What’s in a Diary?

It is 70 years since the publication of The Diary of a Young Girl, better known today as The Diary of Anne Frank. Anne’s account of her early life during World War II prior to her death in 1945 Bergen-Belsen concentration camp is a fascinating, if harrowing, story of a young girl trying to survive to adulthood.

Being an archivist I see a lot of diaries and have been researching a number created by soldiers during the earlier World War I. The diary in the picture was written by Joseph Bodill of Hucknall, Nottingham, between 1917 and 1918. This frontispiece shows Joseph’s pre-war address, serial number and clearly identifies him as belonging to the 281 Ammunition Column of the British Expeditionary Force (the early name for the British Army).

Joseph was a driver whose job was to replenish the front line with ammunition and ordnance. The entry for Tuesday 26th June 1917, exactly one hundred years ago, talks about something which is a popular topic of discussion today: the state of the roads. Joseph comments that 16 of his comrades drove up to the lines the day before, but “they had to return with their loads” as the German artillery were making holes in the road.

The diary is an astonishing insight into life on the Western Front. Joseph yearns for news from his family and writes that:

I have not had a letter from home yet. I would sooner have one than my tea.

Joseph ruminates on his tiredness and lack of sleep, only having managed eight hours in 3 nights. He is “as tired as a dog”. The day’s entry finishes in a way which shows the loneliness and bewilderment of a soldier who can almost not believe where he is, and how devastatingly cruel humans can be to each other.

I often think of the old times at home it only seems like a dream to me now but never mind things will be better in a while.

I’m working on a transcription of the two manuscript volumes of Joseph’s diaries, with a view to publication. If you’d like to hear more about his life driving ordnance up to the Allied lines, leave a comment and I’ll be sure to keep you up to date on progress.

Joseph’s Bodill’s diaries are cared for in Nottinghamshire Archives. This volume ref: M24251/1.


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