WW1 diaries released describing life on the front line at Christmas time

Bedouin prisoners at Mersa Matruh, 1915.  A soldiers diary which describes life on the front line on Christmas day 100 years ago has been released for the first time.

Bedouin prisoners at Mersa Matruh, 1915. A soldiers diary which describes life on the front line on Christmas day 100 years ago has been released for the first time.

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A soldier’s diary which describes life on the front line on Christmas day 100 years ago has been released for the first time.

Private William Bowyer fought with the 1/1st Buckinghamshire Yeomanry and his diary tells of the conflict and casualties while fighting in Egypt.

Members of the 1/1st Buckinghamshire Yeomanry at their desert camp

Members of the 1/1st Buckinghamshire Yeomanry at their desert camp

On Christmas Eve in 1915 the men held a short service and communion which Bowyer described as “very strange singing ‘Peace on Earth’ and off to kill all we can early next morning”.

Christmas dinner was a sorry affair with just corned beef and biscuits during a brief break in the fighting.

But the men were treated to a slice of Christmas pudding the night before while living in the harsh desert climate.

In November 1915 around 5,000 Bedouin Senussi tribesmen were armed by the Turks and rose up against the Allies in Libya and Egypt aiming to capture crucial ports on the north coast.

Private William Bowyer who fought with the 1/1st Buckinghamshire Yeomanry.

Private William Bowyer who fought with the 1/1st Buckinghamshire Yeomanry.

In response The Western Frontier Front, including Bowyer’s regiment, engaged in several battles with the Senussi over the festive period.

His regiment launched an attack on Christmas morning with Allied casualties totalling about 250 after a “baptism of fire”.

The soldiers also battled unrelenting heat which Bowyer described as 120 degrees in the shade of their tents.

One diary installment recalls the time the troops were forced to drink water which had collected in the tracks left by the artillery during a rain shower.

Bowyer also went on to fight in Palestine and Jerusalem and later was on board a ship which was torpedoed and sunk in 1918 - but he survived.

When the war was over he moved to Colchester, Essex, where he lived for many years and died in October 1981, aged 89.

Dr Peter Johnston, Collections Content Team Leader at the National Army Museum, said: “The National Army Museum’s Soldiers’ Stories series allows us to better understand the First World War from the perspective of those who endured it.

“We all know the story of the 1914 Christmas Day football match on the Western Front, but Bowyer’s memoirs show a very different Christmas experience, of others fighting elsewhere.

“From the exhilaration of fighting, to difficult conditions and the death of colleagues, Bowyer’s diaries reveal the ups and downs of life as a soldier.”

The memoirs have been published on the National Army Museum’s commemorative online portal, First World War in Focus, as part of a series of soldiers’ stories.