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All quiet on the home front

Diary illustration by Thomas Livingstone
Thomas Livingstone's illustrated diary sheds light on life at home in WWI
World War I has been defined by the appalling brutality in the mud of Flanders and France.

But there was another side to the war - how it affected those who stayed at home.

Thomas Cairns Livingstone worked as a clerk in Glasgow during the war. Aged 33 when the conflict began, he was ruled unfit for active service, plus his job was a "reserved" occupation - essential to the war effort.

He lived out the war with his wife Agnes and young son Tommy, keeping an illustrated diary of the trials and tribulations of a life dominated by the war overseas.

His juxtaposition of domestic detail with the news of the day can make surreal reading now - for instance, when Tommy has the German measles, and Thomas Livingstone notes that Russia is in the grip of revolution.

The diary was inherited by Tommy himself, and when he died it was purchased in an auction by antique dealer Shaun Sewell, who brought it to the Antiques Roadshow.

Extracts from the diary, complete with sketches, have been published this autumn. While the entries are rather short - Thomas Livingstone didn't set down many of his own thoughts or opinions - it nonetheless conveys a powerful sense of what it was like to live through the "war to end all wars" at home.


Tuesday 4 August
Provisions getting dearer every day. Serious times ahead. Germany declares war on Belgium. Official declaration of war with France and Germany. Britain sends ultimatum to Germany. The King has called out the territorials. Government has taken over the railways. Germany has appealed to Italy. Every paper is now a "war speshull".

Diary illustration by Thomas Livingstone
Wednesday 5 August
Town full of territorials. Getting ready for our country's defence. Britain declared war on Germany last night at 11pm. Now fighting: Britain, Serbia and Russia. The biggest war in the world's history.

Tuesday 18 August
Beautiful day. Agnes staying in the wash-house in the forenoon. I helped her to fold some articles at night, then she washed the marble staircase. The British army has landed in France. Magnificent welcome.

Diary illustration by Thomas Livingstone
Saturday 3 October
Big Battle still raging. German attacks shattered the London Scottish at the front. Antwerp besieged. This is Belgian Flag Day, so we donned our flags.

Saturday 5 December
Bitter cold day. Tommy a little better and Agnes is thusly in a better frame of mind. German trenches captured.


Diary illustration by Thomas Livingstone
Friday 22 January
Nice day, but very cold. Everybody is seeing a "Zeppelin" in the sky now.

Monday 1 February
Read the gas meter and duly appalled thereby. We are in for a hard time of it. Dear provisions, rent raised, future uncertain. Oh, help!

Diary illustration by Thomas Livingstone
Thursday 1 April
To encourage his loyal subjects, King George has sworn off the bottle. To encourage King George I will do the same. "God save the King."

Monday 5 April
Very heavy rain in the forenoon. This is a holiday so we took 2.22 train from the Cross for Coalbridge. It was 10 years ago we met, ah me, ah us.

Saturday 24 April
German success in Flanders. They use bombs with poisonous fumes, and Allies are forced back. British lose four big guns.

Tuesday 8 June
Fine day. Father here. Prime Minister says there is to be no conscription. Total British casualties to end of May: quarter of a million.

Wednesday 6 October
Am expecting a visit from the recruiting sergeant to see why I am not serving my King and country.

Tuesday 7 December
Saw a lady car driver today.


Diary illustration by Thomas Livingstone
Monday 17 January
During 1915, nine spies were shot in the Tower.

Wednesday 9 February
Compulsion for the army is now law.

Diary illustration by Thomas Livingstone
Wednesday 15 March
The government have postponed calling up my group for a little. Austria declares war on Portugal. Verdun battle resumed once more.

Wednesday 10 May
Went for doctor in the morning. Agnes getting worse. I'm getting alarmed. Doctor in. Agnes to stay in bed. I spent the afternoon being measured, weighed, examined, sounded etc. by the military doctors. Found wanting, so am passed for sedentary work etc. My King and country don't want me.

Thursday 15 June
Beautiful day. Got my summer straw hat today. Mrs Cormack in at night with Tom Howard (the lodger) direct from the trenches.

Saturday 1 July
At last! The big push!! British and French take the offensive. Great fighting. The Battle of the Somme started at 1.30 am today.

Wednesday 6 September
Some rain in the forenoon but nice enough day. We have all got the cold. British win Leuze Wood. Fighting at Combles and Ginchy.

Saturday 30 September
A threatened scarcity of water, so we filled the house with it. 3,000 dead Germans in Combles.

Diary illustration by Thomas Livingstone
Thursday 16 November
Andrew's wife up in the forenoon for a 'heart to heart' talk. The paper says I've to be re-examined, so here's luck. I'll be a 'sojer' yet. Blast the Kaiser. Government is going to take control of the food. High blinking time.

Wednesday 20 December
I cleaned a few boots. Lloyd George makes a great speech. No peace. British nation to be mobilised. Go on with the war.


Friday 12 January
Cleaned the handles of the brass in the house, including the jam pan. The Allies publish the peace conditions to America. The Great British War Loan launched today - another reply to Germany. Think I'll invest a million or so.

Diary illustration by Thomas Livingstone
Friday 16 March
Doctor up in the forenoon. Tommy has the German measles. Doctor says it is a mild case. Revolution in Russia. Czar dethroned. The Czar and Czarina are prisoners. British destroyer mined in Channel.

Friday 18 May
Dull, cold, wet and windy. Working late tonight. America's first contingent arrives in Britain.

Tuesday August 7
The heat wave continues. I think I'll get a kilt. British make another little move nearer Lens.

Friday 7 September
Got home at midnight. Counted five searchlights in the sky at night. Saw an aeroplane.


Diary illustration by Thomas Livingstone
Monday 11 February
Horse flesh is now an official ration. Russia throws up the sponge.

Tuesday 30 July
Deaths from influenza [in Glasgow] last week were 25, pneumonia 28, total 53. Capture of Sergy by Americans. Scottish successes at Soissons.

Monday 11 November
At last, the Great War is over. Germany vanquished, the Kaiser a fugitive in Holland. This is the greatest day in the history of the world.

Extracts from Tommy's War: A First World War Diary by Thomas Livingstone

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