Monday - 20 October 2014

Diary discovery unearths the horrors and delights of the trenches

22 October 2010Written by ATG Reporter

THIS watercolour sketch comes from a remarkable 120-page First World War journal penned by Lieutenant Kenneth Edwin Wootton of the 1/21 Battalion, London Regt Tank Corps.

Lt Wootton, who was awarded the MC for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty, kept a diary from 1915 until 1917, when he was sent home after injury, often illustrating his text with ink drawings of tanks and battle movements.

The diary, untouched for 90 years, was found by the soldier's great granddaughter who had inherited the family papers. Consigned to Derbyshire auctioneers Hansons' (15% buyer's premium) sale on September 29, it sold for £9600, more than three times the pre-sale estimate.

As a tank operator on the Western Front, Lt Wootton experienced the full horror of trench warfare and fought in the Third Battle of Ypres.

He wrote in the diary: "The German front line had been smashed almost out of recognition as we passed through shell holes and most were filled with filthy water and bodies. I found one of our own infantry lying wounded with a bad gash in his head. I gave him some water and told him the stretcher bearers were coming up. I hope it was true. I dodged him but I was obliged to drive over a dead German. I shall never forget the sight of his face after it had been pushed in to the mud by a 40 tonne tank.

"The awful mud made it a hopeless mess. Our tank fell in a crater and we fitted the unhitching beam. By the 10th try Fagg crawled out exhausted in trying to work the clutch and brake. He revived himself with some whisky. A poor lonely German without boots or socks and shot through both legs kept us company. He spoke little English and told us his comrades had removed his boots and socks when he was wounded and so left him. At a dressing station and on foot I was given a tin of peaches all of which I ate before falling asleep."

More jovial was his entry for Christmas Day 1916: "Ypres: Distance between the line was 100 yards. Had an excellent Christmas dinner in a dug out, turkey, Christmas pudding, mince pies, fruit and champagne. Both sides stopped. Did patrol from midnight till 3am and felt very merry." In the accompanying illustration a Tommy, in silhouette, is seen staring out over the trenches without fear of being shot.

By Roland Arkell

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