Prisoner of war’s diary to go on display

A page from George E Smith's war diary
A page from George E Smith's war diary

A fascinating account of a prisoner of war discovered by a Rushden man is set to go on display at the Imperial War Museum.

David Smith, from Wellingborough Road, Rushden, found the notebook among his father’s belongings last year.

George E Smith, whose war diary has been found,  is at the back on the right

George E Smith, whose war diary has been found, is at the back on the right

It had belonged to David’s grandfather, Private George Smith of the North Staffordshire regiment, who fought in WW1 and was captured by German forces in 1918.

He kept a record of his experiences in the notebook, which has now been handed over to experts for analysis.

George was a farmer who lived near Market Harborough and around Leicestershire. He had enlisted aged 19 in 1917 and returned home in December 1919.

He eventually died 10 years later, possibly as an after-effect of being gassed while in battle. Here is an extract from the diary.

George Edward Smith's war diary

George Edward Smith's war diary

David’s wife Molly said that they had not known about the diary until it was found. She said: “He found it while he was clearing out his father’s belongings. It was wrapped in brown paper.

“You see films about the war and read about it but it was very different reading it first hand.

“It made me feel sick to read about them being given raw vegetables to eat and about the women being beaten by the soldiers.

“We hadn’t noticed that the exercise book had a German map in it so was obviously German and we’re not sure where he would have got it from.

“George didn’t seem all that scared in the diary although it must have been frightening. He seemed laid back about the whole thing.

“David is not one for making a lot of fuss either so maybe it’s a family trait.”

Here is an excerpt from George’s diary.

“Diarium fur 203492 Pte G E Smith, 2/6 Nth Staffs.

Home Address: Ivy House Farm, Glooston, Mkt Harboro Leicestershire. Joined the Army May 10th 1917 at Glen Parva, stayed on night at my cousins – reported to Baracks next morning at 7am. On Parade 9am.

After eight weeks training went to Saltfleet to fire course. After six weeks more training sent out to France. Arrived at Folkestone Aug 30, stayed their on night. Left Folkestone Sept 1st stayed their one night – next morning left for Cailas – arrived at Base 6pm – a fortnights training on Bull ring. Left Calias Sept 17th for re-inforcement Dept at Boulakyeel – a fortnight training. Left their for berge to join 2/6 Nth Staffs – arrived their midnight, wet through.

Left Isberge for Lens several days marching and training. First time in trenches at Lens. Eight days in reserve, four days in support and four days in front line. Came out after four days , went to Albertty camp a few miles (?) from line. Eight days rest. Eight days at Vimmy. From their on the march for Cambrai. Went in Bourlon Wood, their I got gassed and all the other poor fellows too.

Came out of Bourlon Wood and went down to Blue for a rest, got no better – went into Hospital on Jan 8 / 1918 for three weeks – left Hospital and went to Cayeux Convalescent Camp for six weeks. From Con. Camp to Calias. Joined Regt at Morny (?) on March 16th / 1918 – went into the line on March 18th – taken prisoner March 21st by the Germans.

I was taken prisoner on March 21st terrible day it was too, shot and shells were coming in front of us and behind. Officers and men falling in all directions, we all tried our best to hold the Bosh back but could not, they came over in thousands.

We gave up about three o’clock in the afternoon. Then we were taken across the battlefield, we carried our wounded to the dressing station and we had to leave them their to the mercy of the Germans. We were taken then farther on across no-man’s land and pick up German wounded, carried them on duck boards to their dressing station which was twenty kilometres behind the front line. I helped carry one on an old duck board, my shoulders were sore when I got to the R.A.P. (Regimental Aid Post) I was glad to get their, out of danger, their they gave us a drink of water, we had not tasted a bit of food from four o’clock the day previous of our capture.

We were all ready for a feed, but did not get any that day. We were took on to cage fenced with a barbed wire, turned in like a flock of sheep, out in the open we lay all night, woke up in the morning covered with frost and as hungry as ever.

Some of the poor lads had got some very bad wounds.

About ten o’clock the next morning some Jerries came as could speak our language. They began to search us, took letters, knives and anything they

wanted, the wounded were taken just across a field to a light railway, that is the last we saw of them.

The remainder were marched across the country for miles and miles, we were marching until five o’clock to another cage, their we got a little coffee and a small bit of bread. The bread was that large we had a big job to see it.

We were all tired and glad for a rest,

We had another night out in a open field. The following morning we had a little more bread and coffee.

We set off on the march again for miles across open country – the country was very flat, it was where the war first began in Belgium. We came to some of the Belgium towns were the women and children came and gave us some water, some of the women got the water knocked over them by the cruel sentries we had got with us, some of them gave us a little bread, carrots and turnips, it was very acceptable to those who got it.

