By Noel Groome
The annotation of the Albert Woodman diary posed a particular challenge in that—unlike many other forms of diary that are written at leisure with plentiful access to writing materials—Albert Woodman, as a World War I soldier serving just behind the front lines, would have had limited access to time and materials for writing. The digital images of the diary entries available on this site show that Woodman made very good use of the writing space in the diary, writing from the very top of each page to the very bottom, sometimes bending words to fit a line and including multiple days’ entries per page. As such, many of the entries in the Woodman diary are quite direct, using abbreviation and slang for terms which are not always readily identifiable.
A significant number of military and technical terms in their long and abbreviated forms were used in the diary; these would have been everyday terms to Woodman as a British Army signaller in 1918, but are not so easily understood by modern readers with less experience of World War I military terms and operations. Woodman also used slang terms relating to the War from the very outset, such as ‘Mary’ when referring to the air raid siren; he also used social slang terms (such as ‘phiz’, a term used to describe the face), which are now close to one hundred years old and no longer commonly used or understood. Additionally, Woodman included lines of political and social commentary regarding the War for which annotation would need to be considered. With these considerations in mind, there was a significant amount of text open to potential annotation.
However, it was also noted that the terms chosen for annotation must be carefully identified and, to some degree, restricted. This was done so as not to produce a digital edition of the diary which was overly annotated, which would distract the reader away from the words and personality of Albert Woodman in the normal flow of reading the entries.
The Process: Compiling, Research, and Writing
The annotation process began with the diary being carefully read through in order to identify the terms which may restrict the general understanding of an entry by a new reader. It was also noted that many readers may choose to look at a single, or select number of entries, and therefore the process also considered terms for annotation in the context of each entry, not as part of a complete diary, but as a series of independent entries.
Once the terms for annotation were identified, the process of researching their meaning began. For many of the military and technical terms, information was generally accessible once a collection of source material was gathered. Of particular value to this process were dedicated World War I sites such as firstworldwar.com and The Long, Long Trail: The British Army in the Great War, 1914-1918, to name but two. The greatest challenge in many cases was to decipher the abbreviation or slang used by Woodman in regards to these terms.
This was also a challenge in regards to social slang used by Woodman, which is less well-documented. However, online resources, publications such as Trench Talk: Words of the First World War (written by Julian Walker and Peter Doyle), as well as consultation with World War I historians and associations did provide some information in this regard.
Of the slang terms identified for annotation, the precise meaning of a small number could not be verified at the time of annotation by any secondary source. In this instance, the potential meaning of the term is suggested to the reader after careful examination of the use of the term within the entry and the diary as a whole. For instance, when annotating ‘raiding birds’, it is clearly noted that the meaning is unclear before suggesting the most likely meaning based on evidence from the diary:
Raiding Birds: It is unclear as to what Woodman is referring to exactly, but ‘raiding birds’ might suggest aircraft, while ‘raiding birds abroad’ may suggest he is referring to aircraft in foreign or enemy territory. Whether this applies to German or British movements by his reference is unclear.
Once research into the identified terms was complete, the process of writing up the annotations began. The information included in the annotations was kept to a minimum for two reasons: firstly, so as not to distract the reader from the flow of Woodman’s entry with larger bodies of text regarding a term, and secondly, to leave the reader with just enough context to understand the term. It was not the aim of the annotations to fully and elaborately explain the identified terms, but rather to summarise them in the context of World War I and Albert Woodman, allowing the reader to continue by perform further independent research if desired.
The process of researching biographical names within this digital scholarly edition proved to be challenging. However, the project team took several steps to ensure a successful outcome.
It was reasonably difficult to find substantive details about many of the individuals named within the diary, due to the nature of Woodman’s writing. His use of nicknames and short versions complicated the research, making it problematic to definitively identify specific people. Thus, the research relied heavily on www.ancestry.ie and The Dictionary of Irish Biography. For example, Woodman frequently referenced the name ‘Mac'; narrowing down the specific ‘Mac’ proved to be difficult, as a result of a variety of people having similar names. However, Woodman did occasionally include newspaper clippings of deaths, and certain full names would appear within these, making it easier to research the names at a later date.
The place names prove to be an easier topic to research. Simple web searching allowed for a general description of an area. However, it was important to situate these places within a temporal context as well. As a result, further research positioned the named locations within a timeline of World War 1 events. The longer descriptions of certain places, (for example, Paris) allow for a greater context within this period. This ensures that the reader of the diary is placed wholly within the time period. The point behind this is to ensure that a reader’s attention is not diverted away from the diary, and is kept on the digital scholarly edition itself.
In summary, it is envisaged that these annotations will provide the readers of the digital scholarly edition of this diary with an added level of succinct information on a carefully identified set of terms. It is therefore intended that the users’ reading experience be fluid and uninterrupted so as to facilitate the understanding of the military life, thoughts, and personality of Albert Woodman in 1918, an Irishman serving in the British Army during the Great War.