Stories From the Past

I was trying to think of a non-cheesy title for this entry but appear to have failed miserably. Damn. Oh well, I can always go back when I think of something better and change it.

Anyhoo, here’s a story for you. In 2006, my dad received a letter from a long lost ‘cousin’. I use the term cousin loosely as he is the grandson of my Dad’s grandfather’s sister. Follow that? Anyway, we have since met a whole bunch of distant family members who live in England near Manchester and who are apparently my relatives. I can’t exactly deny it having met them and discovering that the ‘cousin’ who sent the original letter looks and acts EXACTLY like my grandfather (my Dad’s dad). Very spooky. It turns out, my great grandfather (William Davies) came to Australia from England and started the Australian blood line that I am now part of. So the point of my ramblings is to tell you about the diary that William wrote in 1918 and that my Dad and I have been attempting to read and copy out so that we can send electronic copies to family members on the other side of the world.

It has been a fascinating read. The diary is a day-to-a-page diary that William has written brief accounts of his activities over an entire year. During the year he joined the army and went by ship to England where he worked in the arsenal fixing guns. We follow him to France where he describes “Fritzy” dropping bombs on Australian and British troops nearby and then the end of the First World War on 11 November. It is amazing to read his story – a young man, having left his lady back in Australia, is out enjoying himself with his army-buddies while also going through some very tough living conditions. His mood shifts from excited to bored to frustrated to chipper to flirtatious as he undertakes various activities throughout the year. Some of my favourite entries include:

Thursday 14 February, 1918 – On a ship headed for England, currently mored at Sierra Leone.

Still at anchor & the heat is very oppressive. The sun is not near so hot as it is in W.A. but there seems to be an oppressive sticky heat all the time which makes one feel very dull.  The officers & nurses went ashore again today but their impressions of Sierra Leone are not much. Seven of the war workers went ashore last night on one of the lighters without permission, two of them got arrested on shore & sent back to the boat & the other five got back on the boat quietly this morning. The two who were arrested were sent back this morning by the police & they have been put in the cells. I am orderly sergeant today & I have been going around the boat all day on detective work trying to find the other five who were ashore. I have arrested three so far & they are now in the cells.

Sunday 19 May, 1918

A beautiful sunshiney day.

A memorable day today. Stan Reeve & I went to London this morning arriving about noon. After a stroll around to see the places of interest we went into a place in Fleet St for dinner & for an ordinary dinner we had to pay 5/6 each. After dinner we visited Buckingham Palace, the Palace gardens, Hyde Park & Rotten Row. Sat & heard the band in the Park for an hour or so, had tea & after tea took a bus ride out to Richmond. Arrived back at Hyde Park corner about 10.45 & was strolling through the Park to the bus to come home when the air raid alarm went. It was a beautiful moonlight night. We walked about after the alarm until the firing commenced & then took shelter in the Regents Palace Annex where there was about three hundred girls living. Saw girls of all sorts & sizes in all sorts of array. We had heavy incessant firing & the bombs were dropping frequently until about 1.30 AM about that time the raiders were driven off & the all clear signal given. About ten minutes afterwards the alarm was again sounded & this time we were near Leicester Square & we took refuge in the tube station. Nothing came of this however we got the all clear again about 2.20 AM. We came out & we could not find a trace of any damage although from the heavy & constant firing and bomb dropping one would have expected to see the place in ruins. We walked about until three in the morning & as we could not get home we managed to get a bed at the Australian Aldwich Rest hut. This morning it is again a beautiful day & one would never imagine there had been anything the matter. We started for home by tram & our first glimpse of the result of the raid was about a mile or so out where two or three houses were wrecked at a place called Avondale Square & windows were smashed all around the place & several people killed. Arrived home at 11.0AM & there does not appear to have been any damage done at Woolwich.

Friday 11 October, 1918

Spent a day straightening up our shops, pitching tents etc, raining all day. Tonight half a dozen of us visited the tunnel again & the Scheldt Canal which runs through it. The Canal was built in Napoleans time about 1802 & it is filled with barges which are packed with rough bunks where the German troops have been quartered. The Canal is six miles long & comes out at St Quentin. We explored a good part of it & got one or two small souvenirs & saw the place which the Germans are supposed to have used for a corpse factory at the entrance of the tunnel. There was plenty of vats of fat about & the stench was horrible but I rather doubt it being a corpse factory. Ammunition is strewn all about the tow path & bombs are scattered everywhere & there is one or two machine gun emplacements, a most interesting experience.

Monday 11 November, 1918

Germany accepted our armistice terms today & I think this puts “finni” to him.

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