“Something awful. Never witnessed anything like it before. After a bombardment of a week the Germans mounted their own trenches and the infantry reckon that every German had a machine gun…”
Extracted from Antiques Trade Gazette | Tom Derbyshire
This entry written in pencil more than a century ago by Private Arthur Edward Diggins describes the horror British soldiers faced on July 1, 1916 – the first day of the Somme, on which nearly 20,000 died.
Diggins’ words come from a diary apparently found in a Leicestershire barn. It is now for sale at Hansons’ Medals and Militaria sale on March 20 in Etwall, Derbyshire, estimated at £200-250.
The opening page of the small, battered notebook states that the diary was started on February 13, 1916, but ends abruptly on October 11 of that year. “Because of this we feared Arthur must have been a casualty of the conflict but research proved otherwise,” said Hansons militaria specialist Adrian Stevenson.
At the outbreak of war Diggens signed up for the Royal Engineers, Signals section. He served in the Gallipoli campaign from 1915-16 and at the Somme on the Western Front with the 29th Division. At that time, he would have been 20 years old.
Stevenson added: “Sadly, a Gallipoli diary also penned by Arthur has been lost. He posted it home but it never made it.”
The discovery of the diary was sparked by the arrival of a photo frame made out of a First World War aircraft propeller which was taken along for free valuation at Hansons’ saleroom.
Stevenson said: “The owner told me he had more items relating to the war and returned with a large box which had been in a Leicestershire barn. He had no idea who it related to but said his mother had been the recipient of old family heirlooms. I was flabbergasted when I started pulling out the items.”
Another Great War lot from the same source is the Flying Log Book of Lt Stuart Leslie running from November 11, 1917, to October 24, 1918, together with aerial maps he would have had on his knee in the cockpit of his plane along with the aircraft’s pennant flags and his Royal Flying Corp flying wings.
Stevenson added: “All of Lt Leslie’s documents and records are there. We know what planes he flew, where he trained and the dangers he faced. He was posted to No 4 Squadron and saw active service until October 1918 with over 260 hours total flying time, both as a pilot and observer.”
The estimate is £800-1000.