The First World War Diary of James Hall
James Hall from Farnworth was born in June 1889 and before the war was a fitter at the Clifton and Kearsley Coal Company’s Trencherbone Pit.
We know about Staff Sergeant James Hall’s experience of WW1 from the contents of a small diary of events he kept between March 1915 and June 1917. Here are extracts from his diary while in the theatres of war in Gallipoli and France as an engineer in the Royal Horse Artillery. His main role as an engineer was to keep the “big guns” in operation.
25th April 1915:- Left Limnos for Gallipoli peninsular. Received orders not to speak to Turkish women except through their menfolk. If having cause to go to a house, knock hard to the women time to veil. Not to defile their shrines and temples and to hold all personal property sacred unless ordered to commandeer.
1st May 1915:- Last night terrible. Infantry forced to give way through the French giving way. We had to dig trenches along guns and man them with only 50 rounds per man. Under terrible machine gun and rifle fire. Several men hit and one sergeant killed in space of five minutes but when day broke just as we were fagged out, we opened fire with our guns at 4.30am until 6.00am at gun fire. Guns red hot but kept up a steady fire until 7.00am. We have slaughtered thousands.
9th May 1915:- Have gone through a lifetime in the last few days. It was simply murderous.
10th May 1915:- Lost my best friend, Sergeant Barford, who was killed just as we were talking together about a job we had just completed on one of the guns.
9th February 1916:- 4 days leave. Arrived at Cairo 2am. Put up at Hotel Des Vougithu for the night. Rode on a camel to Pyramids and Sphinx. Had photo taken on camel in front of Sphinx. Saw tombs and temples and back by gharry to Zoological gardens – very fine
Following the extraction of British forces from Gallipoli, his regiment was transferred to France
18th March 1916:- France. Left Marseilles, (after loading all night, horses and guns), at 9.00am for Abbeville, Calais and Paris line. 52 hours ran through the best of France. Stopped to water horses at Orange, a pleasant, pretty town. Stopped a short time later at Valenciennes, rather important and pretty.
26th June 1916:- 12.30am, a large shell burst over my dug-out. I heard a groan and rushed up with my torch and saw the officer’s hut smashed in. Went inside through the debris and found our officer, Mr Drake lying on the bed, a piece of shrapnel through left lung and heart, dead.
2nd July 1916:- The enemy position is so strong on our front that they have given up taking by frontal attacks and trying to cut them off from the right. Most regiments lost 70% through the front line not being smashed.
4th August 1916:- Prince of Wales round our quarter with the guards. Passed him riding a bike up a hill from Loussencourt, sweating like a bull.
29th August 1916:- Gassed for 6 hours with gas and tear shells.
13th September 1916:- Arrived in Le Havre in hospital at the Casino number 2 General Hospital. Heart rending to pass the hospital boats.
8th April 1917:- Easter Sunday. Trekking through St. Pol 2pm. No cigarettes, no grub, weary and fed up.
17th May 1917:- Passing through Bethune this evening, met J .Prendergast and have a stroll (delighted) Later got into action behind Givenchy, alongside canal. An inhabited village on the other bank of the canal and an open café 200 yards lower down. Brave people.
There are 178 entries in his diary, detailing his travels, miraculous escapes and the hell of war.
James, mentioned in dispatches for ‘gallant and distinguished service in the field’ eventually returned home safely to Vernon Street, Farnworth to his wife Teresa and son Jack. Together they had six more children. He died on 27th July 1952 and is buried in Farnworth Cemetery.
Excerpts taken from “The First World War Diary of James Hall” (1889-1952) Staff Sgt Royal Horse Artillery. A typescript of the diary is available at Bolton History Centre Ref B940.3 HAL.
Kevan Williams, a member of Farnworth Local History Society and one of the volunteers at Bolton, has researched and written this fascinating post. There will be more diary extracts on the blog through 2014, including another eye witness account of Gallipoli from Arthur Sanders, serving on a hospital ship.