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The Western Front 1916: A World War I Journal

by William Curtis
Introduced by Richard Eldridge


I never met my grandfather as he died, prematurely, before I was born but my mother Winifred Eldridge kept his journal from the First World War and so through her memories and his stories I feel that I can begin to know what he was like. He comes across as a gentle man who had been a chauffeur, a farmer, a builder and soldier and would I'm sure have been a great story teller had he lived longer. Although he came back from the Great War with only a small scar on his forehead my mother believes he suffered from the effects of mustard gas which sadly led to his early death.

The Journal

My Darling Wife

The author, William Curtis

William Curtis

Edith Curtis

Edith Curtis

I am writing this little account of our travels for you. We left Woolwich about 11 o’clock Sunday morning and got to Winchester about 10 o’clock and stayed at an inn for the night. Winchester seem to be a nice place but we had very little time there as we were away by 8o’clock Monday morning and arrived at Southampton by 10o’clock. We were there all day and went to a rest camp where we stayed the night. That evening I went to the Palace where I thoroughly enjoyed myself and laughed more than I had done for a long time. We went to the docks at half past 8 in the morning and loaded the lorries and stayed about there all day. We were on the boat at half past four and left Southampton at six o’clock. For a little while we had thoughts of submarines especially when we were told to get our lifebelts on. There were two torpedo boats with us when we got out to sea and we were soon laying down on the deck and slept until we reached Le Havre at about half past twelve. We stayed in the harbour until about nine o’clock when we began to land. After landing we went to a rest camp in Le Havre and stayed two nights but we were not allowed out of camp. The next morning we started our journey up country.

We left Le Havre about 10 o’clock and stopped along the road about half past twelve for dinner which consisted of bread and corned beef and some tea which we made at the road side. At night we reached a place called St Saëns where we lit a fire in the square close to the church and had tea and there we had all the children round us asking for Souvenir Anglaise. We stayed there the night and started again in the morning. The first place we came to then was a pretty little place called Neufchâtel. It was market day and people were in from all the little country places with their baskets. We went on and stayed along road again for dinner and on again until we came to Abbeville. We went through the town and stayed again for the night. We had a look around the town and off again in the morning. The next place we came to was called Hesdin From there we went to St Omer where we stayed four days and while we were there I had to leave the rest and take a lorry to be repaired and stay with it for three days and then, especially Dear, did I think of you and the children.

30th January: We are near the firing line and I have not the heart to tell you, Dear, we can see the star shells over the trenches. I am not afraid, Dear, but when I think of you and the children I wish I were with you. I am in a farm café and I just saw a woman carry a little girl up stairs asleep and it did so remind me of the times we have carried ours upstairs asleep but I must not think of that today. We have had a lecture on airplanes, learning the different sorts. We have been here a week near Armentieres at night and in there by day shells have burst near the cars, the nearest one 20yards away from the wagon. The first night or two it was a job to sleep for the noise of the guns and one cannot help but think of the poor chaps in the trenches and think how much worse off they are than we. Some new fellows went up yesterday and we heard they had to be kept indoors. It was their first experience.

We have seen some German aeroplanes but it is difficult to bring them down. I have seen a hundred shells fired at one and not hit it. I have also seen the Germans firing at ours several times but not one hit.

British army in France

A fighting group in France

3rd February: We are on the move again. We are two days on the road and then we arrive at somewhere south of Arras and we find ourselves billeted in a cold and draughty barn. The rain comes in and you have to be careful where you lay or you get wet through but when you look around and see the places where other soldiers are billeted we come back and say we have got a fine kip. In the morning we have a hunt around for water and find it scarce. And where there is a well it is locked up and the people will not give it to you so we go to a muddy pond and wash there.

Well, my darling wife, when I read this over it seems to be full of grumbling and yet I do not feel like that. It seems quite a miserable letter but I shall be with you when you read it, I hope.

18th February: Well Dear, it seems some days since I wrote in this Book. We go to a place called Bayoncourt every day at 6 o’clock if it is fine. One day last week some shells were falling behind the wagon as I was coming back but nothing happened. Last Sunday we hit a German plane. It was reported brought down but we did not see anything of it. Today we have been out from 6.30 till 3 o’clock and it was raining all the time. We did not see a plane of any sort.

21st February: We have had quite a bit of excitement today at Bayoncourt. We were firing away at a German plane when a couple of German shells dropped close to us. We packed up and cleared off for a little while and then returned but nothing further happened.

