Page last updated at 16:10 GMT, Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Sapper's WWI diaries on display

The diaries depict life in the trenches between 1915 and 1917

Three volumes of diaries written by a soldier from Cornwall depicting life in the trenches in World War I have gone on display.

The diaries were written by Sapper John French, from Redruth.

The diaries cover 1915 to 1917 and in them he tells how he lost friends in battle and how, in lighter moments, enemies exchanged jokes.

His family have just made them public and they are on display in the Old Cornwall Society Museum in Redruth.

The tin miner's tunnelling experience was put to use when he was serving with the Royal Engineers in northern France.

'Wonderful to read'

Sapper French noted how close the enemy trenches were in one entry, saying: "One finds it hard to realise the Germans are only 75yds away until a machine gun or two opens fire."

Charles Opie of the Old Cornwall Society described another entry when both sides were impersonating each other's accents.

He said: "There was a lull in the fighting, and they lifted their heads above the parapets and called to each other in mockery.

"One said: 'Come on over here,' in the best German he could. He got a reply from a German trying an English accent, saying: 'Not blooming likely!'. Things like that.

"Then, after about half-an-hour, they started fighting again. If you raised your head again, it would have been blown off."

His niece, Wendy Dawe, said the volumes were "wonderful to read".

She said: "I think they must have had periods of quiet where they could reflect on what happened during the day.

"But he never exaggerated anything. Everything was so simply put."

John French survived the war. He was promoted to sergeant and left the Army as a second lieutenant when he was demobilised in 1919. He died in 1929, aged 37.

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