World War I: Diaries and Memoirs

There is a particular comfort in putting down one’s daily experiences on paper—particularly if those experiences take place in a war zone. For many who served during World War I, keeping a diary offered an outlet, a place into which they could unload their fears and frustrations. Today, these diaries stand as unparalleled historic documents, providing readers with a wealth of information about the day-to-day lives of service members. Whether they consist of brief notes about the weather conditions or the chow, or more elaborate entries about losing a comrade, original diaries stand as unmediated records of the war. In the years following World War I, these diaries were often used by veterans (or their family members) as the basis for memoirs. These retrospective accounts place the events of the war in the context of what came next, and answer the question of what remains memorable many decades later.

Featured Story: Quincy Claude Ayers

“It is remarkable how the birds still sing in the war-swept forest.”

(Diary, 3/2/1918)

Boarding the USS Pocahontas on December 3, 1917, for the trip overseas, First Lieutenant Quincy Ayres made daily entries in his diary for the next eighteen months, narrating his arrival in France and his journeys and experiences throughout. He was sustained by letters from his wife, Mary, whom he addresses in his diary as “honey presc,” an abbreviated term of endearment. Quoting a comrade, he writes that “letters from home are like the heavens breaking through depressing clouds.”