Monday 27 January 2014

Uncle Walter's War Diary.

From a film making angle Uncle Walter's life and times would make a wonderful documentary but sadly the funding and resources required for such a production are not currently available.  

After careful consideration I felt the next best thing would be to publish extracts from uncle Walter's war diary through the Big Sky blog.  This year, as the nation commemorates the beginning of the First World War it seems an ideal time.  
In this small way I can acknowledge and honour uncle Walter and his young comrades who served in the trenches of the "Great War".

Walter Parker
Very few diaries from the first world war were written by private soldiers as it was strictly forbidden.  Because of this there are only a handful of accounts written by enlisted men.   Walter made notes on scraps of paper and made his diary entries secretly whenever the opportunity presented itself.  For this very reason the diary gives a fascinating insight into the lot of the "PBI" (poor bloody infantry). 

Uncle Walter was the first of thirteen children born to Walter Snr and Georgiana Jane on 20th February 1893.  Walter was apprenticed to the Norwich shoe trade as a "clicker" - a reserved occupation which prevented Walter from enlisting.   He made many attempts to join up before he was successful. He took the "Kings Shilling" soon after his twenty third birthday.

Please note the extracts from the diary were written almost one hundred years ago and may not be considered "Politically correct" by todays standards.

Mon 17th April 1916.

Joined up at Britannia Barracks.  Tich with me, evening march to drill hall and billeted at home.    Drill daily at Eaton Park.

Tues 2nd May

Bury St Edmunds, billeted with a Swaffham chap named Askew at Furlonges.   One weekend leave.

Tues 5th June

Left Bury. Train all night and at daybreak next morning arrived in Harrogate.

Marched about four miles to Pillinghall Camp- under canvas - hard training but good time on whole.  Frequent visits to Harrogate very nice place.

Tues 29th Aug

Left Harrogate 10pm good send off by local folk and early next morning arrived Shornecliffe.

Wed 30th Aug

Embarked Folkestone at midday and arrived Boulogne 2pm.  Marched to St Martins Camp just out of Boulogne - pretty stiff hill to climb.  "Frenchies" (Women and kids) hawking en-route (cheese and  spearmint).  

Fri 1st Sept

Entrained for base at Etaples - very stiff training, gas etc, at Bullring every day.

Wed 6th Sept

Route march to Paris Plage, pretty seaside place four miles from Etaples.

Fri 8th Sept

Posted to 5th Northumberland Fusiliers.  We entrained to join Battalion,  forty in a truck with full kit - uncomfortable.  We were run into a siding and stayed all night.

Northumberland Fusiliers at Thiepval 1916 (Public Domain)
 Sat 9th Sept

We detrained at Freshencourt near Albert - rest camp - on guard that night - loaves stolen.

Mon 11th Sept

March through Albert - first experience of shellfire - and form battalion details that night - about forty of us under tarpaulin.

Sun 17th Sept

10pm up to trenches near Marmetz wood.  Rained hard and tear shell gas all night - miserable time.

Mon 18th Sept

Rain all day.

Wed 20th Sept

Moved forward to Clarkes Trench

Thur 21st Sept

Working party at midnight digging Communication trench under shell fire.  Thinking we should return we left surplus kit at Clarkes Trench but at daybreak we were ordered forward to take enemy trench - very little opposition and that evening I went back to Clarkes trench for my kit.  Tich and Murchi went to Headquarters for some boots and were lost all night.

Sat 23rd Sept

Heavily bombarded and were relieved at 9.30pm and went back to support trench (Clarkes)

Mon 25th Sept

Billeted in Albert near cathedral and did all day working party clearing mud from roads - 1 foot deep in places.

Tues 26th Sept

Carrying small arms ammunition to front line.

Wed 27th Sept

Mametz Wood.

Thur 28th Sept

Road mending near Mamentz - used bricks etc from ruined houses in village.

Fri 29th Sept

Left Clarkes Trench at 4am for Front Line.   I kept in a cubbyhole and missed breakfast.

Sun 1st Oct

At 3pm over the top (my first experience) to capture Le Sars.  Tich and I were ammunition carriers for the Lewis gunners.  we took the position after stiff resistance and held on.  Fritz made counter attack in the night and we passed up thousands of Mills bombs to repel attack.

We sustained many casualties, these were chiefly previous to going over - in the communication trench leading to our Front line.   There were plenty of dead  Germans lying about when we reached our objective.   Sent a photo home taken off a dead German.

Mon 2nd Oct

Still in Fritz's old Front line and made ourselves at comfy in one of his old dugouts.   Rain hard all day.  During afternoon Fritz dropped a shell clean in the dugout doorway, (wind up)setting a box of flares alight.  After things cleared up a bit we began to think about getting out and found there was just enough room left for us to be pulled through the doorway one at a time.

German Dugout (Courtesey of Imperial War Museum)

Tues 3rd Oct

Still raining hard and we got rations up that night the first we had had since the Sun (1st Oct)so we had been practically between 50 to 60 hours without food which couldn't be got up to us.  Never enjoyed food so much before, although it was only biscuits and tea.

