After a long day risking life and limb to tend wounded comrades, Hubert Harding found a moment to recall the horrors in a diary.
The medical orderly’s account of his years in the trenches surfaced in the basement of a descendant’s home in the south of England.
The diaries, which run from April 1915 to 1919, the year after the war ended, are going under the hammer at Bonhams in London.
Sergeant Harding, who is thought to have come from the Brighton area, served in the Royal Army Medical Corps.
He won the Military Medal and French Croix de Guerre as he risked his life daily at Loos, the Somme, Passchendaele, Vimy Ridge and Cambrai.
On the first day of the Battle of the Somme more than 62,000 officers and men fell dead or wounded.
On that fateful day – July 1, 1916 – Sgt Harding writes optimistically: “Lovely morning. Many aeroplanes about. Great offensive starts. Very heavy shelling … very good results obtained so far.”
But by the next day – his birthday, probably his 19th or 20th – his mood has changed. “Commence collecting [casualties] at 6am. Very busy morning with bad stretcher cases. Find out that 8th Div. very badly cut up yesterday. Snatch a brief rest in afternoon. Heavy bombardment again. Told to assist in dressings. Properly fed up, tired out with so much marching. We watch battle from hill top, grand but awful sight.”
July 3: “Bombardment baffles description. Terrific British bombardment (Loos a picnic). Collect right from front line men absolutely done. Very busy night and much local shelling.”
The next day, July 4, brings the most dramatic entry: “Most hellish day I ever knew. Enemy bombard our communication trench heavily, soon levelled out flat. Bomb store blown up, 4 men of 35 FA [Field Ambulance] wounded whilst helping us, I am very busy dressing.”
On the 5th: “Last night at 11pm the enemy counter attacked our new position. Our artillery fire was simply appalling, nothing ever seen like it. Ypres a picnic. Enemy fail. We clear 25 stretcher cases from ‘no-man’s land’ in night, several exposed 4 & 5 days, slack morning, chance for a rest. We are just about worn out.”
Sgt Harding keeps up his spirits with humorous entries at the front of one of the diaries – Watch number: “Forgotten.” Season ticket number: “Some hopes.” Store ticket number: “Washout.” Personal number: “Ain’t got none.” Insurance due: “End of war.”
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