Catalogue description Records of the Historical Section

Details of Division within CAB
Reference: Division within CAB
Title: Records of the Historical Section

Registered files of the Historical Section are in CAB 103, while unregistered correspondence and papers mainly relating to the histories of the First World War are in CAB 45 and to those of the Second World War in CAB 140

Copies of the papers of Graf von Schlieffen, Chief of the German General Staff, are in CAB 20. Files of documents, mainly copies, used in the preparation of the histories of the Second World War are in CAB 106, while those of the Enemy Documents Section are in CAB 146

Drafts of the histories of the First World War are in CAB 44, which also includes the narratives, or Blue Books, prepared for the histories of the Second World War. Copies of the published histories of the Second World War, with original departmental references to documents, will be found in CAB 101 for the military series and in CAB 102 for the civil series. Selections of maps and plans prepared for the historiams writing these histories are in CAB 145 for the military series and CAB 167 for the civil series. Papers relating to postwar peacetime histories are in CAB 157

Preparatory versions of the map which appears in the Official History of Colonial Development, vols I-V, are in CAB 166

Date: 1902-1987
Related material:

The original material used for the histories of the Second World War was returned to the departments, and is now mostly contained in:


Records of the Committee for the Control of the Official Histories (1923-1939) are in CAB 53

Records of the Committee for the Control of the Official Histories (1945 onwards) are in CAB 134

LAB 76

WO 153

WO 95

ADM 137


Held by: The National Archives, Kew
Legal status: Public Record(s)
Language: English

Cabinet Office, Historical Section, 1939-

Committee of Imperial Defence, Historical Branch, 1914-1939

War Cabinet, Historical Section, 1939-1945

Physical description: 13 series
Access conditions: Subject to 30 year closure
Administrative / biographical background:

This section owes its origin to a memorandum by Lord Esher in September 1906 recommending that the responsibility for compiling the naval and military history of the nation be transferred to a department of the Committee of Imperial Defence. Accordingly in 1907 the committee established a Historical Branch which undertook the completion of the history of the Boer War and embarked on a history of the Russo-Japanese War.

In 1914 the Committee decided that no attempt should be made thereafter to compile histories of wars in which this country was not a participant, but that when it was so involved special arrangements should be made as the occasion arose; in the meantime, a small permanent research staff should remain under the control of the secretary of the Committee. From 1914 the branch's main work became the preparation of official histories of naval and military operations during the First World War; it was not concerned with the civil aspects of that war.

Criticism of the official histories was expressed in the House of Commons at the time of the debate into the future of the Cabinet Office in June 1922. In the light of this, a Committee on the Historical Section of the CID was appointed. Reporting in 1923, it ignored a suggestion that the Section should be transferred to the British Museum, or similar institution, and suggested that a new sub-committee of the CID should be set up: the Committee on the Control of Official Histories was duly appointed.

With the disappearance of the CID in 1939, the Historical Section and its committee of control were transferred to the War Cabinet. In 1941, an advisory historical committee made up of academic historians from the universities was set up and the Section turned its attention to the official histories in the military and civil series of the Second World War.

In 1948, the Enemy Documents Section was formed to provide compilers of the official history of the Second World War with information about enemy policies and operations taken from original sources. General oversight was undertaken by the Joint Consultative Committee on Captured Enemy Documents, which was initially a Foreign Office Committee until 1959 (symbol JCC) when it became part of the Cabinet Committee structure (symbol CEO) until its dissolution in 1961.

In 1966 a programme of histories of post-war events and developments was inaugurated supervised by the Committee on Official Histories of Peacetime Events.

Starting in the 1960s, the Historical Section became actively involved in records management and release of official information issues, such as vetting ministers' memoirs, and in mediation of the effects of the Public Records Act, in the more covert areas of government, for example. This involvement increased by degrees, including assumption of oversight of records management within the Cabinet Office itself, and in 1992 the section was renamed the Historical and Records Section.

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