Extracts from a Diary of a First World War Soldier

8th January 1915:

We are dug in now and all along the trenches men are trying to catch any sleep they can under their meagre and inadequate sheets of tarpaulin. The conditions are horrific, there is 3 inches of stagnant water and the trenches are lined with slimy glutinous mud, studded with empty cases. I have had a nasty experience of trench foot lately from standing I the water for hours while on sentry duty. We are totally oblivious now, to all but our basic instincts of finding food, keeping warm and staying alive. It is so hard to sleep at night knowing there is a bloody boche line just 100 yards away and that we may be called up to go over at any time. Why isn’t it over yet, Christmas is past and it hasn’t ended, that’s what we were told I’m sure. Yesterday we lost young Eddie. Oh lord. Why won’t it end? He was so innocent, he didn’t deserve to die. No-one does. Its all madness.

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13th March 1915:

Some men are giving up hope; its death, day in, day out, all a routine as if we are just pawns in some sick game. Men are weary, blood shod and fatigued; finishing it all in the heat of battle presents itself as an increasingly tempting prospect. But we must keep going and not give in or let madness take hold. Last week we went over. The rattle of machine gun fire is still ringing in my ears. The final count has been made and we lost 86 men in that attack. It all seems so futile, so many men dying for 80 yards of shell bombarded waste land. We are now occupying an old Boche trench and their smells are still lingering in the battered dug outs. What I don’t understand is how we are taught to hate our enemy and treat them like dirt but really they are just the same as us. I found a journal left by a German in his haste and they are as human as we are. They feel cold, pain and are just as desperate as us, so why are we trying to kill them?

21st July 1915:

The heat, insects and stale air drive my senses wild; a few have collapsed in the heat under all the heavy equipment. The smell of the trenches is appalling due to a combination of sewage, dirty soldiers and the stench of dead bodies littered in no man’s land. Yesterday there was a gas attack. I managed to get my mask on in good time but some others were not so lucky and I could see one man who dropped his mask in the panic and could not get to it in time. He was coughing, sputtering and choking as he floundered around still trying to find his mask when it was already too late. Seeing that man and having to stand there knowing there was nothing that I could do made me feel awful and it has burnt itself into my memory, also I couldn’t get to close in case he tried to rip my mask off for himself. These kinds of weapons, chemical or biological, anger me so greatly as they are so bitterly evil.

17th September 1916:

It was the day that it once again felt good to be part of Great Britain. Today while doing at normal midday sentry duty, I saw a sight to lift the spirits of any British troop. It was an armoured vehicle that they call the Tank. When I saw it for a way off approaching the front line, coming from the support trenches, I felt once again that that strong feeling of patriotism that I felt when I signed up in the first place. To see this hulk of thick metal covered in gigantic machine guns totally re-inspired me to fight on. Once the word had passed all down the trenches there were soldiers peering to see the approaching symbol of British pride. Now that we knew there was a secret surprise for the Germans in the morning we felt much more at ease to catch a good sleep in order to fully be ready for the events to come.