Gunner Hamilton’s diary

Yesterday I took possession of a precious document.

The grandfather of a friend of mine was a gunner in the Great War, and kept a diary ( against regulations, I think) from the end of his training (Christmas 1916) to the end of the war. I had already seen the last diary notebook, which very vividly covers the retreat of March 1918, and a memoir that he wrote in 1964, summarising his diaries for his grandchildren. We had thought the earlier diaries lost, but now they have been rediscovered, and my friend sent them to me yesterday – four small notebooks in impeccably neat handwriting.

3289 Gunner F Hamilton had been an Edinburgh schoolmaster before (slightly unwillingly) enlisting. He was an intelligent man, capable of very shrewd and perceptive comments about life in the artillery.

Some of the entries are understandably brief:

Sat Jan 20. Bilious attack

Sun Jan 21 same. (In tent & ground snow-covered)

but many give vivid pictures of things he has noticed. Soon after his arrival in France

Thur Jan 25 …This is Burns’ anniversary “man to man the world ower brithers shall be.” Yesterday in Rouen station I saw British soldiers & German prisoners of war sitting round the same fire which was cooking some food for them. Our soldiers had laid aside their rifles and bayonets and no one was standing guard: as individuals they had no quarrel: one German stood up and did the “goose-step”…

He can be very critical of his superiors:

There is a want of community feeling in our Battery: a lack of esprit de corps. The officers are not getting the men the right way – there is no tact in most of them with the result as stated.

Later he expands on this theme:

I have spoken of the want of tact on the part of our officers: here is an example: one morning or two ago, in time of food scarcity the O.C. was annoyed at what was written by men in their letters and foolishly said he was “fed up” with the battery – that is but a sample of the wrong way to go about things.

As an experienced teacher, Gunner Hamilton knew that you don’t get the best out of people by moaning at them. Or by reminding them that you’ve been censoring their letters.

The extracts I’ve given so far are from the first months of his time in France (in the build-up to Arras). I’ll post more about the diaries later. I really like the serious and slightly pedantic Scottish personality that comes through them.

5 Comments

  1. Posted July 21, 2006 at 4:37 am | Permalink

    This diary sounds terribly interesting. Will you be posting more excerpts? Your annotations are also illuminating and helpful. Many thanks for posting this. Best, BL

  2. Jessica
    Posted July 21, 2006 at 6:27 am | Permalink

    Fascinating document. Diaries, incidentally, weren’t against regulations but they were subject to the same censorship as letters if sent through the Army postal service. A much bigger problem appears to have been finding enough paper to write on. I am deeply envious of legible handwriting! A lot of the diaries I have looked at have had cramped, almost illegible writing.

  3. Posted July 21, 2006 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

    I’m lucky that my diarist had been a schoolmaster (after the war he became a headmaster). And obviously the type of schoolmaster who made sure that his handwriting set an example for his students (A standard that in my own teaching days I didn’t always manage…)

  4. Posted July 21, 2006 at 7:42 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for posting this exert – I hope you feel able to do more as it is really good to read. I spent some time in the IWM last year reading diaries and they are absolutely fascinating for getting a feel for contemporary attitudes.

  5. Gunnr Hamilton
    Posted October 11, 2008 at 3:41 am | Permalink

    my name is gunner hamilton tooo!!!!
    where did u get that name from?


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