9th February 2017 - Introduction

Posted by Tim Bates (2017)

Today would have been my dad's 120th birthday.

He died in 1966 when I was just 12 years old.  His name was Ernest Alfred Bates - 'Ernie' to his friends and family.

I regret that I didn't have a chance to have grown up conversations with him about his experiences of life in the first half of the 20th century.  I do however remember him as a kind, gentle person with a sometimes wicked sense of humour.

I also remember the terrible scars on his stomach and that the little finger of his right hand was missing.  These were a testament to the wounds he suffered in the trenches in the First World War in 1917 - 100 years ago.

He kept a diary of his experiences during that year.  These start from the day he signed up in London on 12th February 1917 to join the Queen's Westminster Rifles, through his training with the troops in England before embarking for France, the preparations for battle ... and his experience of being wounded by shrapnel in the trenches during the Third Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele) in Belgium in August of that same year.

He never spoke to me about his experiences in the war - and other family members confirm that it wasn't a subject that he was particularly open about with any of them.

However he did start to write up the brief notes from his diary as a journal ...  as he recounted later -

"In hospital, as soon as recovery permitted the use of a pen and before memory faded with the passage of time the diary was rewritten into a more comprehensive record."

I was aware several times during my early childhood of him sitting down with a ring binder writing and updating what I later learned was this journal.  I presume that he was aware that he was unlikely to be able to share his memories with me directly and it was therefore a legacy that he wished to leave for me and for the rest of the family.

To provide a more permanent home for this legacy I have decided to publish the daily entries in his journal on his behalf in this blog ... with each post being exactly 100 years after the original events.

The first entry in his journal is for 12th February 1917, three days after his 20th birthday, and so is posted on 12th February 2017.  Some days will not have an entry and some days only a very short comment ... however many entries go into great detail and show something of the human side of those caught up in the horrors of war.

Since my dad had been in a reserved occupation as a junior clerk at the War Office during the early part of the war he could only originally sign up to attest his willingness to go on active service "when required".  He wrote about this in the introduction to his journal and it can be found in the Prologue in the next post on this blog.