“This book is one of the best insights you will find on the more-or-less everyday existence of a soldier doing his turns on the front line. It’s not well known what signallers actually did and well worth a read. He was not an officer so it’s more down to earth. I can tell you it is hard to put down, but when you do, you are thinking how this guy was going on. A good read.”
“I purchased this book to try and gain insight as to the role of Signallers during WW1, as my great, great uncle Tom served in the same with The Border Regiment. I am grateful to Sgt. Brookes for his description of events through his diary which I now feel could have been similar to my great,great uncle. I have gained a greater understanding of what he must have gone through. Sadly he was killed during the third battle of Ypres in 1917. Thank you Bernard.”
“I found Brookes’ diary fascinating because it is so matter of fact – he writes about events that we now find incredible, like the Christmas Truce, shell shock – and even getting up to mischief during down times – as though they are everyday occurrences.
There is no self pity, only vivid descriptions of events that really put you there with him. I could imagine following him up a chimney to secretly watch the Germans behind their lines; working, cycling, or arriving back from the front. I could also understand his fascination with churches – a constant, though often damaged presence, in uncertain times.
Brookes also has the ability to make the reader weep, especially when he considers the Christmas Truce. “It was a beautiful night and a sharp frost set in, and when we awoke in the morning the ground was covered with a white raiment. It was indeed an ideal Christmas and the spirit of peace and goodwill was very striking in comparison with the hatred and death-dealing of the past few months. One appreciated in a new light the meaning of Christianity, for it certainly was marvellous that such a change in the attitude of the opposing armies could be wrought by an event which happened nigh on 2,000 years ago.”
It is First World War documents like these that enhance our understanding of the war. Not accounts of what happened in battles on faraway fields, but the personal stories – of ordinary folk caught up in extraordinary times.
Brookes was one such unaffected hero – and thanks to the foresight of his family, we’re able to learn about his experience, which echoes what so many of our ancestors went through.”
Jackie Storer, Hidden Stories of the First World War
“I have just finished the Diary and it was spectacular. Very many congratulations to the family for publishing it and thank you for giving us the privilege of sharing it. The horrific experiences of the trenches were vivid but I thought his underlying faith shone through and I was particularly impressed with the Brookes’ humour. He was probably fortunate not to have had to return but he certainly made his contribution to that dreadful war. I sincerely hope the British Legion will profit from the publication.”
“It is a vivid account of experience in the trenches in 1914 /15 and it is beautifully written. Bernard Brookes was obviously a spiritual man who would attend church services whenever possible. It could not have been easy for him to write about those dying around him but he has done it with feeling but without being morbid. And there are wonderful touches of humour which one can appreciate if one has spent time in the Forces. I strongly recommend it.”
“This book is a compilation of diary entries from a soldier in the 1st World War. It describes how the author joined up at the start of the war, received rather patchy training, before being sent to the trenches. Initially he was posted to a relatively quiet part of the line on the border between Belgium and France. After some months, his regiment was moved to participate in (the tail-end of) the 2nd Battle of Ypres. This was a far more horrific position – gas attacks, “liquid fire”, and the mining at Hooge feature. He was injured and invalided out of active service with shell shock in August 1915.
It’s a rather unusual book. The author writes in the preface that “many points may not be of the slightest interest to any but myself” and “continual repetition of incidents may prove monotonous”. He wasn’t writing for an audience. Instead, the notes were compiled during his convalescence so that he wouldn’t forget incidents in future years. Despite this fact, I actually found the whole work to be of interest.
It’s clear that life in the first 6 months of the war was quite different from later on. For a start, the fact that the author was allowed to keep a diary at all is a surprise. He was a signaller, which meant he spent quite a lot of time running errands behind the lines. He enjoyed sight-seeing on these excursions, and he recounts a number of exploits.
The writing isn’t all that great to be honest but that’s not the point – there are already accounts of WW1 written by great authors and poets. There are some moments of real poignancy – his first sight of refugees, sing-songs with the enemy in the Christmas period, his first entry into the devastated city of Ypres. There are also some moments of humour, which balance the bald matter-of-fact statements about life in the trenches.
At the end of the book, he writes “since 1st July 1916, none of my letters have been answered by my friends, for they are either killed or missing”. For those who joined up at the start, this was a war in which you either died or were badly wounded and invalided out. There was no other option. One hundred years on, that’s a fact that’s worth thinking about.
All in all this book is worth a look if you’re interested in WW1 history and want to see what it was like from an individual’s point of view.”