Three books (soldiers’ diaries of the Great War)


To Fight Alongside Friends: the First World War Diaries of Charlie May edited by Gerry Harrison (2014)

One of the kindest, funniest, most thoroughly decent men I have ever met, on or off the page, Captain Charles May wrote his diaries primarily for his wife and baby daughter. Patient, good-humoured accounts of the frustrations of endless training, delayed actions and the confusion of war – but also vivid description of friendships, everyday courage, and evening horse rides along the Somme valley. The final entry is at 5.45am on July 1, 1916.

I listened to To Fight Alongside Friends on Audible back in the days when I communted to work. I missed two trains during the closing chapters when I had to retreat to the far end of platform 12 at Reading to weep.

The War Diary of the Master of Belhaven 1914-1918 by Hon Ralph GA Hamilton (1924)

I must admit I fell a bit in love with Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Hamilton when I read his diary on Kindle. He spends his time planning bombardments with maps and coloured pins, getting drunk with French artillery officers, and picking snowdrops for his wife back in London (to be delivered the next day by a subaltern going on leave). And then along come the first of the German offensives in late March 1918:

I cannot describe the whole day; it was too confused, but it was a wonderful experience I would not have missed for anything.

Two days later he’s dead. The book closes with the War Office telegram to his wife and a post-humously delivered letter asking her to send him more shirts.

Sapper Martin: The Secret Great War Diary of Jack Martin edited and introduced by Richard van Emden (2009)

Jack died in 1970 at the age of 85. I somehow knew when I was reading his diary that he would survive the war. He’s tough, intelligent, and totally irreverent. An engineer turned signaller, he and his section are usually off doing their own thing; setting up observation posts, laying telephone lines, dodging officers, brewing tea, finding a decent estaminet.

But Jack has a soft side as well. He plays the piano in the NCOs’ mess, leads the singing on marches, and admits to loving his mates. Here he is in August 1917:

When we were passing through the outskirts of St Omer, we saw some English girls (WAACs) – the first we have seen since we have been out here. It was something of a shock to us and we had a funny feeling inside which forced tears into our eyes so that we turned our heads away from each other.





About Hannah

Author of literary historical fiction set in the First World War. Revising my first book, writing the next, seeking representation. Mountaineer, gardener, traveller, off-road runner. Africa, modern history, coffee, roses, films, book and unrealistic romance. NHS midwife in a former life.
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