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calendar   Thursday - October 29, 2009

WWI soldier’s hidden diary reveals amazing trench truces

You folks MUST see the link for this amazing story.
I always seem to be surprised when things like this suddenly turn up, because I think most if not all the vets from that time are gone, and after all, how much else can there be left.  Well, lots more I guess.

His sister recently passed away aged 99.  His diaries and letters were stored away all these many years. Gosh.

When we read about what these guys (on both sides) saw and did and put up with, on the one hand I can imagine how deadly and how sickening it must have been.  But there’s a huge difference between me thinking I can imagine it, and living through what they lived through.
And how sad that he survived the war only to die at a very young age of TB.  Which was a scourge in those days.  Death is so damn unfair.

What a total bummer.  I’ll never be convinced that a million other guys lived and died in those god forsaken trenches, so that England could become what it is today.  It’s sad beyond belief to the point of tears.  It seems like everything two generations bled for has been flushed out to sea.

Anyway ....

Come on over, Fritz! WWI soldier’s hidden diary reveals amazing trench truces soldiers would call to yell names at each other

By Cher Thornhill
Last updated at 10:01 AM on 29th October 2009

With shells screaming overhead and German snipers only 75 yards away, just staying alive was a remarkable achievement.

Yet huddled in the mud-filled trenches, Sapper John T French found the time to compile a remarkable diary.

Its pencil-written pages, in immaculate copperplate, give an astonishing insight into life on the front line between 1915 and 1917.

It details how the opposing trenches were sometimes so close that the two sides would call a temporary truce to exchange friendly insults across No Man’s Land.

In one ‘rather curious’ incident, a British soldier stood above the parapet to shout: ‘Come on over, Fritz’ in a comedy German accent. One of the enemy then called back - in a perfect English accent - ‘No blooming fear’.

Both sides then put their heads above the trench for half an hour to ‘laugh and shout’ at each other before ‘heads went down and the war went on the same as usual’.

The three volumes were discovered among the possessions of Mr French’s sister Emily following her recent death at the age of 99.

They describe the horror of the trenches, such as removing ‘piles of men’ killed in action and ‘shifting and ducking’ bullets which scream ‘like ten thousand devils on the loose’.

But Mr French, a tin miner from Redruth in Cornwall, also writes about the enticing smell of frying bacon, the relief of a good ‘sing song’, and discovering watercress growing in a stream which ‘went all right with bread and cheese’.

Mr French was eventually promoted to second lieutenant. Although he was wounded in action, he survived the war, but developed TB and died in 1929 aged 37.

He married a young pianist named Eve during a spell in the U.S., but they are believed not to have had any children.

The diaries are now on display at the Redruth Old Cornwall Society Museum.
John French’s Diary

Mr French, one of 11 children, was born in 1892.

He was sent to France in 1915 as a member of the 254th Tunnelling Company of the Royal Engineers.

His diaries describe some of the bloodiest battles of the Great War. He spends his days and nights ‘up to my knees in water’ digging trenches just 75 yards away from Germans who throw a hail of bombs and grenades which ‘go hizzing’ around his head.
John French’s World War I diary

The men were forced to work in whispers as their tunnels weave between those of the Germans and they flee when chemical weapons descend like ‘thick yellow fog’.

Award: John French, was awarded the Military Cross for Conspicuous Bravery

Enemy snipers, including one particular ‘smart and hot’ shooter, regularly kill his comrades.

Mr French describes the ‘awful mess’ of limbs sticking out of the ground and times when he is called to dig out men who have been trapped in mud and collapsed trenches.

Three days after the ‘come on over, Fritz’ incident, he writes: ‘Up in orders today that any German looking over the parapet is to be shot and any man found talking to them is to be placed under arrest.

‘This is the result of the affair a few mornings ago.’ Mr French served at Ypres in 1917 - where one battle saw half a million men die - and he talks of the regular ‘big pushes’ and how ‘there won’t be many of us left at this rate’.

His entry for August 16, 1917, reads: ‘Had a rather narrow escape. Shell hit me full in the left side, ripped through my tunic but was stopped by my thick leather belt.

Escaped with nothing worse than a bruise.’ Yesterday his niece Wendy Dawe, of Illogan, near Redruth, said his journals make her ‘immensely proud’.

She added: ‘It is in diaries such as this, made by men trying to do their bit, that we see how brave they were and what it was like trying to fight and survive.’

DIARY AND PHOTOS HERE


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Posted by peiper   United Kingdom  on 10/29/2009 at 01:24 PM   
Filed Under: • HeroesHistoryUK •  
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