We landed in a big Belgium town about four o’clock in the afternoon in a big factory where we had a night on some straw – nothing to eat until next morning. We had coffee and bread we stayed their alday and a night, at night we had some soup which was that good we could not eat it, it was worse than pig meat.

The following afternoon we went to the station – we were put in cattle trucks forty in a wagon, the doors were locked so that we could not get out, we were travelling for two nights and a day before we got any more food. It was five o’clock the second day when we were let out and had a little soup, the soup was a little eatable, their we got a loaf of bread between four, that small quantity lasted us for three days.

The train stopped at a station somewhere in Belgium, we opened the windows of the trucks and tried to get a little food off the civilians, just one or two succeeded in getting a little by giving some of their clothes away. We had a few more hours travelling, then we were unloaded and had some soup, it was very good barley and water, we had our pay books taken off us and a post card given to us to send home to our parents saying where we was captured.

We had a good hours rest their before starting off again. We had a few more hours travelling, we landed at our destination at Munster, glad to get their after five days being shut up in cattle trucks. It was three miles from the station to the Largar or Camp. We were soon put into some huts and had a good feed of barley, after soup we had two blankets given to us and a bed, we were soon down and a sleep. We lay until nine o’clock next morning, coffee was given too us no bread and nothing else, bread come up about 10 o’clock two days ration a loaf between six, being so hungry we eat it all at once and had nothing for the next day.

The soup we got at dinner time was not fit to give pigs. The second day being at Munster we were all inoculated, we had inoculation five times and vaxination once, so you can imagine what we all felt like.

We were under isolation for ten days, not allowed to go near the fence to speak to the other prisoners. After the ten days we were let out, it was one Saturday night at 7 pm when the gates were opened. You can just imagine what a rush their was out amongst the other Comrades. They were French, English, Russians and Italians.

They were all very good to us, they gave us bread and biscuits and cigs. Some of the French took us in and gave us dinners most days. If it had not been for the French we should have been a lot worse off than we were.

Their were about two thousand of us. A number of them were soon sent away to Ramandos (?) to work, to coal mines, factories and all kinds of work. I was one of the lucky ones to stay at the Larger for a few months, we did a little work each day but not much. The food as we got at Munster was not fit to give pigs to eat, Sundays were only the times we got good soup. We suffered hunger until we began to get our packets through.

I stay there until July 8th 1918 then I was sent to Ramandos Radbod (?) to a coal mine, it was one of the dirtiest places I ever witnessed, their were 65 other English there besides French, Russians and Italians. It was my first time down a mine, it was no use refusing to work, we had it to do, if you were sick the Doctor would not let you off.

It was crulty to see some of the fellows going to work, more fit for hospital than work. The soup you could not eat, it was only a small bit of bread we had use to get and coffee without milk or sugar in. The soup was that good once or twice we all refused it, of course no food no work, then we all had sticky stand for eight hours.

The second time we refused to work a Officer came, and after that we got better soup. When we would not work the sentries began to knock us about with their riffles, but we stood all that, a prisoner has to go through some terrible times.

It was was on Nov 8th 1918 when we got news as the war was over, we all refused work. On Monday morning a Officer came and asked why we refused, his answer was war finished work finished, he tried to frighten us to work by telling us he would fetch soldiers and force us, but the soldiers had given up their arms.

Then they tired us to go by telling us if we did not work they would have no coal to carry on the transport, but we said no and meant it.

We stayed at Radbod three weeks, the three weeks was as long as three months. I left Radbod for Minden Dec 14th, it took us 27 hours to get to Minden, arrived at Larger about 3 o’clock in the morning tired and wet through, no blankets and nothing to eat until six o’clock, then we got a packet a man and a biscuit.

Saturday night left Minden for Holland. We were standing about from 1.30 untill 6 o’clock Saturday afternoon in the pouring rain wet through to the skin. Then we had a few hours travelling in the train, arrived at Rheine 7 am, stayed their until 10.30pm.

Arrived at Holland at a place called Enschede 5.30 am, we were looked after well by the Dutch. We have a days rest, then left for Rotterdam, arrived about 6.30pm. We were clothed and fed and on the ship at 10pm the same night. Set sail about 4am, rather a rough sea, a little sea sick.

We arrived at Hull at 11.30 am the following day, got off the ship and entrained for Ripon. Stayed at Ripon two days, came on two months leave on December 21, had a very good journey home, got home about 9pm Saturday night, quite a surprise to all at home.

I have had sufficient travelling about, hope to settle down for some time again and enjoy the pleasures of dear old home once again.”