blank C. 2118 for my collection for a number of years, but have been unable to do so.  In fact, I have seen many photographs of completed war diaries from both World Wars, but have only rarely seen a blank form available for sale (and always too late to act on it).  Additionally, while this was designed as a dual-purpose form, I have only ever seen examples completed as a war diary, and not as an intelligence summary; war diaries were intended to be archived, while I suspect intelligence summaries were often destroyed for security reasons.  It is also interesting to note I have seen both typed and handwritten examples.

War Diary 2 Para Mar 1-4

War diary of 2nd Parachute Battalion, March 1943.  During this period, the Battalion was attached to British 1st Army in Tunisia, and saw almost continuous action.

Like all Army Forms, the document itself changed slightly over time; additionally, there were minor differences depending on the contracted publishing firm.  However, the C. 2118 seems to have been more consistent than some other forms, such as the B. 295 Pass.  A typical C. 2118 had a field at the top left for the month and year, with fields at the top right for the unit and commanding officer.  The bulk of the form was set up in columns for indicating the place, date, and hour for each entry; summary of events and information; and references to appendices.

War Diary 2 Para April 7-12

2nd Parachute Battalion, still in Tunisia; this extract is from April, 1943.

As a dual-purpose form, there were two headers, “War Diary” or “Intelligence Summary”, with a note to delete whichever heading was not applicable.  Each Army Form C. 2118 typically included the following text in the top-left corner:

“Instructions regarding War Diaries and Intelligence Summaries are contained in F.S. Regs., Vol. I and the Staff Manual respectively.  Title pages will be prepared in manuscript.”

While I do not have a copy of the Staff Manual, I do have a copy of the Field Service Regulations, Volume I; I have the 1930 version, as reprinted and amended in 1939.

Field Service Regulations
Volume I
Organization and Administration

1930, Reprinted with Amendments 1939

Chapter XVIII
Office Work in the Field

174.  War Diaries

  1. A war diary will be kept in duplicate from the first day of mobilization or creation of the particular command or appointment* by:–
    i. Each branch of the staff in the headquarters of a formation, a subordinate command and area or sub-area on the L. of C.
    ii. Unit commanders.
    iii. Commanders of detachments of a unit.
    iv. Officer i/c 2nd echelon, officers holding technical appointments (Sec. 36), and personal staff.
    v. Base, auxiliary and advanced depot commanders.
    vi. Heads of services and their representatives, controller of salvage and his representatives.
  2. A war diary is secret. Its object is to furnish a historical record of operations and to provide data upon which to base future improvements in army training, equipment, organization and administration.  It will be entered up daily, each entry initialed by the officer detailed to keep it, on A.F. C 2118.  It is to be noted that the extraction and retention of appendices, maps, &c., from a war diary is an offence under the Official Secrets Acts.
  3. The cover will bear the following inscription:–

    SECRET
    WAR DIARY
    OF
    …………………………..
    From……….          To……….
    (Volume……….)

  4. In so far as they are applicable the following points should be recorded when preparing a diary:–
    i. Important orders, instructions, reports, messages or despatches received and issued, and decisions taken.
    ii. Daily location. Movements during the past twenty-four hours and present dispositions.  March tables in the case of large units or of formations are of assistance.
    iii. Important matters relating to the duties of each branch of the staff.
    iv. Detailed account of operations. Exact hour of important occurrences, factors affecting operations, topographical and climatic.  Clear sketches showing positions of troops at important phases.
    v. Nature and description of field engineering works constructed, or quarters occupied.
    vi. Changes in establishment or strength. As regards casualties the names and ranks of officers and the number of other ranks or followers and of animals should be noted.  In addition in the case of units on the L. of C. changes in stores, transport, &c.
    vii. Meteorological notes.
    viii. Summary of important information received, whether military or political.
  5. Appendices as under will be attached to the original copy of each war diary:–
    i. A copy of each field return (A.F. W 3008 and A.F. W 3009) and of each operation or routine order or instruction issued during the period covered by the current volume of the war diary.
    ii. Copies of orders, or instructions, received from higher commands if no longer required for reference.
    iii. A copy of each narrative or report on operations drawn up by a subordinate formation or unit, including any sketches or maps relating thereto, to supplement the account of operations furnished in the text of the dairy (para. 4, iv, above).
    Appendices will be numbered, and each will have a brief descriptive heading naming the author.  References to appendices will be made in the last column of A.F. C 2118.
  6. All diaries will conform to the regulations for drafting orders, reports, &c. (See Volume II.)
  7. Disposal will be made monthly of war diaries as follows:–
    i. Unless otherwise ordered, the original copy of a war diary for the preceding month will be forwarded on the first day of the succeeding month direct to the officer i/c 2nd echelon for transmission to the War Office, care being taken that all its appendices are attached.
    ii. The duplicate copy, clearly marked as such, of a cavalry or infantry brigade or higher formation will be forwarded within a period of two months to the officer i/c 2nd echelon for transmission to the Under-Secretary of State, The War Office. The duplicate copies of the diaries of units will be sent within a period of three months to the officer i/c 2nd echelon to be transmitted to record offices at home for safe custody.

*In the case of formations and units of the Territorial Army, war diaries will be kept from the first day of embodiment.

The sheets were grouped together by month.  The cover sheet described above in (3) was published as its own Army Form, C. 2119.  The field returns mentioned above in (5)(i) were completed once per month and attached to the war diary as appendices.  The field returns indicated the strength of the battalion or other unit; W. 3008 gave a list of all officers, and W. 3009 was a tally sheet of other ranks (enlisted personnel) without giving individual names.  Casualty reports were handled separately.

War Diary Cover Feb 43

Army Form C. 2119, the monthly war diary cover page.

