The WFAMapping map collection

The WFAMapping collection contains over 7000 maps of various scales, types and purposes**. It must be stressed that whilst many fit into the broad types as outlined below, some are difficult to classify and there are examples of unusual or unfamiliar types. It may not be possible to present the whole collection on this site for legal or practical reasons..

Some maps show considerable detail as an overprint on a basemap but some are just the basemap, i.e. with no overprint at all. These are included in the collection for two reasons, firstly a basemap on its own is of interest to those studying cartography and secondly, they can be used to make maps of individual actions or units where the main series cannot supply a map of the right date.

A large proportion of the maps show incomplete information, e.g. many have no date or only the year, most do not show units etc. so further research is usually required to make use of them. Whilst it is straightforward to assign a date to a map from the situation depicted, doing so in this collection would detract from the map's status as primary evidence in the historical sense. The map database was constructed only from information recorded on the map itself and where occasional detail was added, this is shown in [square brackets] to make it clear.

Users are encouraged to search the collection with an open and flexible mind in order to find their particular item of interest because the incomplete nature of the information means a simple search may not yield the right result. It is normal to search the collection multiple times to achieve success. Owing to the relatively long update period of the overprint process during the war, it is quite usual to find that maps cannot be found with a precise date to match a specific need, but that is a problem soldiers also grappled with during the war.

In addition to the main collections there are numerous individual items or small sets that show a wide range of detail such as narrow gauge railways, mine plans, town plans, orders, trench notes etc.


The main types

Some maps form a coherent set, i.e. the same scale and purpose but showing a progression in quality and draughtsmanship as the war continued.

Trench maps fit into this category, they were drawn to a scale of 1:10,000; many but not all had the heading Trench Map printed on the cover. Early trench maps were fairly crude and were often known as Trench Diagrams, the later examples were fit for a masterclass in cartography. Most maps in this series had the GSGS number 3062. GSGS refers to the Geographical Section General Staff, an organisation that oversaw the production of maps, but some were produced by more local units, the Field Service Companies of the Royal Engineers. Whilst those interested in the history of mapping may make a clear distinction between these two kinds of trench map, for most purposes they can be treated together as a detailed source of geographical information at trench level. In this collection, each series is marked either GSGS 3062 or FSC, individual FSC units were not listed separately.

Of equal or greater interest is the somewhat larger set of 1:20,000 maps. Many of these are in the GSGS 2742 series but there are others of this scale in other series. As many 1:20,000 maps were made photographically from 1:10,000 sheets and vice-versa, the detail is often the same but each one covers four times the area.

The smaller scale 1:40,000 series were largely used for artillery and administration, many in the GSGS 2743 series. They usually do not show trenches but are useful to get an overview of an area. Some show fronts, transport, roads, railways, aerodromes, dumps, camps etc.

After the war, Colonel E. M. Jack wrote the Report on Survey on the Western Front 1914-1918.
This report is a comprehensive description of the mapping effort during the Great War. In the report, Col. Jack writes:-

The 1/10,000 was regarded as essentially the infantry trench map, it being possible to show on this scale all but the minutest detail. This map was also used to a large extent by field artillery.
The 1/20,000 was the map commonly used by the Artillery, and as trenches could be shown on it in sufficient detail to be of use to the infantry it was the most useful scale of all, and the one that could least easily be dispensed with.
The 1/40,000 was the general administrative map in trench warfare. It became a trench and tactical map in the latter phases of the war, but as a rule it was not regarded as a trench map. It was used for Artillery of longest range.


There are a few trench maps drawn at 1:5,000 but were never issued as a regular trench map. They show great detail often in heavily fought over areas such as Hill 60.

Even smaller scale are the 1:100,000 and 1:250,000 tactical and strategic maps that show battle fronts, transport, large scale unit movements, fronts, railway connections, troop dispositions etc. Many are layered, i.e. show coloured topography, hills, valley etc.

