First World War - Despatches


Soldier at restThe Society transcribed several Official Despatches (London Gazettes) that described the conditions faced overseas. However, the texts could only give a very "broad brush" and frequently optimistic account over a large area. The language had to be suitable for publication at home. Even so, they used quite formal language.

A clearer picture of what it was like at the Front can be uncovered through various War Diaries (Battalion, Brigade, Division) and post-war personal accounts or official histories. We have used extracts from War Diaries in telling each of the stories in our Roll of Honour and to locate their field of action at the time of injury or death.

This is not an exhaustive collection; instead we focused on arenas in which our casualties were serving at the time of their deaths. Lower ranks might be mentioned under "honours" but otherwise are largely ignored in despatched lists of casualties - the numbers were just too vast.

You can read the original texts using this web link


Hostilities opened and British standing armies are mobilised to stem the flow of German forces

Written Theatre Comments (primary focus)
7th September Europe Mobilising the British Expeditionary Forces - made up of the army and navy formations that existed before the war began.
17th September Europe Assessment of forces and dispositions in France as the armies confronted each other and British formations bolstered the French positions
8th October Europe Battle of the Aisne.
2nd November France and Flanders Navy and marines involvement in defence of Antwerp.
11th November Dover Patrol Accounts of naval forces - Support of the Belgian land forces
20th November France and Flanders The Battle of Ypres-Armentieres.


Trench warfare becomes a grinding reality, the "race to the sea" to secure Channel ports, a costly Mediterranean front is opened against Turkish forces.

Written Theatre Comments (primary focus)
2nd February France and Flanders Winter Skirmishing and King's visit to the Front
5th April France and Flanders Victory achieved over the enemy at the Battle of Neuve Chapelle.
20th May Mediterranean Opening of the Gallipoli Front. This was undoing of Winston Churchill as the initial enthusiasm changed rapidly to a costly retreat after the killing fields. Great loss of life.
15th June France and Flanders Heavy fighting and the first German use of gas (against the terms of the 1907 Hague Convention).
1st July Mediterranean A review of the First Two Days of Opening the Gallipoli Campaign (25th-26th April).
26th August Mediterranean The Turkish forces fall back to prepared positions; some of the Allied and Commonwealth forces are formed into an ad-hoc Composite Division some commands are mixed. Enemy submarines further disrupt supplies and reinforcements. Allied forces are being ground down.
15th October France and Flanders Allied Autumn offensive begins (25th September): includes Battle of Loos, 3rd Battle of Artois and 2nd Battle of Champagne. Use of flame-throwers/pipes by German forces on Allied trenches in July.
3rd December Dover Patrol Account of naval support to Belgian and Allied land forces.
19th May 1916 France and Flanders Covers 1915 Events: General Douglas Haig's first Despatch after taking over responsibility for the Western Theatre from General French on 19th December 1915. The largest burden was borne by the French around Verdun. British Forces were engaged in 60+ local raids. Particular reporting on Ypres Salient, St. Eloi, and the later Wulverghem Gas Attacks. Overlaps the entry below for 1916.
31st July 1916 France and Flanders Covers December 1915 Onwards: JDP French's last despatch (October 1915 to 19th December 1915) describing broad exhaustion and consolidation. Short descriptions of a few isolated actions.
Written after taking up post in London at the head of Home Forces.


Trench/siege warfare in Europe was the norm and largely immobile. "Set piece" attacks failed to change the overall balance in either direction. Theatres of war spread around the globe. Turkish forces continued to hold Allied forces at bay and finally the Allies retreated from Gallipoli. The British and Indian forces fighting the Turkish/Ottoman forces get a rude awakening. Naval blockades and U-boats became a dominant feature. Air craft of all sorts were increasingly relevant - attack, observation, attrition.

Written Theatre Comments (primary focus)
6th March Eastern Mediterranean General Sir Charles Monro sent in October 1915 to 9th January 1916 to review and report on the military situation in the near East. He paints a highly critical picture and recommends total withdrawal.
19th May France and Flanders General Douglas Haig takes over. No major British engagements; multiple sharp local engagements such as the Ypres Salient and The Bluff; St. Eloi; German Gas Attacks. Significant reinforcements; active Flying Corps; Siege warfare relying on Royal Engineers; improved medical conditions and disease control.
29th May Dover Patrol Account of Dover Patrol naval dispositions in the Channel and home waters.
24th June North Sea Account of the Battle of Jutland Despatch from Admiral Sir John Jellicoe. Dominated newspapers on the home Front.
31st July France and Flanders JDP French's last despatch (October 1915 to 19th December 1915) describing broad exhaustion and consolidation. Short descriptions of a few isolated actions.
Written after taking up post in London at the head of Home Forces.
23rd December France and Flanders Allied Summer Offensive. Report from General Douglas Haig. Discussion of logistics in build-up and experience during the battles.
31st December Home Front JDP French despatch on the Irish Rebellion and associated activities of German ships and U-boats.


The Battle of The Somme Over. Trench warfare in Europe continued. The Germans Retreat to the hindenberg Line. Theatres of war spread around the globe. Naval blockades, mines and U-boats became a dominant feature. Air craft of all sorts were increasingly relevant - attack, observation, attrition and extended Zeppelin bombing runs.

Written Theatre Comments (primary focus)
19th June France and Flanders Sir Douglas Haig reports on the Somme Winter and the German Retreat to the Hindenberg Line of prepared defences.
25th December France and Flanders Sir Douglas Haig reports on the Battle of Arras, Passchendaele and attacks on the Hindenberg Line of prepared defences. [Despatches of 8th January 1918]


Written Theatre Comments (primary focus)
20th February France and Flanders Despatch about Cambrai on November and December 1917. [Despatches of 4th March 1918]
20th July France and Flanders The Russian Revolution frees up German forces. Allies change from Attack to Defence. Fighting to a standstill in the great defensive battles on the Somme and Lys Rivers [Despatches of 21st October 1918]
21st December France and Flanders Despatch describing the final 100-day phase of the War following the turning of the German offensive from 8th August. [Despatches of 7th January 1919]


Written Theatre Comments (primary focus)
21st March France and Flanders Despatch about post-Armistice Conditions moving into Germany. [Despatches of 21st March 1919]. Post-hoc rationalisation of strategic decisions made during the passage of the War. An optimistic assessment of decisions made.


IWM Partnership Programme logoWorld War 1 Pages