Like the Army Form B. 295 Pass, I have created my own reproduction of the C. 2118 to use at reenactments and public displays.  I created the document in Microsoft Word, using tables and text boxes.  I found this form easier to reproduce than some others I have attempted.  However, since I used standard US-sized paper, the aspect ratio does not match the original.  Professionally-made reproductions are available from Rob Van Meel’s Re-Print Military Literature.

War Diary Repro

The author’s reproduction C. 2118, War Diary or Intelligence Summary

I would like to thank The British Army War Diary Copying Service, without whom this article would not have been possible.

Field Service Regs

Reproduction C. 2118 and original Field Service Regulations book.

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The Pass: Army Form B. 295

Like any large organization, the British Army generated a significant amount of bureaucracy, and the officers and men had seemingly mountains of paperwork to contend with.  While it may be true that “an army marches on its stomach”, it was also true that detailed records had to be kept of the units involved in the march, where they were headed, and how many rations were needed to fill their stomachs on their way.

It seemed that every specific task had its own designated form.  While the orderly room and quartermaster’s stores needed documentation in order to function, this enormous amount and variety of paperwork was met with bewilderment and scorn from the private soldier.  Bureaucratic paperwork was known as “bum fodder” or simply “bumf”* by the lower ranks; similarly, a sheet of latrine paper was ironically nicknamed the “Army Form, Blank”.

One form that was commonly encountered, and even coveted, by the private soldier was the Pass, Army Form B. 295.  Going absent without leave was a serious offense; specifically, it was a violation of Section 15 of the Army Act, and could be punished by imprisonment.  Army Form B. 295 was written authorization for leave; the soldier had to keep the pass on his person, and present it on demand to his superiors as evidence of being on approved leave.

Pass 1918 Nat Army Museum

Army Form B. 295, printed in 1917, filled out and issued in 1918.  From the collection of the National Army Museum.

According to King’s Regulations (1940),

1601. (a) Every… pass will be made out on A.F. B295, and be granted and signed by the company, etc., commander. If the period of leave does not exceed 24 hours, a soldier will not be required to state on his pass where he is going, unless notification of his destination is considered desirable owing to local conditions, or is essential to enable him to procure a railway ticket at the military concession rate. Every pass will be stamped with the regimental office stamp before being issued.

(b) If the whole Royal Army Reserve is called out, a soldier on pass will return immediately to his unit without waiting for instructions.

1604. A pass (other than a permanent pass) will not be granted for more than six days: for longer periods a furlough is necessary.

Like many Army Forms, the B. 295 appears to have been adopted in the late Victorian era; it was certainly well established by World War I.  The form itself evolved over time, with later versions typically containing more fields and requiring more detail than earlier versions.  There were also different publishers contracted to provide the forms, with some variances evident between contractors.

Pass 1932 Kings Own Royal Regt Museum

A.F. B. 295, printed in 1928, filled out and issued in 1932.  From the collection of the King’s Own Royal Regiment Museum.

The B. 295 was comprised of two portions.  The main part of the document was the pass itself, issued to the soldier; there was also a smaller piece, similar to a receipt or ticket stub, which was retained by the issuing officer and kept in company records.  The forms were distributed in pads, typically of 100 forms per pad, with each sheet having a perforated line for ease of separating the pass from the stub.

Despite the variances, all passes identified the soldier’s name, rank and Army number, the dates the pass was valid, and the signature of the issuing officer.  The rule about a soldier returning to his unit upon mobilization of the Reserve was often printed on the pass itself.

Pass 1952 Kings Own Royal Regt Museum

A.F. B. 295 issued in 1952.  Unfortunately, I cannot make out the printing date on this example.  It is also unclear why the stub was not detached and retained by the issuing officer.  From the collection of the King’s Own Royal Regiment Museum.

I have an original B. 295, which was printed in August, 1946, as indicated by the markings in the top left corner.  This form is on very thin off-white paper, and has grown even more delicate with age; there is also some discoloration at the edge of the form.  The entire sheet is still intact; that is, the pass has not been detached from the stub.  There are small holes showing where the form had been stapled as part of a pad.  This postwar pass has a specific space allocated for the unit stamp; unlike earlier versions, there is also a field for the unit telephone number.  The reverse of the pass has detailed instructions for a soldier who is injured or becomes ill while on leave, followed by instructions for the civilian doctor or dentist who treats the soldier.

B295 8-46 Front

The author’s original B. 295:  Pass.  The markings at the top left indicate a printing date of August, 1946.  The dark area to the right is a discoloration of the paper, not a photo error.

B295 8-46 Rear

Reverse of the same pass shown above.  Author’s collection.

Because my original form is so delicate, I keep it in a padded envelope in a desk drawer.  However, I decided to put my desktop publishing and paper crafting skills to the test by creating a reproduction pass.  I based my reproduction on the earlier, simpler versions of the form, partly to make the job easier, and partly because some of the later details were not likely to relate to a reenacting event.  I purchased a perforating tool to replicate the pass-and-stub format.  I then made pads by attaching the sheets to a cardboard backing, but I was only able to use 15 sheets per pad based on the limitations of my current stapler.

Several months ago, my reenacting unit attended an air show and set up an educational display for the public.  Any time one of the unit members wanted to leave our area and see the rest of the show, I filled out a reproduction B. 295 and handed it to him.  I enjoyed it as a small touch of living history; I hope the others did as well, although I suspect they probably grumbled about the “bumf”.

B295 Repro

The author’s attempt at a reproduction B. 295.

For any reenactor not wanting to go through the hassle of making their own B. 295, quality reproductions are available from Clever Forgery as well as Rob Van Meel’s Re-Print Military Literature; these professionally-made reproductions are far superior to my humble effort.

*Sometimes spelled “bumph”.