Check your attic to pay for your next army

Sep 12th, 2008 | By | Category: Waffle and Wanderings

extremely rare diary from World War 1 up for saleIt’s strange the things people will collect, and stranger still the money they’ll pay for it.

Diary and Scrapbook of an Infantryman in Europe.1917 – 1919 by Private James Allen, is currently on offer on  book sales site AbeBooks.  The asking price is a staggering US $6,328 for the 8.25″ x 5″ x 1.25″ black buckram covered c.25-page diary.  Apparently it is neatly written in ink, interspersed with his identity tags and kilt material sample, photographs, postcards, newspaper clippings, and titled drawings by Pte Allan in ink or pencil, with colour by crayon or watercolour.

It contains some fascinating insights into life in the World War 1 trenches, as these excerpts from the description state –

At the Battle of Metern, “Explosion in trench 50 yds off gets wind up the section, another trench in front 20yds off goes up, section for evacuating trench, one against proposal. German snipers deadly. Trench good target for snipers. Three stragglers arrive. Take shelter in the wheat sheaves 5 yds in front of trench. One shot through the head. Another in the knee, third man rushes for the trench and falls dead head first into trench”.

And at 1.30 pm the same day “A proposal to make tea, no objections. Men like Belgians advancing on the left, about 200 strong. Wind up in trench, everyman for himself. Tea boiling and upset, trench empty. Germans open fire on fugitives. Crawl through the wire. “ping” “ping”. Near things for the stragglers. Battlefield toll, hundreds lying dead, machine gun team all dead around gun, shells still bursting around vicinity. German post reached, narrow escape large piece of shrapnel misses head by inches”.

Travelling to Germany in December 1918. “Eventful journey slow train, rations chiefly hard biscuits. Troops desperate, hold up ration train at a stop station bread, jams & whisky. arrival in Germany roll call, 200 men missing out of 700 who made the journey. 16 dead (7 Black Watch).”

Recruited into the Fife and Forfar Yeomanry on 29 January 1917, he was transferred the 8th Battalion Black Watch on 15th October 1917 for overseas duties.  He was clearly in the thick of the action and recorded the awful events with factual, simple, affecting literate prose. He recorded several close shaves for himself and that his tribulations did not finish with the armistice, as Pte Allan was posted to Germany and suffered many privations there.  Against all odds he survived and was demobilised on April 22nd 1919.

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