There are French maps such as the 1:80,000 pre-war series that were used in the early part of the war to produce larger scale maps better suited to trench warfare. There are a number of French 1:50,000 maps and a few of the excellent Plans Directeur maps drawn using the Lambert projection.

German maps are included. The German army used different mapping units for each army which resulted in different grids, map styles and scales so are not as easy to classify as British maps. One huge map, tiled with linen hinges shows the probable location of two Big Bertha howitzers used to bombard Ypres. It includes the aiming points and location of British batteries.

There are British and Turkish maps covering Gallipoli including a set of Turkish maps drawn after the Allied evacuation. They show very detailed trenches but not the British names, however, they are drawn more accurately than those made during the campaign so can be used to locate battlefield detail. They cover the whole peninsula.

Some of General Haig's maps are included, a proportion of which are very large and were made at the time as a set of reinforced tiles hinged together with linen to allow folding into a box. One shows the artillery dispositions by gun calibre for the Battle of the Somme, another shows the situation on the second day of that battle as reported to GHQ. Others in the set show troop dispositions and movements.

There is a set of geology maps of France. They are in the GSGS 4326 series published in the 1940s but based on old French 1:80,000 maps drawn in the 19th century, the geological key is in French. It is not clear if the geological detail depicted dates to the base map period or publication date, i.e. was is available during the Great War. Like so many maps in the collection, further research is required.

Included are a set of maps either stamped with the name Sir Herbert Ellissen or that bear blue pencilled letters AAM. These letters are assumed to be Lt. Col. Arthur Albert Messer. Both of these officers worked for the Imperial War Graves Commission (later Commonwealth War Graves Commission), Herbert Ellissen on the concentration cemeteries and Arthur Messer on the exhumation of bodies. The set bears the rather odd colloquial name of the Body Density series but this name has no official meaning or definition. Ellissen's maps show hand markup of cemetery locations including those that were later concentrated elsewhere, Messer's show in blue pencil a number in each 500 yard square. It is not certain what this number represents but is probably the number of bodies expected or found in each square during operations to clear the area. The maps are not dated but the battlefield clearance went on long after the war. Further research is clearly required here.

There is a small set of maps marked HRH Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII), some hand-drawn by Edward when serving with the Grenadier Guards.

The Official Histories came with a set of maps in a separate box. A significant number of these are also in the collection.

A set of 226 Artillery Training maps of the UK is included, drawn at 1:20,000 and using the Great War grid system. Three of them show training trenches.

There is a set of Air Packets comprising 136 flying maps published by the Admiralty War Staff.

Although not common, there are a few sets of unit specific maps, orders or papers, e.g. 6th Battalion Sherwood Foresters, 2/5 Royal Warwickshire, 3rd Guards Brigade and others.

There are also 1650 both vertical and oblique aerial photos and a small set of trench panorama photographs and sketches.

Lastly there are items that do not fit in with the above and the only practical way to find them is to browse the collection. Examples are maps with a string used to visualise artillery bearings or trench hand-over notes showing number of riflemen etc.

** It may not be possible to present the whole collection on this site for legal or practical reasons.

Simplified approximate count of main series maps by type and scale

Map series Scale Map count
GSGS 3062 1:10,000 744
GSGS 2742 1:20,000 1087
FSC, Field Survey Companies Various 696
Situation Maps 1:20,000 116
GSGS 2743 1:40,000 542
GSGS 2526 1:80,000 34
GSGS 2364 1:100,000 103
GSGS 3383 1:100,000 12
GSGS 3654 1:100,000 11
GSGS 2738 1:250,000 21
GSGS 2733 1:250,000 16
GSGS 3552 1:250,000 13
GSGS 2794 1:250,000 12
Hand drawn Various 58
OSO, Ordnance Survey Overseas Various 16
OS, Ordnance Survey Various 14
IWM Various 10
German Various 481
French Various 177
Turkish Various 151
Middle East Various 14
Other sets (count <10) Various 261
     
Plus others, total approx.   7000


Plus others, total approx. 7000

 

 

 

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