1st March: Well Dearest, I do not use the book very often for things go on much the same. We have had a lot of snow and it has been very cold lately. Yesterday, Feb 29th, things were a bit hot: there were four shells and two bombs came very close to us and pieces were flying all over the place but again nobody was hurt.

6th March: There is a heavy bomber on tonight and the barn rattled. I am still on the ration waggon.

14th March: My Dear Wife, we have arrived safely at our new position. We arrived on the 11th and the weather is just beautiful here. I have been watching a German plane which was brought down by the guns. I am attending the same Dump as Frank’s lot and I must try and find him. This village seems to be full of widows and every woman is dressed in black. The air is full of planes today.

March 18th: Met Frank.

March 20th: I really ought to look after this writing for you, Dear, but most days are so much alike there seems very little to put down. But the same day I last wrote I had a bit of adventure. We started out to Saulty for petrol, starting from Doullens, we went through Warlus, Wanquetin, Simencourt to Beaumetz. When we got to Beaumetz we were turned back as the road was being shelled . We went back to Wanquetin and from there to Barly where we were turned again. The roads were very bad apparently full of shell holes. Then we got to Saulty and got the best part of the way back when we were turned again and sent back to Saulty to take a different road home, this time along the Arras road where no traffic goes in daylight on account of being seen by the enemy. Yesterday (the 19th) was quite an exciting day when several shells came over and although no one was hurt this time some were splashed with the dirt and all had to run for shelter. One shell came down four yards from the range finder - quite close enough.

I go to Wanquetin every day for the rations and to Habarcq for the post. These names are not spelt right – only as I have heard them. I must get a map and find out how to spell them.

With best love, your Will.

Continued in column 2...

Sunday, 26th March. Who would think it was Sunday. Out here everything is the same as weekdays, only the calendar tells us it is Sunday. The last few days have been very cold and a lot of snow has fallen. Today it is raining and snowing together. There is not much doing today. We were not woken up until 6 o’clock this morning.

March 27th. I have not much to write. It is a glorious day and the guns are very busy. Yesterday we went to Avains and Habarcq.

April 6th. The weather is much colder again and our work is much the same. I am still on the ration wagon. On April 2nd one gun went up to Arras for a night and a day. It was only 900yards from the trenches. Arras is within sniping distance.

April 28th. Our guns were heavily shelled with 9 ins. C.C was knocked or fell in Brook.

April 29th: A very excitable day. Four planes were brought down, two fell to our guns. The whole billet was very excited. C.C was on guard over the dead Germans.

April 30th : The boys are now sleeping up near the dugouts. The guns stay out altogether now. I went up with the lorry to take the rations and it did look like war up there.

August 1916: Well Dear, it is now August and we are at Tachincourt, a small village near St. Pol. We are having lovely weather and doing very well as we are well away from the firing line, I suppose for a rest and also to guard HQ.

August 12th: The King is in France and some of our battery have to go to be inspected by him. I shall not be there as I am still on the ration lorry and go to St Pol and Aubigny every day.

King George V

King George V (1)

King George V visits Warlencourt 1916

At Warlencourt (2)

George V inspects the infantry

Infantry inspection

August 22nd: Had a concert at the guns: in the midst of same two Germans came over so we had to man the guns but continued concert after driving away the Birds.

J type Thornycroft lorry

A Thornycroft 'J' type lorry (3)

Dec 1st: Left Tachincourt to take up position near the line. Now look out for more excitement.

Dec 2nd: Have arrived at Warlus and the guns are now dug in near Berneville. I take over a big 3 ton Thorneycroft and lose my old Daimler.

February 17th 1917: Front Breaks. Roads in terrible condition – no lorry allowed on road for 10 days. Sent 2 lorries out on 28th – not returned on March 3rd.

Easter Monday April 9th 1917: Dear Old Edie. When you ask me about my travels in France, I shan’t know anything about them as I have an awful memory and I don’t put many notes in the book. I think it was on 29th March I went on a trip to Bolougne. We are now at Dainville, have taken about a month. Our boys went over the top this morning and took Vimy Ridge and some village in front of Arras. There has been a racket up here lately with the guns –12 & 15 inch banging away and our work is none too pleasant going up with loads of ammunition. There have been a few lorries caught by German shells lately.

William made no more entries in his journal. His final comment was just the single word..



1. King George V climbing the Butte de Warlencourt, France, during World War I: National Library of Scotland
2. King George V: Wikipedia
3. Thornycroft Lorries; J type: Hantsweb

Page added - March 10th 2006
Last updated - April 18th 2012

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