During that evening some of our fellows who were wounded in the attack on Sun were brought.  They had gone too far forward in the attack and had laid out all that time.
Stretcher bearers bringing back the wounded (Public Domain)

About 5pm nearly dark we started for Mametz quadrangle trench, plenty of sniping but no one hit.   Still raining hard, passed a lot of our dead on the way.

Wed 4th Oct

Marched to Albert.

Thur 5th Oct

Marched right back to Millencourt rest camp, tents where we got plenty of training.

Tich and I am put to a course of bombing.

Daily Sketch photographer at our camp. 

Tues 24th Oct

Reserve trenches about a mile through High Wood.  Slept in shell holes and as it rained all night we had quite a rotten time of it.

Wed 25th Oct
We were lucky in finding a tent but the trouble was where to pitch it as the whole place was little but a swamp - got it up at last.

Thurs 26th Oct
Working party to Front line carrying duckboards, started 5pm and got back at 2am next morning, worst working party I was ever on.

Fri 27th Oct
Just before daybreak Fritz dropped a shell not a great distance from our tent, a piece of shrapnel went clean through the top.
Court Martial read out, chap named Palmer sentenced to death. 
Rain almost everyday and the wooden roads laid by the Canadians were practically afloat.

Fri Nov 3rd
Back to High Wood in bivvies - heavy rain during night - we were washed out, so we got up - lit a fire and talked.   Nearly stifled with smoke. 

Tues 14th Nov
Up to front line and at midnight dug jumping off trench and 6.30 next morning made attack with Australians on left - objective being Buste de Watercourt.
Many casualties, including G Fearless (Sniper), both amongst Australians and ourselves.  We captured two trenches but failed to reach objective.
Shell dropped on parapet just in front of me, blowing trench in.  Shell shock (concussion) and came out of line with many wounded and some German prisoners.

I was with young Ritchie who had had a bullet through his hand.  Shelled heavily and young Ritchie got a piece of shrapnel in his neck.
The mud in parts of the communication trench was waist deep, like treacle.  Things were so bad at dressing station that stretcher bearers couldn't get along and the wounded were put on sledges which were pulled along by horses.

Reported to transport after leaving dressing station. 
Wed 15th Nov
Reported sick and was sent by ambulance to C.R.S (Casualty Rest Station) at Becourt, near Albert - good food and stretcher beds in large marquee. 

Sun 19th Nov
Discharged  C.R.S. report to battalion billeted in houses in Albert - learned I had been reported missing - wrote straight home.  Battalion much below strength through casualties.

Big draft arrived including Daver. 

Tues 23rd Nov
Working party at Albert gas works loading lorries with coal. 
Fritz over at midday bombing. 

Mon 27th Nov
About 10pm Fritz started shelling  -  long range gun -  put one clean through wall opposite our billet, next one knocked chimney off house next door so we retired to the cellar for the night.

German Long Range Gun (Courtesey Australian War Memorial)

Wed 29th Nov
On guard in mess by billet over officer awaiting trial for cowardice, (wanted to surrender in action).
About 11pm was taken off guard and ordered to report to signals sergeant for instruction next morning.

Fri 1st Dec
Marched back down Amiens road to village of Brisle to re-organise etc - billeted in top half of barn and mucked in with Reay and Murchi.

Sat 2nd Dec
Divisional band played in farmyard.
That evening Reay and Clayton were told off for firing party.   The whole firing party billeted in a cottage other end of village.

Sun 3rd Dec
After church parade adjutant Easton presented Military Medal ribbons to Cpl Saint and others and then read out the Court martial sentence on private Cameron, sentenced to be shot next morning.
In afternoon a party including myself were told off to level ground at back of farm where the sentence was to be carried out.   Cutting down shrubs etc so there should be no obstruction to firing party.

Mon 4th Dec
At daybreak (about 7.30) battalion were lined up at the back of farm where Cameron was to die. Could not see him but was rotten to hear him groaning and then the volley.
After execution back to billets.

Tues 19th Dec
Granted a days leave to Amiens and only hope of getting there was getting a lift on lorries going in that direction.  Challenged several times but allowed to pass on production of pass. Barrier across road at Amiens and pass examined before being allowed to enter town.
Went in cathedral front of which was protected against air raids by sandbags to a great height  - very rich in Architecture and scores of candles burning in interior.  
Amiens Cathederal

Many French colonials in town and what with traffic and so many civvies walking about it was very gay and was quite a novelty after seeing nothing but Khaki for so long. Seemed strange to see people in cafes with no blinds up and it looked more as if they were up the window for sale. 

Mon 25th Dec
Christmas day
Church parade in a granary at Brisle and evening a concert in same place.

Thurs 28th Dec
Marched to Becourt near Albert - stayed the night in Nissen huts.

Fri 29th Dec
Bivvies near High Wood - at night up to trenches.  I was fortunate being on details at canvas camp Bazenten.
The Soldier

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England's, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.

And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.


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