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Tracing your family's military past

Word War I historian Anthony Richards highlights some key passages from the newly-discovered diary of a British POW.

World War I diary
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The diary's spelling is erratic and its grammar irregular, but this does not detract from the bravery of Sgt Bagshaw nor the gripping account of his time as a prisoner of the Germans, towards the end of the war.

Written over 31 pages in black ink in what appears to be an exercise book, the diary covers his capture , the banality of camp life, the poor quality and scarcity of food, the brutality of some of the German guards and also has flashes of dark humour.

Anthony Richards, archivist at the Imperial War Museum in London has examined a copy of the diary and picked out some passages of interest.

World War I diary

"The Germans gassed us for 4 hours"

Anthony Richards: It's possible Sgt Bagshaw was captured in the Battle of the Lys, which began on 9 April with a gas attack - he says he was captured on the night of the 10th.

World War I diary

"My Dairy While Prisoner of War"

Anthony Richards: Although the document has lots of spelling mistakes and grammatical errors, as a written account of what happened it reads really well. Historically it has a lot of value.

World War I diary

"The people of the town were surprised to see so many of us and they were very sorry for all of us... many of the kind people give us food and cigs."

AR: That's very interesting, and quite nice, as it shows how supportive the civilians [of Halluin, a small commune in northern France, close to the border with Belgium] were of the British troops.

World War I diary

"Still no hopes of writing a letter home and everybody is broken hearted"

AR: He mentions several times that he cannot write home, it's four months after he was captured before he can write a letter, so there's a complete lack of communication.

World War I diary

"We got paid at 6pm. 3F20 per man… the pay we had was for 10 days work"

AR: It was part of the Geneva Convention that if you were a prisoner of war and were made to work, then you had to be given payment.

World War I diary

"The 3 men that escaped was brought into the yard for us to see them. They had civil clouth given to them by the Belgium release funds"

AR: He mentions several escapes, but frustratingly doesn't go into much detail.

World War I diary

"More smoked Donkey for tea..."

AR: Sgt Bagshaw seems to have a good sense of humour

World War I diary

"The doctor inspected all of us, they are getting the wind up over so many dying"

AR: This may have been Spanish Flu, the outbreak happened about that time and he wouldn't have known what was going on as there was so little communication.

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